Five More Historians and Journalists on the Modern South

The infinite variety of Southern mythology could be catalogued and analyzed endlessly. A suggestive list would include the Proslavery South; the Confederate South; the Demagogic South; the States Rights South; the Fighting South; the Lazy South; the Folklore South; the South of jazz and the blues; the Booster South; the Rapacious South running away with Northern industries; the Liberal South of the interracial movement; the White Supremacy South of racial segregation, which seems to be for some the all-encompassing “Southern way of life;” the Anglo-Saxon (or was it the Scots-Irish?) South, the most American of all regions because of its native population; or the Internationalist South, a mainstay of the Wilson, Roosevelt, and Truman foreign policies.

The South, then, has been the seedbed for a proliferation of paradoxical myths, all of which have some basis in empirical fact and all of which doubtless have, or have had, their true believers. 

— from the essay “Mythology: A New Frontier in Southern History” by George B. Tindall, originally published in Frank E. Vandiver’s 1964 collection The Idea of the South

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For any view which continues to see the creation and perpetuation of southern legend as a regional prerogative would be forced to ignore the attention of northern artists to southern mythology, the North’s fascination with aristocracy and lost causes, the national appeal of the agrarian myth, and the South’s personification of that idea, to say nothing of the persistent use of the South in the in the manipulation of northern racial mythology.

— from the essay “The Northern Origins of Southern Mythology” by Patrick Gerstar and Nicholas Cords, originally published in the Journal of Southern History in 1977

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When the transformation over race finally took place, it marked the collapse of the Southern barrier to the penetration of class-based two-party politics below the presidential level. But herein lies an important wrinkle: After the transformation over race knocked down the barrier to class politics, the race issue did not go quietly away. Quite the contrary, race became enmeshed in the emerging potentially class-based two-party structure that took hold in the South in the years after 1964.

— from the chapter “The Emergence of Southern Two-Party Politics” in Alexander P. Lamis’ The Two-Party South (Oxford University Press, 1984)

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The scene deepened the impression I’d begun to form from my reading. Contrary to its martial stereotype, reenacting seemed a clean-cut family hobby, combining elements of a camping trip, a county fair and a week-long costume party. Between battles, the schedule included a square dance, a trivia quiz for kids, a women’s tea, a period fashion show, and an outdoor Sunday church service at which two reenactors would be married. “It’s an era lost that we’re trying to recapture,” a woman named Judy Harris told me as she washed clothes in a tub at the Union camp. “Men were men and women were women. It was less complicated.” A soldier walked past, tipped his hat at Harris and said, “Evening, ma’am.” She smiled back then said to me, “See what I mean? No one’s that polite in real life anymore.”

— from the chapter “A Farb of the Heart” in Confederates in the Attic (Vintage Books, 1998) by Tony Horowitz

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The concert reminded me of regional culture in general. Traditions can be invisible against a backdrop of modernity, or so taken for granted they might as well be, until something happens to snap them into focus. Then you wonder whether the tradition in question is a “real” emanation from deeply buried lore or a self-conscious fashion statement. Is tradition really old-fashioned or just the latest fad? Imagine hanging around Harvard Square wearing a sunbonnet stamped, “It’s a southern thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

— from the “Front Porch” introductory essay by Harry L. Watson in the Fall 2004 issue of Southern Cultures, published by the Center for the Study of the American South


 

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