Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Great Melding: War, the Dixiecrat Rebellion, and the Southern Model for America's New Conservatism

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Great Melding: War, the Dixiecrat Rebellion, and the Southern Model for America's New Conservatism

Article excerpt

The Great Melding: War, the Dixiecrat Rebellion, and the Southern Model for America's New Conservatism. By Glenn Feldman. The Modern South. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 388. $59.95, ISBN 978-0-8173-1866-6.)

In his final contribution to the canon of southern political history, the late Glenn Feldman offers a deeply sourced and compelling argument for historians of white southern defiance, American conservatism, and the Republican ascendance. In The Great Melding: War, the Dixiecrat Rebellion, and the Southern Model for America's New Conservatism, Feldman uses correspondence, public statements, and local media coverage to investigate the rhetoric and ideology of Alabama's political leaders from 1933 to 1952 to simplify historians' understanding of how white southerners made the transition to a conservatism that resided within the Republican Party, so long the pariah of Civil War and Reconstruction memory. Beginning with the Redemption era and concluding with the earliest movements of white southerners into the Republican Party, Feldman's narrative moves effortlessly from the local Big Mule/black belt political coalition in Alabama to the regional intricacies of the American South in the midst of economic crisis, war, and the civil rights movement. Feldman does so without consigning these moments to southern exceptionalism. Rather, Feldman's effectiveness in embracing the contexts that construct American politics challenges historians to reconsider the "Cult of Nuance" that, he warns, threatens to relegate historical scholarship to "infinite relativism" and "magnificent irrelevance" (p. 279).

Feldman's work tracks a series of coalition-building moments in Alabama beginning with what he calls the "First Great Melding" of neo-Bourbons and neo-Kluxers, elite and plain folk, in opposition to the New Deal (p. 36). In an attempt to scale back the intrusions of federal oversight over existing forms of unbounded capitalism, he argues, elite business leaders tied their economic interests to white supremacy in an attempt to win the plain white folk to their side. Thus began the protracted process of cementing white supremacy as the root and currency of southern and, later, national politics.

The sweep of this book surfaces, perhaps more clearly than anything thus far, the stability of white supremacy in the South and how it recalibrated the national political landscape and partisan identities. …

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