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Worlds Apart

Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America

CYNTHIA M. DUNCAN
with a Foreword by Robert Coles
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bk8b
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  • Book Info
    Worlds Apart
    Book Description:

    This compelling book takes us to three remote rural areas in the United States to hear the colorful stories of their residents-the poor and struggling, the rich and powerful, and those in between-as they talk about their families and work, the hard times they've known, and their hopes and dreams. Cynthia M. Duncan examines the nature of poverty in Blackwell in Appalachia and in the Mississippi Delta town of Dahlia. She finds in these towns a persistent inequality that erodes the fabric of the community, feeds corrupt politics, and undermines institutions crucial for helping poor families achieve the American Dream. In contrast, New England's Gray Mountain enjoys a rich civic culture that enables the poor to escape poverty. Focusing on the implications of the differences among these communities, the author provides powerful new insights into the dynamics of poverty, politics, and community change.The author conducted 350 in-depth interviews over five years and examined ten decades of U.S. Census data to unravel the ways poverty is perpetuated. Duncan unmasks the lack of basic democracy in poor places, but she also illustrates how a large middle class that supports public investment can make antipoverty and development programs work.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14782-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Robert Coles

    “There are a lot of voices in a novelist’s mind while he’s writing; and success or failure depends on knowing which voice to hear, when, and why”—so Walker Percy observed in an interview as he was struggling to understand the mysteries of his own writing life. He knew well that each persuasive, compelling novel represents a triumph of a particular person’s imaginative life enabled by a mix of psychological energy and talent that, in the end, defies abstract explanatory efforts. So with nonfiction—especially the kind offered in the pages that follow, wherein a dedicated, resourceful sociologist has traveled...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. List of People Profiled
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  6. chapter one BLACKWELL: Rigid Classes and Corrupt Politics in Appalachia’s Coal Fields
    (pp. 1-72)

    It is early morning on the last day of June and we are making our way deep into the mountains to Blackwell, an Appalachian coal county long plagued by poverty and labor trouble. An old truck piled high with large chunks of coal, lacking the cover required by law, strains to climb the hill up ahead, slowing our progress. Two new Chevy pickups, gun racks in the windows and dogs in the back, creep impatiently behind the coal truck, followed by an old Ford crowded with grandparents, teenagers, and small children climbing over the seats and peering out the back...

  7. chapter two DAHLIA: Racial Segregation and Planter Control in the Mississippi Delta
    (pp. 73-151)

    Highway 44 shimmers on this hot July day as we drive toward Dahlia, long one of the nation’s poorest and most unequal counties, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Large plantations growing cotton, rice, and soybeans dominate the landscape and the economy of this large floodplain of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Flat fields stretch endlessly to the horizon, interrupted only by the levees built decades ago to protect the crops from Mississippi River flooding. On both sides of the road, giant sprinkler systems—spiderlike pipes on wheels spewing water—are moving slowly down the fields. On the right,...

  8. chapter three GRAY MOUNTAIN: Equality and Civic Involvement in Northern New England
    (pp. 152-186)

    A new professional middle class is emerging in Dahlia, its leaders pushing for community changes that will benefit their own families and the large number of poor families that have been struggling in isolation. They are a tiny minority, and their efforts seem fragile in the face of decades of oppression and control. They work one-on-one with young people, prodding and encouraging them, much as Joanne Martin and her husband do in Blackwell. But they also are working to transform and build collaboration among local black organizations and established institutions to expand outreach. They push their elected officials to be...

  9. chapter four SOCIAL CHANGE AND SOCIAL POLICY
    (pp. 187-208)

    What do the stories in Blackwell, Dahlia, and Gray Mountain tell us about why some people and places remain trapped in poverty in America? Do they support the thesis that poor people’s destructive behavior is the real cause of their poverty? That communities like Blackwell and Dahlia have chronically high poverty rates because there was a brain drain when “those with get-up-and-go got up and went,” leaving behind those without education or ambition? Or does the real problem lie with the larger structural forces in society, the way capitalism’s free market invariably results in unequal opportunities? The way patterns of...

  10. Appendix
    (pp. 209-222)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 223-228)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 229-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-235)