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The Past Is Not Dead

The Past Is Not Dead: Essays from theSouthern Quarterly

Edited by Douglas B. Chambers
with Kenneth Watson
Foreword by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw
Margaret Walker Alexander
Alfred Bendixen
David C. Berry
Augustus M. Burns
James Taylor Carson
Thadious M. Davis
Susan V. Donaldson
Don H. Doyle
Barbara C. Ewell
Robert L. Hall
William H. Hatcher
Arthell Kelley
Manning Marable
Joseph Millichap
Willie Morris
John Solomon Otto
Harriet Pollack
Kathryn L. Seidel
John Ray Skates
Randy J. Sparks
Martha Swain
Anne Bradford Warner
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Past Is Not Dead
    Book Description:

    The Past Is Not Deadis a collection of twenty-one literary and historical essays that will mark the 50th anniversary of theSouthern Quarterly, one of the oldest scholarly journals (founded in 1962) dedicated to southern studies. Like its companion volume,Personal Souths,The Past Is Not Deadfeatures the best of the work published in the journal. Essays represent every decade of the journal's history, from the 1960s to the 2000s. Topics covered range from historical essays on the French and Indian War, the New Deal, and Emmett Till's influence on the Black Panther Party to literary figures including William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wright, Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers. Important regional subjects like the Natchez Trace, the Yazoo Basin, the Choctaw Indians, and Mississippi blues are given special attention. Contributors range from noted literary critics such as Margaret Walker Alexander, Virginia Spencer Carr, Susan V. Donaldson, James Justus, and Willie Morris to scholars of African-American studies such as Robert L. Hall and Manning Marble and historians including John Ray Skates, Martha Swain, and Randy Sparks.

    Collectively, the essays in this volume enrich and illuminate our understanding of southern history, literature, and culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-305-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Rereading essays published during the years I edited theSouthern Quarterlyhas reminded me of how much that work taught me about my profession—about southern studies, critical trends, about writing essays, and even about the relentless deadlines and budget worries imposed by a quarterly journal. Editing was the most demanding and intellectually rewarding work that I could have chosen for those years when I was leaving graduate school behind and making my way in academe. It pushed me well beyond the University of Southern Mississippi, connecting me with scholars nationally and internationally who were often doing work, as we...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction The Southern Quarterly and Southern Studies The Voice of Humane Learning
    (pp. xv-xlviii)

    In 1962 the University of Southern Mississippi established a scholarly journal, theSouthern Quarterly. Having achieved its new designation as a university in February, and awarding its first doctoral degree that summer, in October the former Mississippi Southern College (which had been founded in 1910 as a state teacher’s college) introduced theSouthern Quarterlyas “a scholarly journal of studies done in the humanities and social sciences by members of the faculty,” and specifically as “a journal of articles grounded in research and scholarship rather than a magazine of book reviews, creative writings, or essays of mere opinion.” The founding...

  6. Part I 1960s

    • Levee Building and the Settlement of the Yazoo Basin
      (pp. 3-21)

      The Yazoo Basin as an area in Mississippi stands out in unique contrast to the remainder of the state. The rolling clay hills to the east give way to the level, deep alluvium of the Basin; the patchwork of crops of the yeoman farmers becomes seemingly endless cotton fields; the occasional farmhouse is supplanted by the numerous tenant shacks of the sharecroppers; the pine forest is replaced by a mixture of bottomland hardwoods; and the predominance of white population is replaced by a high percentage of Negro population. The agriculture of this region is characterized by high specialization in cotton...

    • From Enchantment to Disillusionment A Southern Editor Views the New Deal
      (pp. 22-36)

      In the winter of 1932–1933 the United States was being crushed under the enormous weight of economic inactivity that was the great depression. Thirteen million workers were unemployed, and the “Hoovervilles” which many of them inhabited dotted the landscape. As one writer observed, just before Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933 it appeared that the American people were almost without hope.² President Roosevelt’s answer to this chaotic situation was the New Deal, a gigantic accumulation of relief, recovery, and reform measures which remade America’s economic face. What were Frederick Sullens’s thoughts on that greatest exercise in positive government in...

    • Some Mississippi Views of American Federalism, 1817–1900
      (pp. 37-58)

      It may well be that America’s most singular contribution to the world of political theory and practice is the federal system. Thee pluribus unumwhich is stamped on our coins symbolizes the national aspiration, if not always the practice, of “one out of many.” It is notable that the American federal system has served as a model (not necessarily in every detail) for other decentralized political systems,¹ but these later federal systems have enjoyed the good fortune of having profited from Americans making most of the major mistakes in the process of developing a scheme that enjoys both the...

  7. Part II 1970s

    • “Harmony with the Dead” James Dickey’s Descent into the Underworld
      (pp. 61-74)

      Rilke, in a sonnet to Orpheus, writes:

      Does he belong here? No, out of both

      realms his wide nature grew.

      More knowing would he bend the willows’ branches

      who has experienced the willows’ roots.¹

      Speaking of this poem, Walter A. Strauss says that “this is the doctrine of the double realm, life and death. Orpheus, as a result both of his descent and his dismemberment, is perfectly at home in both realms and unites them . . . His being-here and being-beyond are coextensive because the thread joining them has been restored. Everything now becomes explicable under the category of...

    • Pat Harrison and the Social Security Act of 1935
      (pp. 75-86)

      As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance during the New Deal, Mississippi’s Byron Patton (Pat) Harrison was the “shepherd” of many of the key measures of the decade. His work in securing the passage of the social security bill is particularly interesting because he drew upon the administrative talents and actuarial knowledge of a number of individuals including two natives of his home state, Murray W. Latimer and Leonard Calhoun. Moreover, an account of the adoption of this far-reaching piece of legislation is an excellent vehicle for demonstrating the managerial ability of a senator who spent a decade...

    • The Southern Belle as an Antebellum Ideal
      (pp. 87-99)

      When Margaret Mitchell tells the reader that “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful,” but that “men seldom realized it when caught by her charm,”¹ she is continuing a long tradition in the physical description and personality of the Southern belle. A hundred years earlier in 1832, John Pendleton Kennedy described Bel Tracy, heroine ofSwallow Barn, as “headlong and thoughtless, with quick impulses, that gave her the charm of agreeable expression, although her features are irregular, and would not stand a critical examination. Her skin is not altogether clear; her mouth is large, and her eyes of a dark gray hue.”²...

    • A Sense of Place and the Americanization of Mississippi
      (pp. 100-110)

      When I was runningHarper’s Magazine, an irascible friend from New Orleans who had been living in New York City for a long time used to come to the bar on Madison Avenue and 34th Street where we’d congregate with our writers after work. One afternoon there were a couple of people there from Mississippi, and we were talking about change in our native state. After listening to a little of this, my friend from New Orleans launched into a tirade: “You fellows are writers, and you have the gall to say you want to change Mississippi? You must be...

  8. Part III 1980s

    • Cable’s The Grandissimes A Literary Pioneer Confronts the Southern Tradition
      (pp. 113-122)

      There was a well-established Southern literary tradition when George W. Cable’sThe Grandissimesappeared in 1880, but it was a tradition devoted to stifling any criticism of the South. One could find something resembling an honest account of life in the works of the Southwestern humorists, but these works were generally regarded as subliterary. The plantation myth that formed the core of what was regarded as “serious” Southern writing tended to ignore or gloss over the realities of slavery. The owners of plantations appeared as gracious and benevolent masters devoted to the welfare of their happy darkies. Southern fiction was...

    • Southern Writers Notes Toward a Definition of Terms
      (pp. 123-128)

      Because Southern literature has consistently been identified as a distinct area of American literary studies, in a way that New England or Midwestern literature has not, I believed that I would have no difficulty in preparing a project on Southern women writers. I discovered, however, that the opening statement presented an unanticipated problem. Who or what is a Southern woman writer? Should the emphasis be placed on Southern or on woman? Or equally on both? I decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that equal emphasis on the two terms made sense. Yet there was still difficult territory ahead. “Woman” seemed obvious enough, but...

    • “Tough Times” Downhome Blues Recordings as Folk History
      (pp. 129-148)

      Phonograph record companies viewed the advent of the radio as a medium of mass entertainment with considerable concern. In the early 1920s when the radio began to attract sizable audiences, record companies intensified their efforts to discover new groups of potential record purchasers. They quickly found an untapped market which previously had been ignored: black Americans. Advertising their black-oriented releases as “race records,” the companies began releasing recordings by gospel performers, jazz artists, and blues singers. From 1920 to 1924, the earliest blues recordings featured women vocalists, who sang vaudeville blues penned by professional composers. These artists were accompanied by...

    • The Black Faith of W. E. B. Du Bois Sociocultural and Political Dimensions of Black Religion
      (pp. 149-166)

      W. E. B. Du Bois—founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and editor of its journal, theCrisis, sociologist, civil rights leader, and “Father of Pan-Africanism”—is seldom viewed as a Christian. His biographers note that he frequently attacked all Christian denominations for their support of racial segregation. In published articles Du Bois described himself as an “agnostic” and questioned the “immortality” of man (“Immortality” 18).¹ As a college student and in later life, he affirmed that “work, systematic and tireless,” was his only true faith (Autobiography124). In December 1940 he announced that he...

    • Subverting History Women, Narrative, and Patriarchy in Absalom, Absalom!
      (pp. 167-180)

      William Faulkner’s portrayal of women has attracted heated debate ever since Maxwell Geismar charged the Mississippi writer with misogyny more than forty years ago.¹ Albert Guerard, for one, has observed that Faulkner’s reputed hostility to women presents special problems precisely because “it is unrepressed and even undisguised” (109). Even critics predisposed to defend Faulkner’s characterization of women, like Cleanth Brooks, unwittingly find themselves resorting to a paternalistic vocabulary of “active” men and “fostering and sustaining women,” as John Duvall pointed out in a fine article a few years ago (qtd. 44). Indeed, from Duvall’s perspective, such readers rely on terms...

  9. Part IV 1990s

    • On Welty’s Use of Allusion Expectations and Their Revision in “The Wide Net,” The Robber Bridegroom, and “At The Landing”
      (pp. 183-207)

      When Eudora Welty argues that Isak Dinesen’s tales all had their “start in other tales—for a tale must have its ‘start,’ as a good bread must” and that those starts were most frequently from “fables . . . fairy tales, stories from the Bible and the Arabian Nights and Ancient Greece and Rome” (Eye of the Story262), she applies a principle she had undoubtedly learned in her bedroom studio, at work. For Welty’s own habit of telling “twice-told tales” is distinctive. Welty’s fictions are built on allusions to well-known stories and story patterns—and on literary, more than...

    • Natchez and Richard Wright in Southern American Literature
      (pp. 208-211)

      The South has suffered many names and misnomers, including the Old South and the New South, the Confederate South, the antebellum South, the solid South, and the secessionist South. Today, I wish to speak of the historic South—that is, the South of history and fact—and the mythic or mythical South, a literary South of fantasy mixed with reality or fact.

      Southerners who live in this region rarely think of its dual nature—fact and fiction, reality and fantasy—and, if we are mindful of this duality, we seldom, if ever, recognize or consider the effects of the region...

    • The Mississippi Frontier in Faulkner’s Fiction and in Fact
      (pp. 212-226)
      DON H. DOYLE

      When William Faulkner was a struggling young writer in New Orleans his mentor and drinking companion, Sherwood Anderson, advised him to write about “that little patch up there in Mississippi where you started from” (Oates 47). But like most American writers and artists, Faulkner was trying to escape, not exploit, his provincial background. As a young man he fled to Canada to enlist with the Royal Air Force, to New Orleans to join a slightly bohemian literary circle, to Europe for a tour as an author in exile, and then to New York and, later, to Hollywood. In the end,...

    • Unlinking Race and Gender The Awakening as a Southern Novel
      (pp. 227-238)

      We do not typically think ofThe Awakeningas a southern novel, which (set in Louisiana and dealing with many Reconstruction issues, such as the postwar role of women and life in the upper classes) it certainly is. At the same time, we do customarily regard Kate Chopin as a southern writer—despite the fact that she was from St. Louis (albeit in a family of southern sympathizers) and that she only spent the thirteen years of her marriage in the South and that much of her fiction (fully a third) is not specifically southern. But if Kate Chopin is...

  10. Part V 2000s

    • “When Is an Ocean not an Ocean?” Geographies of the Atlantic World
      (pp. 241-271)

      Poetry is a nice place to start thinking about a different way to imagine the past, a way that can bring into focus a horizon that scholars too often have turned away from in silence.² “The stone had skidded arc’d and bloomed into islands,” Kamau Brathwaite mused more than thirty years ago in his poem “Calypso.” And behind that stone, in the middle of the concentric rings that formed around the points where it had touched the water only to resume its flight again, he saw whole worlds rising to the surface: Cuba, Jamaica, Grenada, and Guadeloupe. Islands. Plantations. Masters....

    • The Southern Way of Death The Meaning of Death in Antebellum White Evangelical Culture
      (pp. 272-290)

      Since Philippe Aries published his pathbreaking study of attitudes toward death in Western culture, studies of the topic have proliferated, but despite that outpouring of scholarship, relatively few studies have focused on the American South. What is perhaps even more surprising is that few scholars have explored the impact of evangelicalism on the cultural attitudes surrounding death and dying. Even scholars as sophisticated as Aries himself ignore the most powerful religious movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and its transforming effect on society and culture. While death is a common denominator in human experience, anthropologists have found that the...

    • Africa and the American South Culinary Connections
      (pp. 291-323)

      One result of the Atlantic slave trade and other aspects of what Alfred W. Crosby called the “Columbian exchange,” in addition to the forced migration of people and diseases, was the movement of food crops.¹ These consisted of a combination of crops originally domesticated in Africa and crops indigenous to other continents that had reached Africa before Columbus’s voyages (mainly coming from Asia) or which did so during the first century or so after the opening of the New World to European colonial expansion (including such significant American domesticates as maize, manioc, and the peanut). Thus the African culinary tastes...

    • Harriet Jacobs at Home in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
      (pp. 324-341)

      In critical studies of Harriet Jacobs and her slave narrative,Incidents in the Life a Slave Girl(1861), she is often positioned in one of two groups; either she is examined in the body of antebellum slave narratives, almost all of which have male authors, or she is placed in a chronology of important writings by black women, most of whom, in the antebellum era, are northern. Her fit is, in both cases, a little off; in each case some significant part of her identity is de-emphasized because of her almost unique situation in the history of African American writing...

    • James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Dialectic of Documentary Representation in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
      (pp. 342-360)

      Like most Americans during the 1930s, including many of his colleagues in Southern letters, James Agee was attracted to photography. In 1936, a documentary project in rural Alabama with photographer Walker Evans confirmed Agee’s interest in this newly pervasive art form. A powerful compilation of his literary depictions and Evans’s photographs of tenant farmers at last appeared asLet Us Now Praise Famous Menin 1941. Southern writers such as Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Erskine Caldwell were involved with similar hybrids, so much so that the photo-book provides a convenient lens for reviewing the connection of...

    (pp. 361-362)
  12. Index
    (pp. 363-367)