Part I: To begin the world anew. Taking out the trash : waste people in the New World ; John Locke's Lubberland : the settlements of Carolina and Georgia ; Benjamin Franklin's American breed : the demographics of mediocrity ; Thomas Jefferson's rubbish : a curious topography of class ; Andrew Jackson's cracker country : the squatter as common man
Part II: Degeneration of the American breed. Pedigree and poor white trash : bad blood, half-breeds and clay-eaters ; Cowards, poltroons, and mudsills : Civil war as class warfare ; Thoroughbreds and scalawags : bloodlines and bastard stock in the age of eugenics ; Forgotten men and poor folk : downward mobility and the Great Depression ; The cult of the country boy : Elvis Presley, Andy Griffith, and LBJ's Great Society
Part III: The white trash makeover. Redneck roots : Deliverance, Billy Beer, and Tammy Faye ; Outing rednecks : slumming, Slick Willie, and Sarah Palin ; America's strange breed : the long legacy of white trash.
The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement. They were alternately known as "waste people," "offals," "rubbish," "lazy lubbers," and "crackers." By the 1850s, the downtrodden included so-called "clay eaters" and "sandhillers," known for prematurely-aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds. Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, history professor Nancy Isenberg upends assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society ; where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics –- a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society and they now haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.