Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Final New South?

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Final New South?

Article excerpt

Distinctions there still are between the South and the rest of the country, but not very interesting ones. Praise of the unique Southern cuisine or spiritual, country, and Appalachian folk music can carry regional celebrants only so far. In most qualities, even including race relations, the South's differences from the North, East, and West are mostly only of degree. Degrees are important, but not generally historically crucial.

The South is still awash in irrationalities, as traditionally it has always been. But now these tend to be shared irrationalities, much the same as those which burden the entire nation. At their front are faith that nears zealotry in a market economy and its entrepreneurs; reverence of technology; and conviction that material satisfactions are as inexhaustible as are desires for them, and that the legitimacy of desires knows no bounds so long as they are served by American commerce. None of those notions was characteristic of the traditional South. All are now deeply ingrained, and were learned and absorbed quickly and easily as soon as the Civil Rights Movement freed the white South.

It has become an aggressive region. Banks, universities, hospitals, professional sports teams-the drive among all is to be as big as there is anywhere, or bigger. The St. Petersburg Times in February 1997 printed a special supplement, headlined "Does Daytona Beat Indy?" The South is on the move.

Stock car racing is distinctive: the competitors are virtually all white males. It is one of the last strongholds of "good old boys." Basketball and football, the sports crazed region's two other great loves, are professionally and in the universities starred in mostly by blacks. The paying spectators and the universities' deep-pocketed alumni subsidizers are largely white, cheering lustily for their black performers. Southern race relations are flexible: whatever suits convenience and desire.

A good bit of division of racial role and function like this occurs, along both old and new lines. Some patterns endure. In Durham in 1996 homicides broke all records. There were 42. Victims included three Hispanics and three whites. All the remainder were black. Segregation was the rule; an Hispanic was charged with the murder of one of the whites (she was a girl friend) but otherwise people killed their own. All black victims were murdered by other blacks. The blacks, victims and perpetrators, were nearly all young males, and poor ones unless temporarily enriched by the drug trade. If data were known, they would probably show that they were also little schooled. The same pattern prevailed in 1997.

None of this is, however, a Southern singularity, though in fact, and this is a tradition that has been adhered to, the South does lead all other regions in killing. It is, always has been, a violent place. On this score, the Southern Civil Rights Movement, which believed genuinely in gentleness, failed.

In 1961, I wrote for these pages an essay titled "The Annealing of the South." The theme was that its torrid battle over civil rights would leave the South readied-"annealed"-by its inevitable defeat for movement into a new and, despite loud protestation, a welcomed era. I concluded a 1964 article published in another place saying that the future would see "all over the South, battle lines drawn close to each other" between "Southern conservatism-blending now with that of the nation" and Southern liberalism which has "no choice but to accept the Negro's cause as its own," and that this prolonged contest would define the region.

Both predictions proved more or less accurate. Neither was difficult to make (though the first attracted at the time some strong doubts). We know now, at least for the present, the outcome of the second. The "new" conservatives (quotation marks seem needed, for newness and conservatism don't get on) have mostly won. The white South is not again a one-party electorate, and it will not become so; but it for the foreseeable future is close to that. …

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