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Raised Up Down Yonder

Raised Up Down Yonder: Growing Up Black in Rural Alabama

Angela McMillan Howell
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    Raised Up Down Yonder
    Book Description:

    Raised Up Down Yonder attempts to shift focus away from why black youth are "problematic" to explore what their daily lives actually entail. Howell travels to the small community of Hamilton, Alabama, to investigate what it is like for a young black person to grow up in the contemporary rural South.

    What she finds is that the young people of Hamilton are neither idly passing their time in a stereotypically languid setting, nor are they being corrupted by hip hop culture and the perils of the urban North, as many pundits suggest. Rather, they are dynamic and diverse young people making their way through the structures that define the twenty-first-century South. Told through the poignant stories of several high school students, Raised Up Down Yonder reveals a group that is often rendered invisible in society. Blended families, football sagas, crunk music, expanding social networks, and a nearby segregated prom are just a few of the fascinating juxtapositions.

    Howell uses personal biography, historical accounts, sociolinguistic analysis, and community narratives to illustrate persistent racism, class divisions, and resistance in a new context. She addresses contemporary issues, such as moral panics regarding the future of youth in America and educational policies that may be well meaning but are ultimately misguided.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-976-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    In 2003, a few months before I began the research for this ethnography, reporters from a major national newspaper wrote a feature story about a small kindergarten through twelfth grade school from the perspective of the United States national No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy. Articles like this one were commonplace during that time period. The 2004 presidential election was just about one year away, and newspapers capitalized on opportunities to highlight issues that would polarize “red” and “blue” states and invoke fear, wonder, and pity in the hearts and minds of its loyal readers. Of all the schools the...

  5. Chapter 1 Rooted in Kin
    (pp. 21-45)

    Arriving in the field in August 2003, the Hamilton landscape seemed so unfamiliar that I wondered how I would bridge the great divide between native and outsider. There were many areas to explore and many people, I assumed, tucked inside the crannies and crevices of rural life. With very few street signs, no streetlights or sidewalks, and few discernible neighborhoods, I knew that my one saving grace was having two insiders as family members to introduce me to community members. I could not have overestimated the importance of this gift. As I would learn in the coming months, family or...

  6. Chapter 2 Descendants of a First Choice School
    (pp. 46-66)

    Jay Ellis School is the small rural school that most of the black children from Hamilton attend. The school includes all primary and secondary grades—from the Head Start pre-kindergarten program all the way up through the twelfth grade. The central place that Jay Ellis occupies in the lives of young people and within the Hamilton community cannot be overstated. Not only is Jay Ellis the place where children spend half of their days for up to fifteen years, but this structure has become the public representation of black Hamilton, itself: its history, its future, and its residents.

    Race and...

  7. Chapter 3 Educated at the Last Chance School
    (pp. 67-94)

    During my time in the field, Jay Ellis was engaged in an ongoing public relations war. When Kelly stated, “people say Jay Ellis is at the bottom and we don’t learn nothing and we don’t do nothing,” she was not referring to a few people, she was referring to a widespread, accepted opinion, an ideology that permeates the school and community. Jay Ellis has been assigned a symbolic position at the bottom of every ladder, representing the poorest and worst-off among blacks, representing the worst school in the county system, representing the lesser of the two between the city and...

  8. Chapter 4 Reproducing Misfortune through Mess
    (pp. 95-128)

    A good ethnography must accomplish several goals. It should critically address important thematic issues. It should situate these issues within larger historical, political, and economic circumstances. It should ground these issues in the everyday affairs of life. Over and above all else, it should give readers the feeling that they know “this place and these people.” They recognize what makes it distinct. They get the flavor. They can breathe it in. That’s the ice cream. If an ethnographer is really fortunate, perhaps something actually happened when he or she was in the field. And as a result, above all, readers...

  9. Chapter 5 Resistance and Spirituality
    (pp. 129-144)

    The past several chapters have situated the youth of Hamilton, Alabama, within the political economy of their everyday lives. Persistent racism and inequality, especially within the school system, undergird the minute social dramas that empirically ground daily life. In this way Raised Up Down Yonder has answered Kamari Maxine Clarke and Deborah Thomas’s call for ethnographies that, in carefully examining ethnographic subjects within their particular historical and structural milieu, call attention to the processes that many black subjects throughout the Diaspora may share.¹

    The previous chapter, “Reproducing Misfortune through Mess,” provided an analytical lens through which to understand how a...

  10. Chapter 6 Not Just Down Yonder
    (pp. 145-173)

    At the outset of Raised Up Down Yonder, I revealed the origin of the book’s title. It came from Sabrina’s desire for readers to know “that we’re not what people think we are, what city people think we are. We’re not all country, can’t talk, cannot pronounce words and you know talk like ‘down yonder.’” In this book, I have taken Sabrina’s challenge literally, attempting to reveal the complexities of life for the black youth growing up in twenty-first-century Down Yonder. My journey Down Yonder has taken me from history to structure, reproduction to resistance, and institution to biography. I...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 174-180)

    The last few words of this manuscript were penned in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was visiting family in the summer of 2012. Almost eight years had passed since I completed my ethnographic research. Though Raleigh is on the surface very different from Hamilton and Carlyle, Alabama, everywhere I visited I observed the themes of Raised Up Down Yonder. As a professor at a Historically Black University (HBCU), I find HBCUs to be fascinating repositories of history and possibility. One day, I went to Shaw University to work on this manuscript. Shaw University is a small private HBCU situated in...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 181-190)

    Many events have transpired in Hamilton since I left in 2004. The central participants in Raised Up Down Yonder were between seventeen and eighteen years old at that time. Now, they are in their midtwenties and gradually entering the middle phase of their lives.¹ Some readers might be interested in what has happened to this dynamic cast of engaging characters, since seven years makes a world of difference in the lives of young adults. A number of Hamilton’s youth have become parents, others have bought their first homes, and still others have pursued higher education or have begun their first...

  13. Appendix: Interview Schedule: Hamilton’s Youth (two-hour interview)
    (pp. 191-193)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 194-226)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-238)
  16. Index
    (pp. 239-245)