The End of Southern History

Southern history, then, follows the classic narrative structure, with a beginning, a middle, and, now an end: the South survives, but, the presence of a beleaguered minority of Confederate-flag enthusiasts notwithstanding, Southern history is over.

Lecture Description

This lecture takes its theme from Mark Twain, who wrote, in Life on the Mississippi, “in the South the war is what A.D. is elsewhere: they date from it.” The cultural and political unity that created one South, rather than many Souths, and thus a southern history, was forged by the overthrow of slavery and crushing defeat in the Civil War. After the war, southern whites were determined to redeem themselves from that defeat, and they built the Jim Crow regime to confirm and cement white supremacy as the essence of what they meant by “the South.” But Jim Crow was brought down in turn by Black southerners in decades of struggle that climaxed in the Civil Rights Movement. In the aftermath of that movement, the South remains a region with recognizably distinct patterns of music, religion, politics, and social values, but it is no longer true that most whites are determined that the South “shall be and remain a white man’s country,” nor are southerners–white or Black–burdened with a consciousness of a history founded on defeat. “Southern history,” as it came to be known and understood in the decades after the Civil War, has ended.

CATEGORIES

General and Historiography South

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