Southern Distinctiveness, Yet Again, or, Why America Still Needs the South

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Southern Distinctiveness, Yet Again, or, Why America Still Needs the South

by Larry J. Griffin
Southern Cultures, Vol. 6, No. 3: Fall 2000

"When we talk of the South, are we talking about the South of Southern Living, a South that is enviably affluent and peopled almost exclusively by gracious whites who seem to do little more than cook gourmet meals and tend to their luscious gardens?"

In 1976 the Democratic Party nominated a true blue son of the SouthJimmy Carterto be its presidential candidate. During that campaign, and especially after Carter’s election, things southernfrom rednecks and born-again Protestantism to potlikker and red-eye gravywere the journalistic rage. Southerners did things deferentially, theywespoke differently, and, during those early Carter years, the national media seemed entranced by the “southernness” of it all, believing themselves, I suppose, called first to understand the South and then to help the American peopleor at least the non-southerners among usunderstand it too. I was finishing graduate school in Baltimore at the time, and I remember my Yankee friends asking me an inordinate number of questions about the South, about being southern. Of course, I was neither the first nor the last southerner to have enjoyed that particular pleasure: southerners have been explaining, telling about, the South for generations.