The New New South

KING, RICHARD H.

The New New South The Americanization of Dixie and the Southernization of America By John Egerton Harper's 226 pp $7 95 Reviewed by Richard H. King Assistant Professor of History and Philosophy,...

...If, as he contends, the main theme of Southern history has been white supremacy, then a return to that way of life is plainly unacceptable The Southern liberal who calls at present for the preservation of regionalism knows that sectional autonomy would mean one thing?racism Egerton would argue, I'm sure, that cultural diversity and Federal guarantees of civil rights are not mutually exclusive He may be correct, but we have a right to be suspicious, and for this reason The Americanization of Dixie, though often insightful, can claim little profundity The book has other problems as well One is the author's tendency to repeat rather than develop his thesis Another concerns his serious omissions Egerton does not delve very deeply into the black South, citing, rather, the usual figures on elected black officials and noting the black complaints on the way school desegregation has been carried out, similarly, little attention is devoted to black influence within the South, or upon the rest of the nation (when one considers the sheer puerility of white popular music before, say, the '50s, one can only be grateful for that influence), nor does Egerton assess the role of Southern universities or the future of Southern literature Finally, Egerton should have given more space to his discussion ot the region's white liberals, who are rapidly becoming characters without a supporting drama Historically, it would seem, they have shown more ambivalence than heroism in their section's struggles One observer in the book notes "It is over this time Finished and done The Old South and the New South That is to say, the South as a separate self-conscious concept is simply no longer fascinating the curtain has come down, the world has gone home" Perhaps this is why The Amencanization of Dixie lacks the driven quality, the desperation tinged with hope, the deeply felt urgency of the area's best writing The South did not endure...
...Apparently most of its inhabitants don't, or they would have resisted more strenuously That tact, indeed, highlights the paradoxical position of Southern liberals like Egerton During the years after World War II and on into the '60s, these men urged the South to modernize, to abandon its reactionary ways of thinking and doing, and to join the rest of the country in the great adventure of the 20th century Now that their region has responded beyond their wildest dreams, liberals don't like what they see, and today it is the conservatives, many of them alumni ot White Citizens Councils and massive resistance, who plump for "progress The liberals, for their part, have turned cranky, even a bit conservative Goethe once said the thing we have most to fear is that the dreams ot our youth will become the reality ot our later years Still, one must ask what it is, precisely, that troubles individuals like Egerton...
...The New New South The Americanization of Dixie and the Southernization of America By John Egerton Harper's 226 pp $7 95 Reviewed by Richard H. King Assistant Professor of History and Philosophy, Federal City College, author, "The Party of Eros' In the early '50s, C Vann Woodward suggested the South's un-American" heritage of poverty, military defeat and occupation had engendered a unique sense of having experienced history Woodward hoped this feeling would have a salutary effect on the nation as a whole, dampening the country's unconstrained self-righteousness and subduing its messianic twitches But to little avail Not only has the newest generation of Southerners succumbed to the blandishments ot affluence, it has become the U S leader in saber-rattling For, according to John Egerton in The Americanization of Dixie, the South, despite fits of resistance, has finally and wholeheartedly accepted the American ethosówarts and all Sprawling, ugly cities, the rapacious despoliation of the land, a bland homogemzation ot food, drink and language, cultural gim-crackery, the evasion of civic duty, and a mama tor the main chance have found a home away from home below the Mason-Dixon line Moreover, what was once a national marriage of necessity has become the very picture of domestic bliss The "Americanization of Dixie" has been accompanied by the "Southernization of America," and at least one of our major political parties is consciously pursuing a "Southern strategy" that it hopes will provide the basis for a long-standing majority coalition Although some undeniable gains have been made during the last two decades, Egerton chooses to emphasize the melancholy changes that are overtaking his region Southern politics may no longer be dominated by root and branch-water Democrats But it now exhibits the vapid leadership of self-styled moderates, enlightened Chamber of Commerce types who would do almost anything (even integrate public facilities) if they thought they could turn a profit The large plantations, sharecropper shacks and grinding rural poverty may have gone with the wind But they have been replaced by agribusiness, Disney World and urban renewal via freeway construction TVA, once the bright light of Southern liberalism, has evolved into the nation's largest strip miner Then there is the matter of school integration As with politics in general, this divisive issue has produced little competent white leadership To be sure, a few cities such as Greeneville, South Carolina, have done a decent job, and statistically there is less segregation in the South than elsewhere However, the flight ot middle-class whites into the suburbs proceeds apace, following the pattern in the North, with its weaseling distinction between de lure and de facto Not for nothing do Southerners (conservatives as well as liberals) feel betrayed on this Egerton quotes the reaction ot one Mississippian to Nathan Glazer's call a couple of years back for an end to forced integration and busing "I was brought up believing we were wrong in the South to practice segregation, and the North was somehow more enlightened, morally superior Now we've changed and we're trying to make it work And just when we finally did it, the North is showing us how hypocritical it is, and once again they seem to be looking down on us " The Americanization of Dixie continues unhindered, too, in the realm of popular culture If there is a field in which the region has excelled, it is music, black and white Blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, country and western, bluegrass, all find their roots in the South Yet as these various styles have spread northward and westward, they have been diluted beyond recognition, coming to resemble the genuine articles about as much as near-beer tastes like moonshine When Southerners acquire the patina of sophistication, they grow ashamed of "hillbilly" music and opt for Muzak But if the South is embracing the worst features of the North with the ardent zeal ot the convert, who really cares...

Vol. 57 • October 1974 • No. 21


 
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