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Contemporary Southern Identity

Contemporary Southern Identity: Community through Controversy

Rebecca Bridges Watts
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Contemporary Southern Identity
    Book Description:

    In Contemporary Southern Identity Rebecca Bridges Watts explores the implications of four public controversies about Southern identity-debates about the Confederate flag in South Carolina, the gender integration of the Virginia Military Institute, the display of public art in Richmond, and Trent Lott\'s controversial comments regarding Strom Thurmond\'s 1948 segregationist presidential bid. While such debates may serve as evidence of the South\'s \"battle over the past,\" they can alternatively be seen as harbin-gers of a changing South. These controversies highlight the di-versity of voices in the conver-sation of what it means to be a Southerner. The participants in these conflicts may disagree about what Southern identity should be, but they all agree that such discussions are a cru-cial part of being Southern.

    Recent debates as to the place of Old South symbols and institutions in the South of the new millennium are evidence of a changing order. But a changing South is no less distinctive. If Southerners can find unity and distinctiveness in their identification, they may even be able to serve as a model for the increasingly divided United States. The very debates portrayed in the mass media as evidence of an \"unfinished Civil War\" can instead be interpreted as proof that the South has progressed and is having a common dialogue as to what its diverse members want it to be.

    Rebecca Bridges Watts is visiting assistant professor of communication studies at Stetson University.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-308-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: Looking Toward a New Rhetoric of Southern Identity
    (pp. 3-17)

    The abundance of debates cited in news headlines such as these can be seen not only as evidence of the South’s battle over the past but also as evidence of a South in dialogue with itself (and often with others). The presence of these frequent, widespread debates throughout the South highlights the diversity of voices that are now permitted to be expressed in the shared, continuing conversation of what it means to be a Southerner at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The participants in these debates may disagree with one another about what Southern identity should be, but they...

  5. 1 Uniforms, Walls, and Doors: Social Mystery and Gender Integration at the Virginia Military Institute
    (pp. 18-48)

    If ever a Southern institution embodied the region’s fixation with order, it is the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The institute’s highly regimented system of discipline, based on a strict system of classes and rules, has since its inception in 1839 served to instill a sense of order in its cadets. VMI’s particular set of traditions, rituals, and rules—its system of social mystery—has served both to identify those within VMI and to set apart or divide VMI from those outside it. Within VMI, cadets wear the same uniform worn by generations of cadets before them; they go through the...

  6. 2 When Richmond Gained Perspective by Incongruity: Old South Tradition and New South Change in the Confederate Capital
    (pp. 49-86)

    The gothic walls of the VMI barracks were not the only site of conflict between division and identification in the Virginia of the late 1990s. Virginia’s capital, Richmond, also was riddled with not one but two such controversies during this period. Whereas VMI’s conflict focused mainly on the shift from the segregation to the integration of the sexes, Richmond’s controversies stemmed mainly from the shift from the segregation to the integration of the races. Richmonders debated the appropriateness of bringing together symbols of the Old South’s order of division, in the form of depictions of Confederate leaders, with symbols of...

  7. 3 Stories of the War: The Confederate Flag in South Carolina
    (pp. 87-116)

    As contentious as the artistic portrayals of Southerners from Robert E. Lee to Arthur Ashe may have been in Richmond, no symbol has divided the contemporary South as widely and to such an extreme as the red field, blue cross, and white stars of the Confederate battle flag. This “rebel flag” has been displayed as a symbol of racist defiance by Ku Klux Klansmen and others of their ilk who continue to defend a racially divided South years after identification became the ruling order through federally mandated integration. Such divisive uses of this flag have imbued it with the symbolism...

  8. 4 Senator Trent Lott: Southern Sinner, Scapegoat, and Sacrifice
    (pp. 117-153)

    If the Confederate battle flag was the most divisive of Southern symbols throughout the twentieth century, the causes with which it has most often been associated during that century, segregation and racism, have been just as divisive in practice. At the same time that formerly segregated Southern institutions such as the Virginia Military Institute were beginning to admit women, Southern cities were making room for depictions of a more diverse array of heroes than Confederate generals, and symbols of division such as the Confederate flag were being taken down, a new controversy arose when questions surfaced about whether one of...

  9. Conclusion: Dialectical Rhetoric as the New Rhetoric of Southern Identity
    (pp. 154-164)

    A strong case may be made that if any one person embodied the changing order of the South in the twentieth century, it was Strom Thurmond. As Delaware senator Joseph Biden noted in his July 2003 eulogy, “Strom Thurmond was the only man I knew who in a literal sense lived in three distinct and separate periods of American history…. Born into an era of essentially unchallenged and unexamined mores of the South, reaching his full maturity in an era of fully challenged and critically examined bankrupt mores of his beloved South, and living out his final three decades in...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 165-178)
  11. References
    (pp. 179-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-208)