cover image Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power

Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power

Jefferson Cowie. Basic, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-1-5416-7280-2

Vanderbilt University historian Cowie (The Great Exception) examines in this gripping and haunting study the centuries-long tradition of localism by which white Americans have sought to exert their dominance over groups they have designated as “others.” He astutely grounds his study in one specific place—Barbour County, Ala.—and its struggles over land, citizenship, and democracy, from the violent theft by white settlers of land belonging by federal guarantee to Creek Indians in the 1830s and the eventual establishment on those lands of intensely profitable cotton plantations worked by enslaved people, through the rise of militant states’ rights groups such as the Eufaula Regency in the 1850s and the century following the Civil War, when local whites did all that they could to prevent African Americans from utilizing the rights granted to them by the federal government. Cowie also tracks the ascension of Barbour County native and avowed segregationist George Wallace to the Alabama governor’s office, detailing how his calls for freedom from federal oversight tapped into a deep vein of racialized politics running from the country’s founding to the January 6 Capitol riot. Cowie’s meticulous accumulation of detail and candid assessments (he calls out Lyndon Johnson for transforming the 1957 Civil Rights Act into the “weakest bill it could possibly be”) make for distressing yet essential reading. This is history at its most vital. Illus. (Nov.)