In this exquisitely wrought memoir of a committed life, historian and civil rights activist Paul Gaston reveals his deep roots in the unique Alabama town founded in 1894 by his grandfather and later led by his father. The Fairhope colony was the creation of Ernest B. Gaston, an Iowa journalist, Populist, and communitarian reformer. Fairhope grew into a unique political, economic, and educational experiment and a center of radical economic and educational ideals and institutions. It was home to vibrant idealism and creative arts, and a haven for reformers, writers, and other visitors. As time passed, however, Fairhope, once a community where people came to solve social problems, became a resort where they came to escape them. By the early 1950s it was clear that great changes were coming to the South, and the author began to look outward for ways to take part in the coming struggle—the civil rights movement.
Gaston's career at the University of Virginia forms the core of Coming of Age in Utopia. For a young man looking to enter the struggle against racial injustice, Virginia offered the white supremacy myths, values, and institutions of the Deep South but less of its violence and retribution. Beyond Virginia, his long years as an officer in the Southern Regional Council and his several visits to South Africa provided widening vistas for understanding how social change comes about and is thwarted.
A master storyteller with a compelling personal life and unique involvement in these events, Gaston weaves accounts of struggles for social justice into a forceful narrative enriched with provocative