Dixiecrats and Democrats: Alabama Politics 1942-1950

By William D. Barnard | Go to book overview

1

POPULISM REVISITED:
The Emergence of Folsom

In the spring of 1946, Dr. H. Clarence Nixon sought to explain the supposedly "reactionary South." Nixon was a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and a sensitive chronicler of the mores and folklore of his native Piedmont, that triangle of mountainous land bounded by Birmingham, Atlanta, and Chattanooga.

Nixon wanted "to show why it is that the South seems so reactionary when actually its people are not that way." 1 His was a task repeatedly returned to by hopeful Southern liberals. In part it represented the human bent toward self-delusion, in part a realization that the region was in truth misunderstood. In great part, however, it represented a persistent desire to discover the "true" liberal past of the South in order to foster a genuine Southern liberalism in the present. Many may argue that this was an exercise in futility. But it was not without a certain nobility, and it was eloquent testimony to the truth of the adage that hope doth spring eternal in the breasts of sanguine Southern liberals. Nowhere else does it flourish so handsomely.

i "The Southern states are honey-combed with political imbalances," Nixon argued, "with a consequent wide inequality between sections, between races and between economic groups." The effect of these inequalities, he wrote, was "to distort the picture of the real south and support the impression, as recently stated by a writer in The New Yorker, that this region is 'almost solidly right wing.'"

Yet only a cursory look at the "politics of the hills," Nixon contended, would show "that the South inherently is neither solid nor completely right wing.... I will show that conservative or reactionary elements exercise an undue and unfair share of power through inflexible patterns made long ago."

-6-

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