My wife is from Atlanta, so we visit Georgia frequently. In addition to downtown Hotlanta with its nauseating CNN Studio Tours and “World of Coca-Cola,” I’ve become acquainted with beautiful old towns in Marietta, Alpharetta, Roswell, and Dahlonega. I’ve explored the Chattahoochee, Stone Mountain, and various historic houses, plantations, and churches across North Georgia. I’ve seen the Braves, the Yellowjackets, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. And I’ve eaten my fair share of Georgia barbecue, soul food, peaches and peanuts.

With the exception of Coke and CNN (and a brief mention of Stone Mountain) none of the above are featured in Princeton professor Imani Perry’s two chapters on Georgia in her best-selling 2022 book, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation. Her chapter on Atlanta spends much more time discussing black music, historic black colleges and universities, and “Magic City,” which, apparently, is the most famous strip club in the world. “Atlanta makes it obvious that being American is being a trickster,” says Perry.

Granted, by no means would I call myself an expert when it comes to the Peach State. But if South to America is supposed to be a “revelatory argument for why you must understand the South in order to understand America,” Perry’s discussion of Georgia seems disproportionately focused on the things that matter to, well, a liberal, Ivy-league-educated academic trained in critical theory and working in Princeton’s Gender and Sexuality Studies program. And that’s pretty much the case with the entirety of Perry’s solipsistic work.

In her first chapter on Appalachia, Perry discusses how as a black woman she was regularly warned about going to West Virginia, especially “in the Trump era” (there are nationally-known black academics at West Virginia University and a Society of Black Scholars at Marshall University, but OK). So she decided to visit what most represents the Mountain State: Harpers Ferry. As she strolls the tourist town, she declares: “certain crimes were ceased by the Civil War, but they have not been purged. Not yet.” She is frustrated by the insufficient amount of historical references to the black experience there. “Maybe I am projecting too much onto the place,” she wonders. That might be the most self-aware observation in the entire book.

She meets a Confederate reenactor with a day job in Washington, D.C. whom she calls Bob. “I wondered if his dislike of DC was not really about his work but about it being a chocolate city… I wondered, did Bob face down Black soldiers on the battlefield? If so, did he see nothing but a blur of Black, no faces, no features?” Perhaps Perry could have asked him, but I’d imagine it’s dangerous to risk undermining the caricatures that achieve your desired literary effect.

In her chapter on Virginia, her reflections on Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are, of course, tethered to slavery. “Murderous hypocrisy is an old American habit,” she writes of Patrick Henry. She visits a restaurant in Lynchburg where she is not greeted. “I observed myself as the only Black person in the place,” she writes. You know what the only explanation must be! For extra flourish, she imagines an oppressed black woman in the back fixing the food.

She describes meeting a Lyft driver in Charlottesville, a middle-aged white woman with “very large bangs” and hair that reached to her waist. The driver divulges to Perry that her husband left her, but she then found Jesus and “the power to heal.” She tells Perry she once snuck into a hospital and healed a black man who had his arm in a sling. Perry writes of the experience:

What arrogance, I thought, to presume one self-aggrandized touch could heal the wounds of distance made clear by the lynching tree… To think it could purify her of an inherited untrustworthiness and, more than that, give her the authority to set the world aright in the personal chamber of an ailing and vulnerable Black man.

But there’s more. The Lyft driver then tells Perry of Jesus’s promise of a home with many rooms (John 14:2-4) and Paul’s promise that we will reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12). “But the bigger question for me was this,” says Perry. “Who did she plan to rule like kings and queens over? Nonbelievers? Sinners? Others?… This God of which she spoke, it struck me, was the God of masters.” Now granted, I would likely have my fair share of theological questions about a low-church evangelical who claims miraculous healing powers, but what Perry extrapolates about this poor woman from her religious musings is beyond specious — it’s downright cruel, laying at the white woman’s feet not only ignorance and arrogance, but lynching and slavery.

As even a Washington Post review hinted, much of South to America is of a similar character to the above anecdote: Perry projects onto Southern people and places her prejudices and preconceptions. Most everything about the South is interpreted through the narrow, ideological lens of the exploitation of black Americans. Every event, every story must be twisted to fit that narrative, something I believe psychologists call “confirmation bias.” In Perry’s world, blacks are the noble victims; whites are caricatured either as evil exploiters or ignorant bigots.

This also means that victim narratives must be forever foregrounded. Her chapter on Kentucky has a long reflection on the exploitation of black jockeys in the horse-racing business. Former President Trump’s immigration policies, for some reason, are discussed in her chapter on Maryland. When she gets to Alabama, we hear about Nazis, the “N word” and homophobia.

In a book claiming to “understand the soul of a nation,” one would think music would be a central topic. Yet the Grand Ole Opry is mentioned only to note that few blacks have performed there. Elvis receives no attention, nor Bluegrass or Southern Rock. Even the blues, a music genre America owes to black southerners, gets short shrift, with not a word about great early legends such as Robert Johnson, Blind Wilie Johnson, or Charley Patton. We do, however, learn about rappers Outkast and Ludacris (Perry wrote a book about the glories of hip hop).

In her awkward attempts at profundity, Perry’s prose often stumbles into the absurd. In one reflection, she ventures a link between Puritan pastor Samuel Danforth’s sermon “An Errand into the Wilderness” and Danforth’s spiritual descendents in Appalachia. She writes:

The gospel was extracting abundance from the wild landscape. Human sacrifice was expected. Suffering death and repetition served the new-world aristocracy of wealth. In Appalachia the errand isn’t an end but a repetition. Alliances and affections shift, but the whole cast repeats itself.

I have no idea what Perry is trying to say here. It’s unclear what purpose personifying “the gospel” serves here. The awkward placement of the word “human” next to “sacrifice” adds nothing except to lead the reader to wonder if she is implying Appalachians have engaged in human sacrifice. And is there a place where work is not repetitive, or alliances and affections don’t shift? Bizarrely, if ironically, she ends that chapter: “Acting like you know everything and acting like you don’t know how to be respectful will keep you ignorant. Be humble.”

South to America is anything but humble. Perry’s self-serving arguments are tenuous, her descriptions of the South contrived, her musings self-indulgent. She is less making an argument that the South is the “soul of a nation” than that she, with all her narcissistic preoccupations, is the soul of the South. And even that is a stretch: she claims to be a “native of Birmingham,” but departed Alabama when she was five years old, and has resided in the north ever since.

Every summer when we visit my wife’s family, my father-in-law and I (and more recently my eldest son) attend a Braves game. It’s an experience that reflects the charms, oddities, and paradoxes of Atlanta, and, I’d wager, the New South. Truist Park is in The Battery Atlanta, a mixed-use development featuring fine dining and luxury hotels, as well as apartments and office buildings. A talented (if very loud) all-black drumline greets you at the turnstiles, though you’re more likely to hear country music from the stadium speakers.

During tense, climactic moments, you’ll be invited to participate in the tomahawk chop, which remains a curious holdout in the face of woke protests regarding indigenous sports mascots. You can partake of barbecue or soul food, craft beers or sweet tea. In your section, you’re just as likely to rub shoulders with professional, urbanite blacks as you are thick-accented working-class whites from the boonies. It is, in sum, a fascinating panoply of racial and socio-economic diversity that reflects a New South city trying (imperfectly) to retain some residue of its old Southern character. The next time Ms. Perry visits Atlanta, I’d suggest that might be a better object of cultural anthropological study than a strip club I’ve never heard of.

Casey Chalk

Casey Chalk has degrees in history and education from the University of Virginia, and a masters in theology from Christendom College. He is a regular contributor for New Oxford Review, The Federalist, American Conservative, and Crisis Magazine. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands (Sophia Institute).


  • And I suppose the book will be Required Reading for many college students. More indoctrination then results.

    I sense a trend here. When you rip out a kudzu vine, soon tendrils and leaves appear from the ground. You then must remove them, only to see vines sprout from your basement wall! Each level of vine removed soon requires the next level below it to be removed.

    The Metaphor I am saying is about God. Or Jesus Christ.
    Remove Him.
    *then* you have to remove the next level down, the family values.
    Next, goes the culture of the white man.

    The South, to me, is one of the largest holdouts where God, family, culture, and ethics/morals still have an influence.

    Gotta remove all of these, or else invalidate them all.

    Yes, remove the tomato vine trellis such that now all the tomatoes now sit on the ground and then risk ROTTING!


  • Tom Wiggins says:

    This woman, loosely used description, in her quest for riches, undoubtedly has gained her knowledge of the great state of Alabama, through fictional works such as “to kill a mockingbird”.

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    How many free blacks were brought to the New World? Supposedly, they came over in “slave ships”. So when did free blacks magically become slaves? Upon embarking on their voyage? Or was it prior to stepping aboard? Would black slavery in the New World have been possible without slavery already existing in Africa?

    Who financed the shipping of slaves? Someone had to foot the bill…letters of credit were issued…rates of interest charged. What industry could have “facilitated” these transactions?

    Why was “Old Fuss and Feathers” so certain the ANACONDA PLAN would strangle the South? Didn’t he realize vast Southern Shipyards would allow the Confederacy to slip through Anaconda’s grasp?

    SURELY THERE WERE VAST SOUTHERN SHIPYARDS…HOW ELSE WOULD THE SLAVES HAVE MADE THEIR WAY FROM AFRICA? If there were no vast Southern shipyards, who built the “slave ships”?

    I think you’re wasting your time reviewing her “work”.

    • Billy P says:

      Exactly! Well said.

      Northern banks and shipyards were built on the peculiar industry and Africans themselves provided the goods. They share in the foundation yet are more than willing to exonerate themselves and project their guilt of involvement on others. The south is one convenient scapegoat for Lincoln’s empire but hardly worthy of the full blame, if there is such a thing for something that was considered legal during that time and 1000’s of years prior to it. Presentism is a dangerous thing when today’s morality is applied to a time that no one living today can fully understand.

      I am reminded of that quote from an NC newspaper from 1854…”A meddling Yankee is God’s worst creation; he cannot run his own affairs correctly, but he is constantly interfering in the affairs of others, and he is always ready to repent of everyone’s sins, but his own.” How true, and true to this day, but this not only applies to Yankees. Some among us have decided/chosen to be perpetual victims with only an ability to point a finger, never looking in the mirror. They have enslaved themselves to victimhood voluntarily, never resting from beating that drum. This book is clearly just another drum beating.

      Long live the south and never forget those who fought and died to defend it. They were far better men (and women) than anything produced these days, and they are hardly worthy of the constant disparagement of today’s ignorant ilk. Nor are we.

      • William Quinton Platt III says:

        Thank you. I try to remind readers not to be confused by the trees when there is an entire forest to observe.

        No one was enslaved in the New World, all were enslaved in Africa.

        The royals controlled the oceans. Ships weren’t assembled in Georgia by good ole boys and sailed to Africa just as 747s aren’t crafted from scrapyards in New Orleans and flown to Heathrow…the Royal Navy existed for one purpose and that was to provide tax enforcement for the British Empire. Of course, the BE had to defeat the Spaniards and the French whose navies were for exactly the same purpose.

        There were no slave revolts during the War Between the States…not for the four years of invasion where millions of yankees came down to inspire and supply uprisings…ZERO. This tells you what the slaves thought of slavery. If you want another few thousand opinions, read the Slave Narratives (free on the internet)…of course, these opinions don’t serve the current “narrative” which is to create another war, this one a “true” civil war.

        Try this one, in your favorite search engine type: HARPER’S WEEKLY 10 JAN 1863 REBEL NEGRO PICKET…then forward the results to your mailing list.

        Inform your readers of the importance of Harper’s Weekly and also the importance of trust-worthy pickets for the survival of an army.

        Our government lying to us didn’t start with covid.

  • Virginia says:

    Ignorant woman.

  • Thomas Schaaf says:

    Bravo Mr. Chalk for another scholarly take-down of a mischievious Northern “journalist” fabricating more lies about the South and Southerners. To what end? We know their agenda so well; it has become tedious to endure. Thanks for standing up!

    btw, I went back through your Abbeville entries over the past two years. They are classic essays you should bind into a volume for required reading in public schools!

    You and Valerie Protopapas are the A-Team in Virginia!

    Bravo again.

  • Paul DuBois says:

    The author of South to America sounds like a real bore to read, and an otherwise loathsome individual.
    Thank you Mr. Chalk for enlightening your readers.

  • Paul Dubois says:

    Perry sounds like a typical product of the current “literary” milieu promoted by America’s Woke establishment.

  • ossama says:

    APerry sounds like a typical product of wonderful and the current “literary” milieu promoted by America’s Woke establishment.

Leave a Reply