In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tens of thousands of Southern Italians and Sicilians immigrated to the American Gulf South. Arriving during the Jim Crow era at a time when races were being rigidly categorized, these immigrants occupied a racially ambiguous place in society: they were not considered to be of mixed race, nor were they “people of color” or “white.” In Dixie’s Italians: Sicilians, Race, and Citizenship in the Jim Crow Gulf South, Jessica Barbata Jackson shows that these Italian and Sicilian newcomers used their undefined status to become racially transient, moving among and between racial groups as both “white southerners” and “people of color” across communal and state-monitored color lines.
Dixie’s Italians is the first book-length study of Sicilians and other Italians in the Jim Crow Gulf South. Through case studies involving lynchings, disenfranchisement efforts, attempts to segregate Sicilian schoolchildren, and turn-of-the-century miscegenation disputes, Jackson explores the racial mobility that Italians and Sicilians experienced. Depending on the location and circumstance, Italians in the Gulf South were sometimes viewed as white and sometimes not, occasionally offered access to informal citizenship and in other moments denied it.
Jackson expands scholarship on the immigrant experience in the American South and explorations of the gray area within the traditionally black/white narrative. Bridging the previously disconnected fields of immigration history, southern history, and modern Italian history, this groundbreaking study shows how Sicilians and other Italians helped to both disrupt and consolidate the region’s racially binary discourse and profoundly alter the legal and ideological landscape of the Gulf South at the turn of the century.