Disrupters & Interlopers: James Saxon Childers

Writer, editor, journalist, and teacher James Saxon Childers is far from a household name. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1899 and was raised there, then he was educated at Oberlin College and at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He returned to Birmingham in 1925 and taught English at the private liberal-arts college Birmingham-Southern until 1942. During that time, he wrote and published three novels, among them the bluntly titled A Novel about a White Man and a Black Man in the Deep South in 1936. The novel’s anti-segregation theme was unique for its time, exposing how the complex culture of the South prevents two men of different races from even having a friendship.

After serving in World War II, Childers got married, lived and wrote in North Carolina for several years, then moved to Atlanta in the early 195os to work for the Atlanta Journal. However, his vehemence about progress in race relations got him fired in 1956. By the late 1950s, Childers worked at the Atlanta-based publishing house, Tupper and Love. He died in 1965.

Brief biographies of James Saxon Childers are available at the Encyclopedia of Alabama and This Goodly Land websites. His papers are held at the Birmingham Public Library and at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Though Childers and his 1936 novel are little known today, the book is significant enough to be mentioned briefly in George Tindall’s Emergence of the New South and in John Egerton’s Speak Now Against the Day as an early example of opposition to segregation. A 1936 review in Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life said of the novel, “if it were just a little less tense and didactic, it would be a classic.”

The Disrupters & Interlopers series highlights lesser-known individuals from Southern history whose actions, though unpopular or difficult, contributed to changing the old status quo. To read previous posts, click any of the links below:

Joan Little

Ralph McGill

Juliette Hampton Morgan

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