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The sources were my friends, and I took pleasure in going into archives and looking at papers without a great deal of preparation. The mentalités scholarship allowed me to think about what it might have meant when diaries said virtually the same things except on Sundays, or when diarists listed the numbers of ducks they killed, or when they wrote at length about circus visits, or when young women wrote, night after night, “Did my work today,” and meant they sewed, darned, or knitted. Sources were often surprising. I had never heard of ring and lance tournaments before they appeared in some letters. An otherwise frustrating trip to Savannah yielded the diary of a teenager who worried about the ramifications of making fudge on Sunday. I certainly recall finding a letter at the Southern Historical Collection in which a young man bragged about having sex with a young woman in a buggy after Sunday night services. And sources taught me things I then needed to analyze, like the self-conscious modernity of county fair organizers or the decline in church disciplinary proceedings or the practice of town women staying away from town squares when rural men invaded on court days and Saturdays.
A favorite trick of Golden’s was to add a well-known author, philanthropist, politician, or actor to the circulation list of the Carolina Israelite without the celebrity’s knowledge, then mention the famous person in print as one of the newspaper’s loyal subscribers. It’s amazing how often this led to real friendship! The famous and powerful liked Golden for the same reasons so many regular folks did—his straight talk, his encyclopedic knowledge on politics and history, and his refreshingly tart humor.
Musically, there continues to be a deep stylistic overlap between country and soul. Some of the biggest country stars of today utilize the sounds and songs of R&B, while many contemporary soul and hip-hop artists (particularly from the South) bring the characteristics of country onto their records. Then there are the folks in the middle—many of whom, like Jason Isbell or Valerie June, are from the triangle—who draw from both traditions and blend them together in new and interesting ways. It remains one of the deepest wells of American music.
Contemporary documentary projects such as StoryCorps and Humans of New York thrive today in a spirit similar to that which led the vision of the Federal Writers’ Project and These Are Our Lives. They remind us that every life has a story, and every story matters.
It is generally known that the American banjo’s origins trace back to West Africa and a gourd-like instrument the gnomi, among other names. However, the plantations were something of an incubator for music of the African American slaves in a variety of forms: the fiddle, learned at the plantation house; the call-and-response work songs from the toil of the plantation fields; spirituals stemming from church worship—often clandestine services or camp meetings with hidden messages of freedom’s call; and the hush lullabies sung by mammies to their babies, and sung with irony to the children of the plantation overlords.
In Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia, the songs have always been viewed as more important than any one individual singer. The anonymous authorship of much of the repertoire meant that no one questioned the fact that people often had their own family versions of ballads, or that they varied in different geographical areas. The tradition of singing and passing songs on has had an unbroken momentum across time and place. In fact, the urge to make music and share it has been even more vital than the repertoire itself. Like any good story, a good song (and the ballads are all stories after all) will live on. It’s the same with strong melodies: they also often have independent lives and may be paired up with many songs and different dances. No one owns this stuff. It belongs to everyone.
Southern cuisine was a key component in historic preservation efforts in the early twentieth century to promote and sell the South and its racial mores to both tourists and locals. Through constructed memories of southern food from the plantation to the mountain South, sophisticated campaigns were launched to promote the “taste” of the Old South in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Lowcountry flavors of Savannah and Charleston, the fashionable Creole cuisine of New Orleans, and the “authentic” “hillbilly” and “Highlands” foods of the mountain South.
To celebrate Tobe’s seventy-fifth anniversary, historian Benjamin Filene, director of public history at UNC Greensboro, will moderate a panel called “Voices of Tobe,” featuring special guest appearances by several individuals from Tobe, their descendants, and members of their community.
When NPR first partnered with me in presenting The Thistle & Shamrock®, we talked about using my radio show to open a doorway into a world of evolving Celtic music traditions for public radio listeners. I could never have imagined how far that door would swing open my way, too, helping inspire my search for the depth of connection that underpins our migration story in Wayfaring Strangers.
Claiming the South as Home was and still is a call to action and for reparations, but it is also an expression of black southern identity.
A worker in the Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte who asks you to “mash the button” for the elevator or to “he’p him tote the computer right yonder” would get a quizzical look or a patronizing chuckle for “talking country” in the towering edifice representing the second-largest financial center in the United States. But those who react in condescension may not realize that this way of speaking was the dialect norm in the city just a couple of generations ago—and probably in the residential home that once stood on this site. As one elderly Charlotte resident, born in 1919, recalled: “I remember when Discovery Place was just a little neighborhood store.”
Many white southerners were particularly concerned with the way history would present their side of the sectional conflict and how it would judge their advocates, such as Bryan. Thus controlling, in some way, what children were taught in schools actually carried a significant sub-agenda.
Monsanto officials shared with industrial customers (at least those who made inquiries) precisely the same knowledge that they pointedly denied in statements to the local news media.
We celebrate Southern Cultures’ 20th anniversary with a special omnibus ebook, The William R. Ferris Reader. Collected here for the first time are all 20 of Bill Ferris’s essays and interviews as they have appeared in the journal’s pages between 1995 and 2013, as well as an introduction to the collection by Ferris.
The idea that the South is (or can be, or should be) of interest solely to southerners is, I believe, a deeply problematic notion, one that perpetuates reductive and harmful ideas about the region.
When it was published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin quickly became the most inflammatory, explosive, and politically significant literary text of the antebellum period. Adapted to the stage shortly thereafter, Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s moral fervor, emotional power, and iconic characters soon made it a theatrical institution.
Help us make a great book even better! We need your support to insert a CD of music in every copy of a forthcoming book about Scots-Irish music in Appalachia. Listen to a sample to hear what’s in store.
I grew up watching OutKast videos on the now-defunct Video Jukebox Network, affectionately known as “The Box.” Although OutKast received some play on MTV and BET in the early 1990s, it was on The Box, which featured a range of underground southern hip-hop artists, where I could be sure to see André “André 3000” Benjamin, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, and other southern rappers in regular rotation. Although initially record labels largely ignored southern artists, through homegrown ingenuity, southern rappers soon emerged as a formidable force in the global music industry. By 2005, top spots on music charts were regularly held by southern hip-hop artists, southern R&B singers, or hits produced by southern artists. As Memphis rapper Project Pat noted in 2006: “Now y’all was thinkin’ Dirty South was like, ‘hee-haw, hee-haw’/Is you worth over a hundred mil? We are, we are.” Indeed, the South had something to say.
Reconstruction remains one of the most widely misunderstood eras in United States history. Though historians have largely discredited the white supremacist interpretations of William A. Dunning and his students, the Dunning School lives on in the public at large. Otherwise informed and well-meaning individuals unthinkingly parrot early-twentieth-century critiques of Reconstruction, casually dismissing it as an era of federal overreach, northern cruelty, and cynical corruption. My own experience bears out this observation: a friend who claims that Reconstruction failed because it was “too harsh,” or a student who labels the period a “tragedy” without being able to provide a single reason for this characterization. I expect other scholars of the period have had similar experiences. It seems that on an instinctive, knee-jerk level, many Americans respond negatively to Reconstruction, though most could not explain why. The 150th anniversary of Reconstruction offers a perfect opportunity to set the record straight, or at least to give the public a fair accounting of the period’s challenges, its successes, and its failures.