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Roots of a Region

Roots of a Region: Southern Folk Culture

John A. Burrison
Copyright Date: 2007
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    Roots of a Region
    Book Description:

    Roots of a Region reveals the importance of folk traditions in shaping and expressing the American South. This overview covers the entire region and all forms of ex-pression-oral, musical, customary, and material.

    The author establishes how folklore pervades and reflects the region\'s economics, history (espe-cially the Civil War), race rela-tions, religion, and politics. He follows with a catalog of those folk-cultural traits-from food and crafts to music and story-that are distinctly southern. The book then explores the Native American and Old World sources of southern folk culture. Two case studies serve as examples to stu-dents and as evidence of the author\'s larger points. The first traces the origins and develop-ment of an artifact type, the clay jug; the second examines a place, Georgia, and the relationship of its folklore to the region as a whole.

    The author concludes by looking to the future of folklife in a region that has lost much of its agrarian base as it modernizes, a future dependent on recent immigration and appreciation of older southern traditions by a largely urban audience. Supporting these explorations are 115 illustrations-sixteen in color-and an extensive bibliography of books on southern folk culture.

    John A. Burrison is Regents Professor of English and director of the folklore curriculum at Georgia State University. He also serves as curator of the Goizueta Folklife Gallery at the Atlanta History Museum and of the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia at Sautee Nacoochee Center. His previous books are Brothers in Clay: The Story of Georgia Folk Pottery, Storytellers: Folktales and Legends from the South, and Shaping Traditions: Folk Arts in a Changing South.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-307-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: A Pennsylvania Yankee in Governor Lester Maddox’s Court
    (pp. 3-18)

    Tell about the South. What’s it like there. What do they do there.” Shreve McCannon makes this plea to his Harvard roommate, Mississippian Quentin Compson, in William Faulkner’s novelAbsalom, Absalom!² Shreve, the ultimate northerner—a Canadian—is enthralled by Quentin’s tale of the Sutpen family, and what better audience for this unmistakably southern tale than a sympathetic outsider full of curiosity about the region.

    It was as such a curious northerner that I came to Atlanta in 1966, trying not to have too many preconceptions, eager to learn about my newly adopted region (while ostensibly coming to teach at...

  5. 1. The Core of the Culture: Folk Traditions and the Big Regional Picture
    (pp. 19-40)

    The overarching theme of this book is the importance of folklore (a term used interchangeably here withfolk traditions, folk culture, andfolklife) in shaping and expressing the culture of the American South.² A community-shared resource of accumulated knowledge, folklore is learned informally, preserved in memory and practice, and passed on through speech and body action to others in any group whose members have a common bond. Acquiring games from other children on the playground and watching older family members cook in the kitchen are familiar examples of this folk learning process. An enactment of the past in present behavior,...

  6. 2. Goobers, Grits, and Greasy Greens: What’s Southern about Southern Folk Culture?
    (pp. 41-82)

    Coming from the Mid-Atlantic and having spent some time in New England as well, I found the South an exotic place forty years ago, and I must confess that to a lesser degree I still view my adopted home in this way; the sense of “differentness” hasn’t completely worn off. Butexoticis not the same asalien; my training and perspective as a folklorist have helped me appreciate the positive values and complexity of the region. With my knowledge of northern folklore as a basis for comparison, I soon came to realize that some of the traditions I was...

  7. 3. An Early International Crossroads: The Diverse Roots of Southern Folk Culture
    (pp. 83-109)

    As John F. Kennedy declared in his 1959 book title, the United States is a nation of immigrants.³ How then, with their deep and diverse Old World roots, did our immigrant ancestors cross the cultural divide to become Americans? The prevailing view through the mid-twentieth century was that of assimilation, taking as its model the metallurgical melting pot, an image popularized by Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play of that title whose protagonist proclaims, “America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming.”⁴ The Anglo-Jewish son of eastern European immigrants, Zangwill set his play...

  8. 4. Journey of the Jug: An Artifact-Based Case Study
    (pp. 110-133)

    On a sunny fall Saturday in 1997, Hewell’s Pottery in the north Georgia countryside was in the midst of its annual Turning and Burning festival, a homegrown celebration of traditional pottery making. The guest of honor was Lanier Meaders, arguably America’s most famous folk potter, who had made it to the age of eighty. This was his birthday party, with hundreds on hand to wish him well. Lanier had kept alive Georgia’s old alkaline-glazed stoneware tradition virtually single-handedly until others, inspired by his success, picked it up and carried it on; our meeting in 1968 had inspired me to research...

  9. 5. Georgia on My Mind: A Place-Based Case Study
    (pp. 134-163)

    MentionGeorgia folkloreto the oldest living generation of Georgians, and the first thing likely to come to their minds is the African American Brer Rabbit folktales popularized by author Joel Chandler Harris through his storytelling character, Uncle Remus. To later generations the phrase may conjure up images of mountain life from the Foxfire publications, or even exotic festivals and ethnic foods introduced by recent immigrants. Georgia folklore is, in fact, all these things, and much more. In this chapter I focus on the southern state I know best and examine how Georgia (and by implication, any particular state) is...

  10. 6. Branches and New Shoots: Southern Folk Culture Today and Tomorrow
    (pp. 164-178)

    This last chapter is the most difficult to write. For one thing, I don’t have a crystal ball, and doubt that there’s anyone with the ability to predict the future of southern folk culture. Folk traditions are slippery; they have a way of disappearing, then resurfacing when conditions are right. So one thing this chapter will not be is an obituary for southern folklore, although I have in fact witnessed the passing of certain rural-based traditions; it was that distinctly regional culture, deeply rooted in the soil, that attracted me to the region. I am less interested in the lore...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 179-216)
    (pp. 217-226)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 227-236)