Historian Keri Leigh Merritt On Poverty and PrivilegeHistorians in the News
tags: poverty, Southern history, White Privilege
Keri Leigh Merritt is a 38-year-old mother of two. She lives in a spacious 4-bedroom home she and her husband designed in Decatur.
She has a good life. She’s married to a good man and has enjoyed a fruitful career as an author and historian.
She has lived on both sides of the same coin and looked hard at her life. As the daughter of white southerners, she knows what it’s like to be poor despite working multiple jobs, to get annual medical check-ups at Planned Parenthood because she had no health insurance, to worry about how to pay for groceries. But without the benefits of white privilege, she knows her life might look completely different.
From the time she was old enough to cross a street alone, she said, she noticed how poverty made life hard, could send you to prison or to an early grave.
“My grandmother had a brother who died of hunger during the depression,” she said. “And one of my uncles died in Angola, a Louisiana prison.”
She noticed, too, during summers she spent in South Carolina with her grandmother, the dividing line between the middle and upper-middle class sections of town. At the same time, the mill village where her mother grew up was completely integrated, though not the way you might think.
“It wasn’t that the whites were progressive,” she said. “They weren’t. They were racists who simply made exceptions for the people they knew or worked with.”
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