Ray Sprigle’s Dixie Terror
This chapter considers the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ace reporter Ray Sprigle’s four weeks traveling through the Jim Crow South “passing for black” in 1948. In the subsequent 21-part series, “I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days,” Sprigle writes how he is desperate to experience and document the most extreme aspects of Southern racism or “Dixie terror;” however, Sprigle only managed to “yessir” his way throughout the South becoming what he calls a “good nigger.” After Sprigle failed to experience the Dixie terrifying racism he needed to validate his experiment, the chapter argues that “good niggerhood,” a performance of cautious and respectable, black masculinity, undermined the integrity and ultimate goals of his project. The chapter argues that Sprigle attempted to save his failing racial expedition by parroting the language of iconic sentimental texts such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The chapter then uses James Baldwin’s trenchant critique of sentimental literature, “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” to expose a cultural overinvestment in this kind of racial experiment.
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