Scoundrels and Statesmen: The Study of Southern Politics

Article excerpt

IN 1962 GEORGE WALLACE, THE FARM BOY FROM Barbour county, won Alabama's gubernatorial election with a landslide victory on a segregationist platform. Two decades and three terms later, after rejecting his racist past, Wallace entered his final term with overwhelming support from African Americans.

Filmmaker Paul Stekler says, "Wallace is a useful metaphor, representing a transformation of politics from racial resistance to racial inclusion." Stekler is a participant in this year's Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, which runs from February 25 through 29. The conference will look at the evolution of Southern politics through the writers, poets, scoundrels, and statesmen who reflect the region's political past.

The South's history and current political climate have never been tame, says Carolyn Vance Smith, founder and co-chair of the festival, which is supported by the Mississippi Humanities Council. The South's history includes a gallery of charismatic figures such as Wallace and the populist proponent of the Share the Wealth program, Huey Long.

"Southern politicians have been portrayed in film and literature as grotesque buffoons or ignorant good ole boys," explains Smith, who has organized a series of talks, site visits, workshops, and screenings in Natchez. The programs show the intersection of culture and politics: talks on Margaret Alexander Walker's literary and artistic expressions of race and Eudora Welty's frustration with the censorship of women in the South; site visits to historical Natchez mansions and the Rose Hill Baptist church, the city's first African American congregation; and screening of films such as Ken Burns's documentary Huey Long and Stekler's George Wallace: Settiri the Woods on Fire. …