In 1970, Eli N. Evans, a native of Durham, North Carolina, living and working in New York City, went South to research a series of magazine articles. The result, three years later, was The Provincials, the classic study of Southern Jews.
Jews settled in the South before the American Revolution, but their numbers were small. Living among a distinctly Christian majority, they adjusted socially and religiously to the pervasive culture even as they rose to financial and civic leadership.
Evans, then a foundation executive, records this history, integrating the story of his own family into the larger story of the Southern Jews. Based on broad research, extensive interviews, and recollections reminiscent of Driving Miss Daisy and Caroline, or Change, The Provincials is a personal as well as regional portrait, illuminating the small businesses and large civic roles of these minority Americans, the supremely classic Reform Judaism of the highly assimilated Jews of German descent, the relations between Jewish families and their African-American customers and maids. Through the 1970s, Southern Jews, shadowed by the Leo Frank case and isolated from the large-scale East and Central European immigration, sought to maintain their generally comfortable place in a society marked by social stratification, racial tension, and Bible Belt evangelism.
In the 30 years since the original publication of The Provincials, much has changed in the South, and in 1995 Evans updated the book with a new chapter on Atlanta, representing many of the changes, and a chapter closing one part of his family history. This newest edition, marking the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in the United States, again updates Atlanta and closes and opens another chapter on Evans’ family. One statistical appendix has been added, but almost the entire body of the text dates to the original edition, most noticeably the chapter on New Orleans. There are no source notes or bibliography in this edition. Appendices, index, photographs.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.