Taking the Fight South
Chronicle of a Jew's Battle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
280 pages, 6.25 x 9.38 , 35 b&w illustrations
Hardcover | 9780268109165 | February 2021
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268109196 | February 2021
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268109189 | February 2021
Taking the Fight South provides a timely and telling reminder of the vigilance democracy requires if racial justice is to be fully realized.
Distinguished historian and civil rights activist Howard Ball has written dozens of books during his career, including the landmark biography of Thurgood Marshall, A Defiant Life, and the critically acclaimed Murder in Mississippi, chronicling the Mississippi Burning killings. In Taking the Fight South, arguably his most personal book, Ball focuses on six years, from 1976 to 1982, when, against the advice of friends and colleagues in New York, he and his Jewish family moved from the Bronx to Starkville, Mississippi, where he received a tenured position in the political science department at Mississippi State University. For Ball, his wife, Carol, and their three young daughters, the move represented a leap of faith, ultimately illustrating their deep commitment toward racial justice.
Ball, with breathtaking historical authority, narrates the experience of his family as Jewish outsiders in Mississippi, an unfamiliar and dangerous landscape contending with the aftermath of the civil rights struggle. Signs and natives greeted them with a humiliating and frightening message: “No Jews, Negroes, etc., or dogs welcome.” From refereeing football games, coaching soccer, and helping young black girls integrate the segregated Girl Scout troops in Starkville, to life-threatening calls from the KKK in the middle of the night, from his work for the ACLU to his arguments in the press and before a congressional committee for the extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Ball takes the reader to a precarious time and place in the history of the South. He was briefly an observer but quickly became an activist, confronting white racists stubbornly holding on to a Jim Crow white supremacist past and fighting to create a more diverse, equitable, and just society.
Ball’s story is one of an imitable advocate who didn’t just observe as a passive spectator but interrupted injustice. Taking the Fight South will join the list of required books to read about the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of racism in the United States. The book will also appeal to readers interested in Judaism because of its depiction of anti-Semitism directed toward Starkville’s Jewish community, struggling to survive in the heart of the deep and very fundamentalist Protestant South.
Howard Ball is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Vermont. He specializes in civil liberties, civil rights, constitutional law, and American government. He is the author or co-author of over thirty books, including Of Power and Right: Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, and America’s Constitutional Revolution and The Supreme Court in the Intimate Lives of Americans.
“As we examine the horrific examples of public racism, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant policy and behavior in contemporary society, I read this book personally, internalizing it deeply to ask if I would have had similar courage.” —Mark Curnutte, author of Across the Color Line
“Howard Ball is a tenacious legal activist and teacher of civil rights. His involvement with the cause has been lifelong. More than anything else, his work in the Mississippi ACLU grounds this entertaining and informative book.” —Howard Winant, co-author of Racial Formation in the United States
"Howard Ball has written extensively about civil rights and civil liberties. Taking the Fight South offers readers a candid and emotional view of the six years he spent living in Starkville and teaching political science at Mississippi State University. In the process, Ball reinforces his Jewish identity as well as his determination to fight racism, finding out firsthand what it takes to be a 'mensch.'" —Steven F. Lawson, co-author of Exploring American Histories
"Howard Ball's memoir connects the dots between his teaching and scholarship on constitutional law and civil rights, his life and career as an advocate for racial equality, and his Jewish identity. It offers a first-hand narrative of southern Jewish community from the perspective of a never-fully-welcomed New Yorker. Recounting his research on the failure of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to guarantee compliance, the memoir sheds depressing light on voter discrimination today. It reminds us of the fragility of democracy and of the urgency of resisting ongoing efforts to subvert it." —Cheryl Lester, co-author of Social Work Practice With a Difference
"Ball’s third book as an interloper in the Deep South is poignant, enlightening, and serves as a reminder of how far Mississippi has come and yet how far we still have to go." —The Daily Leader
"In 1976, historian and civil rights activist Howard Ball moved his family from the Bronx to Starkville, Mississippi, where they’d stay until 1982. Ball describes the experience of his Jewish New York brood as they fend off KKK phone calls and fight for a more just future." —Jewish Exponent
"Ball taught at Mississippi State University, adjacent to the town of Starkville, from 1976 to 1982, and in this engaging book, he recalls his experiences as a liberal in a staunchly conservative state which had been an integral part of the Confederacy and which fiercely resisted desegregation." —The Times of Israel