Skip to main content


ISSUE:  Winter 1938

Caste and Class in a Southern Tmvn. By John Dollard, Ph.D. Published for The Institute of Human Relations. New Haven,: Yale University Press. $3.50.

Southern race relations furnish a subject of enduring inquiry to many social scientists, especially sociologists. Southern towns likewise are topics of interest to students of human relations. In “Caste and Class in a Southern Town,” Dr. John Dollard, a sociologist, has undertaken to make a combined study of race and of town life in the South. He spent five months in the town he writes about and had numerous interviews with men and women of both races. He acknowledges a “debt of analogy” to Robert S. and Helen M. Lynd, whose “Middle-town” has grown in importance since its appearance in 1929. “Southerntown,” like “Middletown,” is a fictitious name for a real center. The location, according to all the internal evidence of the volume, is in a Delta county of Mississippi, a county in which Negroes constitute seventy per cent of the population. This race ratio makes the town typical of only a part, though an important part, of the South, and, consequently, the interpretation must not be accepted as applicable to the whole Southern or Southeastern region. The author dispenses certain bits of information which seem rather strange to the reviewer, who was born and reared in a Southern county in which the whites, not the Negroes, constituted a substantial majority. Dr. Dollard gives emphasis, for instance, to a rigid taboo against whites’ shaking hands with Negroes and tells of his embarrassment on that account in meeting Negro informants. I have never felt the effects of such a taboo, though I shake hands with Negroes, even on a town square or in other public places. A taboo in Mr. Dollard’s Southerntown is merely a restricted practice in my town. The Dollard study is both more and less than the Lynd study. We get a less intimate and less thorough report of the total goings-on in the town than the Lynds have given for their town. But we get incident on top of incident and analysis on top of analysis in the sphere of inter-racial and intra-racial attitudes, feelings, and activities. Much of the information collected in the town on the subject of race concerns other towns and other sections; this somewhat minimizes the importance of the work as a town study and increases its value as a racial study. It seems fair to say that the book is pointed toward an understanding and explanation of the thinking, culture, and status of the Negro, but that it gives attention to the other race because of the author’s realization “that whites and whiteness form an inseparable part of the mental life of the Negro.” Each race is approached under a three-fold division of classes: upper, middle, and lower. But Dr. Dollard gives chief attention to middle-class and lower-class Negroes and to middle-class whites. In a forty-page appendix, Leonard W. Doob, who also visited Southerntown, presents a scholarly but somewhat tentative discussion of “Poor Whites: A Frustrated Class.” This essay reveals more directness of statement and more clearness of perspective than does the main study.

Mr. Dollard writes of his Southern investigation with a considerable degree of self-consciousness. He seems ever conscious of being a Northerner, a sociologist, and a disciple of Freud. He makes rather frequent comment on his own reactions to this and that experience, and he takes many pages for an introductory treatment of research site, methodology, bias, historical attitudes, and the like, getting around to the discussion of caste and class in Southerntown at the beginning of Chapter Five. He makes at least seven references to Freud without working in Adler or inferiority and superiority complexes, which his title might suggest. He gives no little emphasis to the incidents and the incidence of sex in race relations, presenting facts, supported conclusions, and guesses. He shows how inter-racial sex violence by white men tends to bring about insecurity to Negroes of both sexes. He piles up cases and case histories, on which a sensitive Mississippian might call for a statistical check. He discusses the economic gains and losses of the caste system, touching upon the plight of the Negro in this respect. He works in extensive footnote dissertations, with quotations “by permission” from the writings of Donald Young, Charles S. Johnson, Arthur Raper, Howard W. Odum, E. B. Reuter, A. H. Stone, Paul Lewinson, R. R. Moton, and others. These learned observations add their own quality to the study but seem to limit it as a succinct report on Southerntown. Perhaps this is a book which sociologists prefer, but one might wish that such an important study could be given a more direct lay appeal.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading