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Price: $21.95

Paperback 416 pp.
2 b/w illus., 203 mm x 135 mm



Publication date:
February 1989

Imprint: OUP US

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The Most Southern Place on Earth

The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity

James C. Cobb

"Cotton obsessed, Negro obsessed," Rupert Vance called it in 1935. "Nowhere but in the Mississippi Delta," he said, "are antebellum conditions so nearly preserved." This crescent of bottomlands between Memphis and Vicksburg, lined by the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers, remains in some ways what it was in 1860: a land of rich soil, wealthy planters, and desperate poverty--the blackest and poorest counties in all the South. And yet it is a cultural treasure house as well--the home of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Charley Pride, Walker Percy, Elizabeth Spencer, and Shelby Foote. Painting a fascinating portrait of the development and survival of the Mississippi Delta, a society and economy that is often seen as the most extreme in all the South, James C. Cobb offers a comprehensive history of the Delta, from its first white settlement in the 1820s to the present. Exploring the rich black culture of the Delta, Cobb explains how it survived and evolved in the midst of poverty and oppression, beginning with the first settlers in the overgrown, disease-ridden Delta before the Civil War to the bitter battles and incomplete triumphs of the civil rights era.

In this comprehensive account, Cobb offers new insight into "the most southern place on earth," untangling the enigma of grindingly poor but prolifically creative Mississippi Delta.


  • "This is a solidly researched and well-written book that delineates one of the most disturbing chapters and places in American history. It deserves to be widely read not only as a story of this most southern place but also as a story of the United States."--The Journal of Southwest Georgia History
  • "The work is best as a clear-thinking and sensitive history of racial and worker exploitation and as an argument that such exploitation has not been a great exception to the rest of American history but a particularly vivid culmination of it."--Ted Ownby, University of Mississippi
  • "Well researched, great little details and stories make it fascinating. A good historical perspective of Delta region."--Ron Bernthal, Sullivan County Community College
  • "Fascinating."--Philip Scranton, Rutgers University
  • "Well written, and an excellent addition to the literature on the South since the Civil War. A must read!"--J. Paul Leslie, Nicholls State University
  • "A lively, compassionate and disturbing book based on a wealth of sources."--The New York Times Book Review
  • "Extensive, engrossing, and literate."--Stephen J. Whitfield, Brandeis University
  • "An enthralling new history....Cobb's well-researched, well-written book is 'must' reading for anyone interested in the Delta."--Lexington Herald-Leader
  • "Cobb...painstakingly lays out the historical roots for the Delta's huge impact on American history....Fascinating history."--Fanfare
  • "Fulfilling the ironic meaning of the title, James Cobb provides the first comprehensive history of the Mississippi Delta to appear in half a century....His exposition of the often misunderstood sharecrop and tenant systems is a much needed contribution, but the sections devoted to the Delta's distinctive cultural life, both white and black, are outstanding. Like some of the notable works by Delta writers, whom Cobb discusses, The Most Southern Place on Earth will take its place among the classic texts in Southern studies."--Bertram Wyatt-Brown, University of Florida, author of Honor and Violence in the Old South
  • "A classic study that probes complex worlds of race and class in the Mississippi Delta with unrelenting honesty."--William Ferris, Director, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, The University of Mississippi
  • "The Mississippi Delta is God's laboratory for this old republic. Its wealth and poverty, arrogance and humility, passion and reason, black and white in a raw mix found no other place in the nation. How it comes out there may foretell the future of this country. No other author knows its history so well and puts it down fact by anguished fact in such compelling fashion. Anyone who wants to find the soul of this civilization needs to read what James Cobb has written."--Hugh Sidey, Washington Contributing Editor, Time Magazine
  • "A brilliant book. Aside from providing a fascinating and readable portrait of the nation's most interesting subregion, James Cobb's remarkable study is apt to revolutionize the way we define southern culture. The Most Southern Place on Earth is a revealing, absorbing, and disturbing work."--Numan V. Bartley, University of Georgia
  • "A virtual textbook crammed with facts about slavery, share cropping, the masculine perspective of the emerging blues tradition, red-lining, poverty politics, the complacency of the white elite and the unrealized triumphs of the civil rights era....Cobb pulls no punches in describing this sweet yet vexing land."--The Miami Herald
  • "A stimulawting work ideally suited for an upperclassman seminor on southern identity."--Bill McBride, Louisiana School for Math, Science and Art
  • "A benchmark work on the Mississippi Delta....Brilliant....Must reading....Will serve as fertile ground for empirical and further historical research on the Delta for decades to come."--Rural Sociology

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James C. Cobb is Bernadotte Schmitt Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His books include The Selling of the South, Industrialization and Southern Society, and The New Deal and the South.

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