Sociologist Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin spent a lifetime studying and opposing economic and racial oppression. Her iconoclastic 1947 autobiography The Making of a Southerner traced the roots and flaws of the “Lost Cause” she was taught as a child to revere, and revealed how a “child of the Confederacy” could move beyond a heritage of white supremacy.
Lumpkin was born in Macon, Georgia, to Annette and William Wallace Lumpkin, the youngest of eleven children (four died young). Her birth, often reported as 1897, was announced in the December 25, 1895 Macon Telegraph as occurring on Christmas Eve that year. While she was a small child, the Lumpkin family (including her sister Grace, who would become a well-known proletarian novelist of the 1930s) left Georgia for Richland County, South Carolina, after the Georgia Railroad Company transferred Lumpkin’s father, a central figure in The Making of a Southerner.
The Making of a Southerner's narrative begins a half-century before Lumpkin was born, on a 1200-acre Oglethorpe County cotton plantation with black slaves for whom her father, born in 1849, was the “young master.” Drawing upon her father’s stories, contemporary newspapers and court records, Lumpkin tells how the unstable slave-labor cotton economy and civil war led her grandfather to abandon the plantation for a house in nearby Union Point, in Greene County, where her fifteen-year-old father enlisted with the Confederate cavalry in 1864, only to share its ultimate defeat.
Describing how he studied law with ex-Confederate leader Alexander Stephens, then struggled to sustain a professional practice in the meager postwar economy and was ultimately forced to take a salaried railroad job, Lumpkin imagines her father’s path through Reconstruction. He clings to “the profession of his forebears” yet must go wherever the railroad sends him with his children and his wife, another Georgian whose childhood plantation fortune was erased by the war. In a chapter titled “A Child Inherits a Lost Cause,” The Making of a Southerner introduces Lumpkin’s own memories to illustrate how Southerners who had known neither slavery nor war could inherit the Confederacy’s romantic myth and its companion “white supremacy.”
Lumpkin is “baptized” in “the fiery experience of Southern patriotism“ at the 1903 Confederate soldiers’ reunion, even plays dress-up in a children’s make-believe Ku Klux Klan “club.” But as she grows up, she feels a dawning consciouness of class and race, and the tensions they involved. Her image of her father as “a southern gentleman of grace and manners, given to noblesse oblige” is shaken when she sees him beating a black cook for “impudence.” On the Lumpkins’ farm outside of Columbia she sees close up for the first time white poverty and its symptoms among her country neighbors. She encounters black cotton pickers who are not “jolly black laborers,” but remote, “like people who were carrying some kind of burden with which they were preoccupied.”
Arriving at Brenau College, in Gainesville, Georgia, in 1912, an already skeptical Lumpkin discovers that “questions growing out of my Southernness” are encouraged. In the Young Womens Christian Association she travels and attends conferences where African American speakers are featured. The Making of a Southerner describes how she was drawn to the Social Gospel movement, and to begin directing her intellect at racial and economic boundaries that hindered the underprivileged.
After graduation with a history degree and two years as a teaching assistant at Brenau, Lumpkin leaves Georgia again, this time for Columbia University in New York, where she attends seminars with African American students – even “eating with Negroes,” and thus discards another taboo of her upbringing. As she earns a masters in sociology at Columbia, she reappraises segregation once more from within, back in the South as YWCA national student secretary for the southern region (1920-1925).
Finally, The Making of a Southerner concludes with Lumpkin’s reflection upon two decades of active social research, and how it leads her to write her autobiography, having learned
[…} how diverse were Southerners, and how different the strains of Southern heritage that had been handed on, for instance by the white millions whose forebears never owned slaves, and also by the Negro millions whose people had been held in slavery…. It was this different South, that in the end drew me towards my refashioning, even as my Old South receded further into history.
The Making of a Southerner was Lumpkin’s fifth book. Her first three were published while she was a director of research at Smith College's Council of Industrial Studies (1932-1939). She had completed her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Wisconsin (1928), taught at Mount Holyoke (Mass.) for one year, followed up with a research fellowship to study a group of New York families, and worked with the Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania) department of social economy and social research.
Lumpkin's early books --The Family: A Study of Member Roles (1933); Shutdowns in the Connecticut Valley: A Study of Worker Displacement in the Small Industrial Community (1934); and Child Workers in America (1937), co-authored with radical economist Dorothy Wolff Douglas, with whom Lumpkin lived for many years -- drew heavily upon Lumpkin’s statistical sources and case records. While she was director of research at the Institute of Labor Studies (Northhampton, Massachusetts) from 1940 to 1953, Lumpkin wrote both The Making of a Southerner and her fourth book, The South in Progress (1940), about 1930s-era South’s problems of labor and industry. In 1945 she was editor of the Yearbook of American Labor.
Harassed for their politics during the anticommunism hysteria of the 1950s, Lumpkin and Douglas ended up leaving the Institute of Labor Studies and eventually they separated. Lumpkin was awarded a literary fellowship to complete a manuscript novel, "Eli Hill,” about Reconstruction, yet never published it. She joined the sociology department at Wells College in Aurora, New York, in 1956. She taught and lectured at Wells until 1967, then retired to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she continued to lecture and write. In 1974 she published her final book, The Emancipation of Angelina Grimke (1974), a biography of the nineteenth-century abolitionist from South Carolina.
In 1979 Lumpkin moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she died on May 5, 1988.
In 2019, the lives of Lumpkin and her sisters Grace and Elizabeth were the subject of an award-winning historical study published by the University of North Carolina Press, Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America, by Jacqueleyn Dowd Hall.
- Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. “`You must remember this': Autobiography as Social Critique.” Journal of American History. Vol. 85, Issue 2 (September 1998).
- Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. “‘To Widen the Reach of Our Love’: Autobiography, History, and Desire.” Feminist Studies 26 (Spring 2000).
- Hobson, Fred C. “The Sins of the Fathers: Lillian Smith and Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin.” Southern Review. Vol. 34, Issue 4 (Fall 1998).
- O'Dell, Darlene. Sites of Southern Memory: The Autobiographies of Katherine Du Pre Lumpkin, Lillian Smith, and Pauli Murray. Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 2001.
- “A Fine Present.” The Macon Telegraph. Dec. 25, 1895, p. 5. Digital Library of Georgia. Web. June 2016.
Photo of Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, item #P-4171 no. 13, from the Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin papers, Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The following books by Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin are held by the Hargrett Library:
The Making of a Southerner. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991.
The Making of a Southerner. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981.
The Emancipation of Angelina Grimke. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.
The Making of a Southerner. New York: A. A. Knopf 1947.
The South in Progress. New York: International publishers, 1940.
Child Workers in America. (With Dorothy Wolff Douglas.) New York: R.M. McBride, 1937.
The Family. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1933.
The Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin collection at the University of North Carolina's Wilson Special Collections Library contains Lumpkin's correspondence, manuscripts, research materials, lecture notes and drafts, photographs, and other papers.