Front Porch: Spring 2005

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Front Porch: Spring 2005

by Harry L. Watson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 11, No. 1: Spring 2005

"Southern identity is a moving target. Its meaning keeps changing and so do those who claim it."

Who is a southerner? There have been many answers to this question, but until most recently they have all had something in common. Writing in 1928, Georgia-born historian Ulrich B. Phillips famously proclaimed that “a common resolve, indomitably maintained—that it shall be and remain a white man’s country . . . is the cardinal test of a Southerner and the central theme of Southern history.” About a dozen years later, Carolina journalist W. J. Cash offered his own, decidedly more complex definition of southerners, invoking the enduring power of the frontier interacting with what he took to be the folk traits of Anglo-Celtic ancestry. The result, he declared, was a set of mental characteristics that included individualism, romanticism, and hedonism, and which Cash summed up in his well-known book The Mind of the South. Cash did not limit his list of mental traits to opinions about race relations, but in one key respect, he and Phillips agreed: true southerners had to be white people.