Review: In Black and White
Lily Hardy Hammond. In Black and White: An Interpretation of the South. Edited by Elna C. Green. Publications of the Southern Texts Society. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008. 160 pp. ISBN 978-0-8203-3062-4.
“The evil is great everywhere; and we of the South have been slow to start our part of the fight against it,” wrote social reformer Lily Hardy Hammond (1859–1925) in her classic critique of racism in the early twentieth-century South, 1914’s In Black and White (97). Born in New Jersey—and raised in New York—to southern parents who left the South on the eve of the Civil War, she married John Hammond in 1879, a Georgia-born Methodist minister who had come north to study at Drew Theological Seminary. Not only did Hammond’s family roots lead her to identify as a southerner, but also because of her husband’s ministerial call, she spent most of her adulthood living in different southern communities. Hammond would become, as historian Elna C. Green explains in her editorial introduction to In Black and White, “the South’s most prolific female writer on ‘the race question’” (viii). Hammond’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century public career stood at the nexus of progressivism and the social gospel movement. Unlike most other white southern liberals of this era, she advocated a social reform agenda that made its core mission a direct attack on racial inequality.
Hammond was an exceedingly prolific writer, yet her career has gone largely unnoticed by historians. In the course of her own historical research on the southern social welfare agenda, Green read Hammond’s ten books, along with dozens of essays, and found herself wondering why Hammond is so little referenced today. Green especially questioned why In Black and White remained out of print. Green herself leaves these questions unanswered, careful to avoid “speculation” on a fragmentary documentary record (xliv). Yet one key to understanding why Hammond was allowed to lapse into historical obscurity, Green suggests, may lie within a deeper examination of the Southern Methodist Church, whose leadership seems to have deliberately forgotten Hammond and her important contributions. That exploration lies beyond the scope of this volume, but to correct the general lack of recognition of Hammond’s historical contributions Green has fortunately produced a meticulously edited volume of this compelling book, as well as a substantive and engaging biographical sketch of this important woman.
A leader in Nashville’s Methodist community—the hub of Southern Methodism, where the Hammonds lived for more than a decade—and especially in the Methodist women’s home mission movement, Hammond devoted herself to trans-Atlantic scholarship on social welfare, quickly developing into a leading southern authority on reform practices. As the Southern Methodist Women’s Missionary Council pushed out of the moral realm and into the legislative arena to institute progressive change, Hammond and other white middle class southern women like her found themselves working with black middle class women in settlement houses, school improvement associations, and civic organizations. Hammond’s experiences in this interracial world led her to conclude that the leadership of the white urban middle class was key to stemming racial discrimination. She expressed her beliefs in timely essays published in Southern Methodist periodicals like Our Home andMissionary Voice as well as national secular periodicals like Harper’s and South Atlantic Quarterly.
Hammond’s most important work, however, was In Black and White. In this forceful volume, she linked the absence of economic opportunity to the multiple social ills that characterized southern black poverty. As cure, she advocated social legislation and policies to promote urban improvements ranging from publicly owned transportation to public health programs. She dared whites in the period to refute their absence of support for African Americans since emancipation. She cited lynching, Jim Crow segregation, and white-constructed black slums as the most obvious examples of widespread white moral failure. And, she was quick to include the culpability of the Christian church in her analysis: “On this question of race relationship the pulpit in the South is remarkably quiet,” she observed (3).
Hammond’s language is heavily paternalistic to the modern reader. Her insistence on the childlike behavior of black southerners is off-putting, as are her heavy-handed nature metaphors. But her larger indictment of white racism, the role white women could play in forcing change, and the quiescence of the church offers a powerful social critique by a Southern Methodist female leader in a period when most southern reformers clung to class-based change alone.