Last refuge of poor white man: ‘At least I ain’t a n—–‘

“A white man named Billy Harwood, who was imprisoned in 1994, started work at Smithfield [Packing Co. in Tar Heel] after his release in 2001.

“Aghast at the number of Mexicans, Harwood wondered aloud, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ By that year, fully one-third of the babies born at the health clinic in neighboring Robeson County were Latino.

“As Charlie LeDuff reported in the New York Times, Harwood ‘was Rip Van Winkle standing there.’ Locked up for seven years, he had missed the birth of a new kind of Southern racial order. Suddenly, he found himself thrust into the middle of it.

“Harwood still believed his skin color conferred on him a certain kind of advantage. While Harwood found the work terrible, he could take solace. ‘At least I ain’t a n—–. I’ll find other work soon. I’m a white man.’ ”

— From “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975” by Jason Sokol (2007)

 

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