From the seventeenth century Cavaliers and Uncle Tom's Cabin to Civil Rights museums and today's conflicts over the Confederate flag, here is a brilliant portrait of southern identity, served in an engaging blend of history, literature, and popular culture. In this insightful book, written with dry wit and sharp insight, James C. Cobb explains how the South first came to be seen--and then came to see itself--as a region apart from the rest of America.
As Cobb demonstrates, the legend of the aristocratic Cavalier origins of southern planter society was nurtured by both northern and southern writers, only to be challenged by abolitionist critics, black and white. After the Civil War, defeated and embittered southern whites incorporated the Cavalier myth into the cult of the "Lost Cause," which supplied the emotional energy for their determined crusade to rejoin the Union on their own terms. After World War I, white writers like Ellen Glasgow, William Faulkner and other key figures of "Southern Renaissance" as well as their African American counterparts in the "Harlem Renaissance"--Cobb is the first to show the strong links between the two movements--challenged the New South creed by asking how the grandiose vision of the South's past could be reconciled with the dismal reality of its present. The Southern self-image underwent another sea change in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, when the end of white supremacy shook the old definition of the "Southern way of life"--but at the same time, African Americans began to examine their southern roots more openly and embrace their regional, as well as racial, identity. As the millennium turned, the South confronted a new identity crisis brought on by global homogenization: if Southern culture is everywhere, has the New South become the No South?
Here then is a major work by one of America's finest Southern historians, a magisterial synthesis that combines rich scholarship with provocative new insights into what the South means to southerners and to America as well.
What makes the South Southern? Is it the history of slavery and segregation? The unrelenting heat? NASCAR? All this and more, says the University of Georgia historian Cobb (The Most Southern Place on Earth). In this riveting read, Cobb charts the twisting, shifting history of Southern identity and how folks, Southern and non-Southern, have thought about the region. Cobb devotes a good bit of space to writers-from antebellum novelist John Pendleton Kennedy to William Faulkner- and their conceptions of the South. And Cobb doesn't focus only on white Southerners' understanding of their region. He also traverses Maya Angelou's memoirs and the activism of Martin Luther King Jr., and he introduces entrepreneurs like Sherman Evans and Angel Quintero, two black Charlestonians who launched Nu South sportswear, which melds icons of the Confederacy with images of African nationalism. Occasionally, Cobb strikes a pedestrian note, to wit, his discussion of recent fights over the place of the Confederate flag, which concludes mildly that battles over "symbolic memory" show that "the politics of the past is always part of the politics of the present." Further, one might wish that Cobb had devoted more space to discussions of pop culture: Southern food, Southern music. Hopefully, he has a sequel planned. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.