History and Hope in the Heart of Dixie: Scholarship, Activism, and Wayne Flynt in the Modern South

History and Hope in the Heart of Dixie: Scholarship, Activism, and Wayne Flynt in the Modern South

History and Hope in the Heart of Dixie: Scholarship, Activism, and Wayne Flynt in the Modern South

History and Hope in the Heart of Dixie: Scholarship, Activism, and Wayne Flynt in the Modern South

Excerpt

“You don't love because,” William Faulkner once wrote. “You love despite; not for the virtues, but despite the faults.” For Wayne Flynt, an abiding love for his state and region has not prevented his recognizing the inequities and despair that define southern life for so many. As a scholar, he traced the contours of southern political history, documented the lives of poor whites, and helped to bring southern religious history to center stage. But, unlike so many historians, Flynt has not been content to confine his attentions to matters historical. For this scholar, teacher, and preacher—roles that were rarely mutually exclusive—history is a way to inform, to, in his words, “hold up a mirror” to southerners asking them to consider the past and its contemporary implications. Beyond academe, he has emerged as one of Alabama's most articulate social critics and voices of reform, a respected and often controversial leader in causes ranging from childhood poverty to public health to equitable taxation. Although once rumored to be a Cuban agent smuggled into the country to integrate the First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, Flynt spent his life in the South and most of it in his beloved Alabama.

In his 1992 presidential address to the American Historical Association, William E. Leuchtenberg explored the relationship of the historian and public engagement. He noted the tensions between scholars who become involved in public policy matters and those who choose to remain more isolated from contemporary concerns. Leuchtenberg found merit in both positions and concluded by encouraging historians to blend their scholarship and activism while at the same time cautioning them to maintain their analytical detachment. Historians have long used their research as a means of trying to improve their present. From Charles Beard, Herbert Baxter Adams, John . . .

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