Front Porch: Winter 1999

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Front Porch: Winter 1999

by Harry L. Watson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 5, No. 4: Winter 1999

"If changing popular memories undermine the basis for a distinctive southern culture, it will happen because southerners don't need one any more, assuming they really had one in the first place."

Some observers have always disputed this point. Cash himself was probably thinking about Chapel Hill sociologists Howard Odum and Rupert Vance when he airily dismissed those “journalists or professors” who pretended that “the South really exists only as a geographical division of the United States.” Early on, the renowned historian C. Vann Woodward challenged Cash’s notion of the continuity of southern history and insisted that abrupt changes had often ruptured the flow of southern history in the past and might do so once more. For evidence, Woodward pointed to the Civil War itself, to the burst of Populist radicalism in the 1890s, and later to the fits and starts that marked what he called “the strange career of Jim Crow.” Later still, Woodward observed the onslaughts of the postwar South’s “Bulldozer Revolution” and raised the possibility that economic development and modernization might one day leave nothing distinct about the South at allexcept for the one thing that change could never efface, and that was the southern past.