Stories of the South: Race and the Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865-1915

Stories of the South: Race and the Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865-1915

Stories of the South: Race and the Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865-1915

Stories of the South: Race and the Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865-1915

Excerpt

This is a book about the reconstruction of southern identity in the five decades after the U.S. Civil War. At its core are the shifting and conflicting answers that Americans—northern and southern, black and white— offered to a single pressing question: What is the South? By any measure, the Civil War transformed the South. The war left hundreds of thousands of people dead, destroyed one of the most prolific slave-based agricultural regimes the world has ever known, and smashed the dream of a separate southern nation. In the process, it inaugurated the greatest social revolution in U.S. history, turning 4 million African American slaves into free people. However, the Civil War also had effects that were not quite so tangible. Antebellum notions of southern identity did not survive the nation’s great conflagration. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the nature of the South—even its persistence as a culturally distinctive region of the United States—was very much an open issue. The South, as it had been, was no more. The question was what would take its place. Over the next fifty years, in cultural productions ranging from speeches to travel guides to novels to minstrel shows, northerners and southerners reimagined Dixie. Defining the character and identity of the South would be a central concern of the postwar era.

But this is not just a book about southern identity. As it analyzes the competing definitions of the South that vied for cultural predominance between 1865 and 1915, Stories of the South offers a new perspective on the rise and fall of racial democracy in the postbellum United States. More precisely, this book seeks to recover and map the intellectual and cultural context in which the era’s political decisions were made, in which power was won, lost, and contested. Without appreciating the shifting place of the South in the nation’s popular culture, we cannot fully understand the . . .

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