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Son of the Rough South: An Uncivil Memoir Hardcover – May, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586482963
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586482961
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,514,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fleming covered the social struggles of the 1960s for Newsweek as its chief civil rights reporter. What makes this bracing memoir more than a simple morality tale about good activists versus evil traditionalists is Fleming's deep connection to Southern culture: raised in crushing poverty in smalltown North Carolina during the Depression, he was given over to a church orphanage at the tender age of eight when his mother could no longer afford to take care of him. Stumbling into journalism almost by accident, Fleming (now the L.A.-based spouse of Ann Taylor Fleming) began to see the racist culture around him in a new way, and vowed to expose the truth. Following this youthful and idealistic declaration is a harrowing and brutally honest account of Fleming's experiences on all sides of the civil rights battle: oafish, vile Klansmen as well as inspirational leaders, activists and everyday people struggling for equality are here, but more compelling are Fleming's own struggles to understand his place as a white Southerner in the midst of the chaos, fear, hatred and optimism that marked the South in the early 1960s. Eventually, the violence, both personal and political, overwhelmed Fleming, and he recounts in sobering detail his struggle to make sense of his life and his past in the years following the end of the Civil Rights movement. The territory may be familiar, but Fleming provides a complex and fresh perspective. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Fleming will forever be remembered as the Newsweek reporter who was photographed after being severely beaten in the Watts riots of 1966. In this memoir, he recounts the long road that led to his reporting on race relations and the incendiary social issues that exploded that day. He was born in 1927 in a poor, bleak North Carolina community and raised in an orphanage when his mother could no longer afford to take care of him. Fleming left college early to begin life as a reporter with a small-town newspaper, covering the police beat with a cynical police chief who mistreated blacks. It was Fleming's first hint that, having grown up in an orphanage, his sympathies were with the underdog. He went on to cover the turbulent racial changes in the South, including James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Medgar Evers. In this stunning memoir, Fleming offers the perspective of a poor white boy witnessing the racial turbulence that changed the U.S. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Fleming writes with impeccable detail and drama.
Don Gervich
As much a historical record as a mans deep conflicted psychological journey, detailing personal demons and the very horrific shameful past of the south.
I bought this book and couldn't get motivated to read it immediately but am very glad I did.
R. Spell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on June 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is over 400 pages long and I finished it in two days. It is without a doubt one of the very best books I have read in some time. Karl Fleming describes in great, interesting detail how his mother had to give him and his sister up to live in an orphanage because she wasn't able to provide for them. His experiences during this time period are many. He tells us of the unwritten rules the boys followed, the adults (Mable "Muh" Brown, in particular) who befriended him, the bully "Fatty" Clark, who gave him such a hard time, and the church sermons he had to listen to that portrayed God in such an angry way that, as an adult, unfortunately, turned Karl Fleming against attending church. Karl was without a college education, but he educated himself with his love of reading several of the classics from American literature. Hired by newsweek as a reporter Karl Fleming brings the reader to Oxford, Mississippi, where James Meredith enrolled as the first black student. The bombing of the black church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young girls, the death of three civil rights' workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and other unfortunate incidents in the civil rights movement of the 1960's are dealt with in vivid detail. Portraits of southern bigots such as Bull Connor, Ross Barnett, and others who resented their black citizens from having the equal rights they so richly deserved are also provided. Fleming, despite his growing up in North Carolina, sided with the underdog blacks because he, himself, had grown up in the orphanage being bullied. I feel God placed "Fatty" Clark in Karl's life as a young boy as a way of preparing him for what he would encounter in his job as an adult. I would suggest you have adequate time when you sit down to read this book because you're not going to want to put it down.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J Martin Jellinek on August 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
My partner met Karl Flemming when Mr. Fleming visited the National Civil Rights Museum her in Memphis. We bought the book immediately, but it took a while for me to read it. I am really glad that I did though. Mr. Fleming's upbringing in the very depressed south was fascinating and opened my eyes to a life that was very foreign to me. However, the most powerful part came close to the end, and I quote from page 416: "In a fancy new Jackson mall, two young black women having lunch at Primo's Restaurant lectured me at passionate length on how nothing was better. A decade earlier they might have been beaten or killed but here they were, eating stuffed flounder surrounded by white patrons not paying any attention, with a white waitress asking, 'Can I get you ladies anything else?'"

These changes and our acceptance of the status quo make this book essential reading. We cannot forget history and its lessons, no matter how unpleasant those lessons might be. Karl Fleming gives us an inside view of a most important part of human history. Lest we forget...

Thank you, Mr. Fleming for sharing your story with us.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Newsreader on May 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I knew of Karl Fleming as the journalist who was there for vitually every important event of the Southern Civil Rights movement. What I hadn't known was how he got there, what made him able to see the changes sweeping throught the South and the country before most other reporters in the country. His growing up years in the white underclass might have prepared him to be as resistant to change as any good old boy. But he grew up in relative innocence, in a white Methodist orphanage, and emerged with a naive curiosity that made him a great reporter. This is a book about a life that simply could not be lived in any other era in this country.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on June 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Growing up in the deep south during the civil rights era, I can remember school being closed because the KKK had called a big rally. Even at the time I can remember watching the television news the night Brown vs. Board of Education (separate but equal education was not equal at all) and realizing that the world was about to change.

It's good to read this book and review what happened through the eyes of a professional reporter who was actually there for most of the action.

The title talks about the 'Rough South.' And indeed it was. In looking back on it with fifty years of perspective, it was an amazing transition. And all in all, it was not nearly as rough as it could have been. There were a lot of people there who really hated each other and on both sides. Today there is still some racial friction in the south, but not even a shadow of what it was then.

This is a remerberance of a time of great fundamental change in out culture very well told.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Spell VINE VOICE on July 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Originally from California but having grown up mostly in the South, as a 52 year old male I looked forward to this summary of the civil rights movement. This book is MUCH better than I expected and would put it in my Top 10 of all time. First of all, as the premier writer of the civil rights movement mainly in Mississippi and Alabama this first hand account sheds new light not only the events that have been reported but also the emotional mentality of the crowds, the offended race AND the reporters caught up in the story. I live in Memphis and have seen racism and to this day, subtle racism. But the description in this book of the open disregard for the law and willingness to kill, maim or intimidate with no fear of retribution is eye-opening.

But this book is much more than civil rights. Growing up at the end of the depression Karl Fleming gives an account of a different family life in a less affluent time. Reading of he and his sister being sent to an orphanage is heart wrenching. This event obviously has long lasting effects on his relationship with his mother. This section and his initial jobs in the Navy during the war and upon return as a cub reporter gives great insight to a mystical life growing up in the charming South that so many Southerners would prefer to revisit. If I have one complaint it is that he later only mentions his sister in passing. How did she emotionally survive this ordeal. I'd really like to know.

The third act of this book is of a mature reporter whose family is dissolving as he enters a relationship with a new woman to whom he is still married to this day. But it also touches on the cultures of the 60s with his interest in booze and later drugs.
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