The word story is embedded in the word history, which is fitting since history books tell stories as well as convey historical information. A storyline that runs through many history books is the “rise and fall” trope. There are lots of books about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire or the rise and fall of Napoleon, but this trope also can be found in books that focus on the history of our region. Two such books are Karen L. Cox’s No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Gene Hoots’ Going Down Tobacco Road: R. J. Reynolds’ Tobacco Empire. Both of these books came out in the past year, and both are by Charlotte authors.
Karen Cox is a professor in the History Department at UNC Charlotte. She is the author of several books that deal with the history of the American South, including Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture and Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South. In No Common Ground, she traces the history of Confederate monuments from the Reconstruction period to the present day. Published by the University of North Carolina Press, No Common Ground is literally a rise-and-fall story. She recounts how the Daughters of the Confederacy and other groups of white Southerners commissioned the building and erection of statues honoring Confederate military figures and political leaders. She then discusses the growing controversy surrounding these monuments, culminating with the current movement to take down these monuments and remove them from public display.
In its official description of the book, the University of North Carolina Press states:
In this eye-opening narrative of the efforts to raise, preserve, protest, and remove Confederate monuments, Karen L. Cox depicts what these statues meant to those who erected them and how a movement arose to force a reckoning. She lucidly shows the forces that drove white southerners to construct beacons of white supremacy, as well as the ways that anti-monument sentiment, largely stifled during the Jim Crow era, returned with the civil rights movement and gathered momentum in the decades after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Monument defenders responded with gerrymandering and “heritage” laws intended to block efforts to remove these statues, but hard as they worked to preserve the Lost Cause vision of southern history, civil rights activists, Black elected officials, and movements of ordinary people fought harder to take the story back. Timely, accessible, and essential, No Common Ground is the story of the seemingly invincible stone sentinels that are just beginning to fall from their pedestals.
Gene Hoots is a retired financial analyst who worked as an executive at the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company from 1967 to 1986. For much of this time, he ran the company’s pension investment fund. Serving in this position provided him with an insider’s point of view in terms of the inner workings of the company. His experience with the company caused him to take an interest in the history of Reynolds and its impact on North Carolina. For years he collected information about the company, and in 2017, at the age of 78, he decided to write a comprehensive history of the Reynolds Tobacco Company from its founding in 1875 to the leveraged buyout in 1989 that led to the company’s demise. Three years after he started writing the book, Going Down Tobacco Road came out. Although the book relates to the category of business history, it goes beyond telling the story of the rise and fall of Reynolds. It also provides insights into the history of the region’s tobacco culture.
In its official description of the book, the publisher (Encore Consulting) states:
Gene Hoots worked for R. J. Reynolds for twenty-one years. He saw its empire grow and then destroyed in 1989 in the biggest leveraged buyout in history. But he knew there was a longer, dramatic story that both led to and followed the historic buyout. Going Down Tobacco Road is a new look at how the ‘gold leaf’ became king in North Carolina and its impact on robber barons, factory workers, farmers, and almost everyone else in the state. But it is also the story of an Empire whose profitability from a controversial product brought untold riches to businesses, governments, and several million people and then caused its own destruction.
Both of these writers have their own websites: If you want to know more about Karen Cox, please click on this link: https://karencoxhistorian.com/ If you want know more about Gene Hoots, please click on this link: https://goingdowntobaccoroad.com/
In many ways, Karen Cox’s story about the rise and fall of Confederate monuments and Gene Hoots’ story about the rise and fall of the Reynolds Tobacco Company are chapters in a larger story about the rise of the New South and the gradual fall of the Old South. Both of these books provide readers with insights into the complexities of our region’s history, and both are worthy additions to Storied Charlotte’s impressive library of books about the history of the New South.