Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity

Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity

by James C. Cobb

From the seventeenth century Cavaliers and Uncle Tom's Cabin to Civil Rights museums and today's conflicts over the Confederate flag, here is a brilliant portrait of southern identity, served in an engaging blend of history, literature, and popular culture.

After World War I, white writers like Ellen Glasgow, William Faulkner and other key figures of "Southern Renaissance" as well as their African American counterparts in the "Harlem Renaissance"--Cobb is the first to show the strong links between the two movements--challenged the New South creed by asking how the grandiose vision of the South's past could be reconciled with the dismal reality of its present.

The Southern self-image underwent another sea change in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, when the end of white supremacy shook the old definition of the "Southern way of life"--but at the same time, African Americans began to examine their southern roots more openly and embrace their regional, as well as racial, identity.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 3.96
  • Pages: 404
  • Publish Date: January 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA
  • Isbn10: 0195315812
  • Isbn13: 9780195315813

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Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity, James C. I lost count of the times Cobb referred to Jim Crow, referencing the segregation laws put into place in numerous states, not just in the South. His Jim Crow dance routine was a hit North of the Mason Dixon Line. Jim Crow in New York, 1828 Cobb's section on Southern writers is a travesty, based on limited references. Especially annoying was Cobb's conjecture that had he been alive, William Faulkner would not have been standing at the side of James Meredith upon his admission to the University of Mississippi. William Faulkner, pretty in pink Cobb essentially divides the South into three eras: The Old South; The New South; and The No South. Bottom line, Cobb presents little that is positive about the South. That the KKK was bankrupted by an Alabama lawyer, Morris Dees, who founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, is not of relevance to, or a part of Cobb's supposed history of Southern identity. The Civil Rights Memorial fronting the Southern Poverty Law Center In closing, I offer homage to an old Mother Goose rhyme, revised, of course. After all, Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity is a revisionist's perception of what it means to be a Southerner.

As a northerner who lives in Virginia I saw myself in the book Away Down South . However, I found references to many, many books (literature and text) in Away Down South that I will be adding to my bookshelf and reading in the future. And here is a 2010 article by Mr. Cobb in the NY Times with over 140 comments: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/... I have lived in Virginia for ten years and am still trying to understand what it means to me to be in the South. As I read Away Down South I thought about my experience living in a country where there is still a Dixie and there is a strong belief that the South is different from the rest of the country. . the reader who picks up this book looking for a definitive pronouncement as to whether the South still exists as a distinctive region is destined to put it down disappointed. On the other hand, I do believe this book offers a useful chronologically comprehensive historical framework for understanding the origins and evolution of an ongoing effort, now into its third century, to come to terms with the Souths role as both a real and imagined cultural entity separate and distinct from the rest of the country. A southern identity is probably most vividly established by the years when slavery was permitted in some states and not in others. It is also advanced that settlers of the South and North were of different heritages: In the 1830s writers eager to explain why the inhabitants of the northern states and those of the southern states appeared to be so different in values and temperament had begun to seize on the idea that the people of the two regions were simply heirs to the dramatically different class, religious, cultural, and political traditions delineated by the English Civil War. The northern states were populated, so many believed, by the descendants of the middle-class Puritan Roundheads who had routed the defenders of the monarchy, the aristocratic Cavaliers, supposedly of Norman descent, who had then settled in the southern states. A GR reader who is a native southerner and has displayed significant knowledge and experience related to the South, Mike Sullivan, has shared his dislike for this book in his review. In Chapter 2, The South Becomes a Cause, Cobb says that Reconstruction after the Civil War did more to unify the South than the war. . the South was born for a great many white Southerners not in Montgomery or even in Charleston harbor, but, as Robert Penn Warren observed, only at the moment when Lee handed Grant his sword at Appomattox, and it was only thereafter that the conception of Southern identity truly bloomed. Cobb observes that the New South reconstructed the history of the Old South to a time of happy slaves who willingly protected their owners and well disciplined soldiers who were defending their homeland. Pollards 1866 book The Lost Cause , the Lost Cause ethos not only defended succession and glorified the society that white southerners had gone to war to preserve, but actually transformed their tragic military defeat in a tremendous moral triumph. Thomas explained, The Lost Cause mythology held that the southern cause was not only undefiled by defeat but that the bloodbath of war actually sanctified the values and mores of the Old South. Though foisted on the South by the British with the assistance of northern slavetraders, in the hands of southern planters, slavery had actually been a benign, civilizing institution. (62) This is exactly the historical debate that I remember from my school days many years ago and that still goes on today: the South went to war to defend state rights and not slavery. One of the most enduring myths to emerge from the era of Abraham Lincoln is the notion that the South fought the Civil War not to defend slavery, but to uphold the rights of states against a tyrannical central government. This myth was extremely important to the white Souths resistance to post-war Reconstruction, particular the effort by northern Republicans to secure basic civil rights and liberties for newly freed slaves. Cobb considers the views of southern authors, black and white, as they advance their views about the south in their novels and other writings and especially about race relations. The common view the white authors discussed was that southerners should be permitted to bring about integration without outside interference and on their own terms. Richard Wrights Black Boy published in 1945 is one example of a black southern author: In Black Boy Wright had forced white readers to consider the South from the black point of view. Cobb highlights two books written by influential white southerners that shined a not so positive light on the south: From its investigation of the Southern class system to its pioneering assessments of the region's legacies of racism, religiosity, and romanticism, W. In the chapter titled The South of Guilt and Shame Cobb summarizes the efforts of some white southern historians to overcome the commonly accepted southern myth of the Old South in which slavery was seen as a civilizing experience for the slaves. Newly scrutinized, the commonly accepted myths about the severe damage done to the south by the reconstruction period after the Civil War are debunked. He makes reference to the book Reconstruction after the Civil War that shattered the accepted history of the south. Warren later wrote Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South in which he chronicled the traumatic and bitter inner conflict raging among white southerners as a group and within them as individuals.

A Study Of Southern Identity In considering the American South, most people tend to view it as distinctive and different from the remainder of the United States. Cobb's study focuses on a famous book by historian W.J. Cash, "The Mind of the South" (1941) which becomes, in Cobb's account, emblematic of the deeply ambivalent attitude Southerners adopted towards their region and towards its history. Late in his book, Cobb argues that while identity has most often been viewed in terms of "distinctiveness" -- what makes the South "different" from everywhere else -- that may not be the only or the most useful way to think about the nature of identity. Furthermore, Cobb points out, identity can be considered not as focusing on "how the South is different" from some other region or from the United States as a whole, but rather on "what the South is" for itself. In other words, Cobb suggests focusing on what the South is, and on how people view what it may be at its best, without juxtaposing it or considering it in opposition to another region or to the rest of the United States. He offers wise suggestions on how the concept of identity may be modified in considering both the history of a region and the life of an individual.

The memories and identities of the South are strong enough to invoke sentimentality among its believers, for they identified themselves to the defeats, frustrations and anxiousness of the South, just like I do. Despite the boring part about the writers trying to form the exact Southern Identity, for me, this is a very interesting book.

The focus moves from academia to culture, with much attention given to writers like Faulkner (definitely covered in much greater detail than the previous review suggests) and others. And in response to the previous review, some corrections: Faulkner is covered in great detail in this book. In fact, I find the previous review rather striking in its portrayal of this book as portraying the South negatively since essentially every page is dedicated to acting as a corrective to this idea, at least showing how the North is no different, in the end.

This is a view not preached by Cobb, a man of the south himself, but the attitude haunts the imagination of the southern intellectuals and artists who later claim the story. What makes Away Down South stand out for me is the space given to black southerners, who left the fields for the northern cities only to return in part to the southland.

His quotations are apt, and his readings of black literature add real depth.