Nobody’s Gonna Turn Me Round

Nobody’s Gonna Turn Me Round

Reviewed by Michael Cooper

Vol. 14, No. 4, 1992, pp. 32-33

Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round: The Pursuit of Racial Justice in the Rural South (Richard A. Couto, Temple University Press, 1991, 348 pages).

Richard A. Couto’s appealingly-titled book is about the role of federally-funded health care centers in the century-plus struggle for civil rights. In Southern, rural, poor, and mostly-black communities, the centers not only provided essential, long-neglected health care; they also attracted ambitious civil rights activists. Couto is less interested in the specific benefits of health care centers than in placing them in a larger tradition of political and social reform.

He examines four different places: Haywood County, Tenn.; Lee County, Ark.; Lowndes County, Ala.; and the Sea Islands, S.C.. He divides his material into three distinct parts.

Part one of the book is oral history, 139 pages of comment from more than 40 people who describe their lives, their activism, and their relationships to local health centers.

Part two scans the history of black land ownership, education, civil rights, and health care. Couto describes accomplishments and failures during several period of major reform: Reconstruction, the New Deal, and the Great Society.

In part three, Couto theorizes on the nature of leadership in rural black communities. The first half of this section is the least interesting and most frustrating part of the book, because it is strewn with such jargon as “local community of memory,” “heroic bureaucracies,””redemptive organizations,” and “new politics of portions.” The second half of this brief section examines the successes and failures of various social reform organizations and agencies from the Freedmen’s Bureau to SNCC to the Office of Economic Opportunity.

In the introduction, Couto promised a book with “The emphasis… on the health centers as an extension of the movement to acquire civil rights.”

But he obscured this straightforward premise a couple of pages later by stating his book was “about a set of model federal programs, their relation to social movements for democratic equality and human dignity, the people who conducted both the programs and movement locally, and the impact of previous programs and movements on them.”

It is hard not to sympathize with the tone, but clearer writing, better organization, and more details would have made this book more compelling. What services were provided and to whom?

What kind of local opposition did the centers weather? Can social service organizations operate in areas of great deprivation without addressing political and economic

Page 33


The multifaceted impact of health centers in poor areas is an interesting and timely subject. One hopes Professor Couto’s future writings are more informative.

Free-lancer Michael Cooper writes often for Southern Changes.