The South and Southern History

Autor: Clyde Wilson | Publikováno: 23.4.2011 | Rubrika: English
Battle flag

by Clyde Wilson

Basic Books

Literature about the South and Southern history is vast – largely because non-Southerners have always found the South interesting. The greatest part of this literature is written from the viewpoint of the outsider diagnosing sin (in the 19th century) or pathology (since). The assumption apparently is that any people who don't want to be like Massachusetts must be either sick or evil.

Some of the "authorities" who spend their time studying the South even say, strangely, that it does not exist – it is merely a delusion created by bigotry and pellagra – though nothing could be more obvious than that Southerners have a separate historical experience and culture.

Despite the overwhelming mass of negative and distorted literature, there are many books, old and new, that are sympathetic or even-handed and that convey real knowledge about the region that one good history book defines as "not quite a nation within the nation, but the next thing to it."

A certain number of outsiders, generally morally and intellectually superior to the critics, have always found the South interesting and admirable. Remember the vast popularity of Gone With the Wind.

That Southerners agreed to go into a Union with Northerners in 1789 has made them available for endless attention and correction. If they were politically separate, Northerners would have no basis for assuming moral and economic dictatorship over Southerners. It is also true that much "American" history is actually Southern history.

Southern history that is well regarded (like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson used to be) becomes "American," which makes it non-Southern, which absorbs it into Northern. To most writers only the "bad" history is "Southern" – Andrew Jackson is "American," while Nathan Bedford Forrest, who came out of the same place and culture a generation later, is "Southern." Works cited are generally in print or otherwise fairly easily obtainable except those marked with *. The latter will probably require a very good library or a serious used book search.

General Works

The best (rather, the only good) overall history of the Southern region and people is quoted in the third paragraph above. That book is A History of the South by Francis Butler Simkins, first published by Knopf in 1947. It went through many editions, with suitable revisions by Charles Pierce Roland, until it was suppressed some time in the 1970s. It is a good place to start reading Southern history. It sold widely as a textbook and there are many used copies around.

When approaching the history of a people, it is good to start with their particular spirit, which is the most important and the most continuous thing. For this purpose there is much good recent or available material:

John Shelton Reed's straightforward essay on "Southerners" in The Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, a reference work that is usually available in larger public libraries. See also Reed's The Enduring South.

The best-selling works of Ronald and Donald Kennedy, The South Was Right, Why Not Freedom?, and Was Jefferson Davis Right?

The works of M.E. Bradford, any and all. Some will be mentioned later. For the moment: A Better Guide than Reason, Remembering Who We Are, and The Reactionary Imperative.

The works of Richard M. Weaver, any and all, starting with The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, and Visions of Order.

The Creed of the Old South*, a pair of beautiful essays by Basil L. Gildersleeve. The author was the greatest American classical scholar and a Confederate soldier who explained things to fair-minded Northerners after Reconstruction.

Discussions: Secular by the Rev. Robert Lewis Dabney. Dabney was a great theologian and a close friend of Stonewall Jackson who brilliantly expressed the Southern viewpoint on many recurrent public issues. The work has been reprinted by Sprinkle Publications as vol. 4 of Dabney's works.

Then, the classic by Twelve Southerners, I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition. Less well-known but equally important is its sequel, Who Owns America?.

See also Regionalism and Nationalism in the United States (originally titled Attack on Leviathan) by the Southern poet and essayist Donald Davidson, and Fifteen Southerners, Why the South Will Survive*.

The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, coedited by Bill Clinton's choice to head the NEH, can be safely ignored except for subjects having to do with 20th-century popular culture like "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Another good general reference that should be in many public libraries is Jay B. Hubbell, The South in American Literature.

Let me call attention to a set of general histories of the United States from a Southern viewpoint. Waddy Thompson wrote, beginning in the early 20th century, high-school texts which went through numerous editions and were widely used in public schools in the South up until recent decades. These are perfect for homeschoolers who need a straightforward, honest account of history. The same can be said for J. Steven Wilkins, America: The First 350 Years. The magnificent Mises Institute publications contain much that bears on The War, "Reconstruction," and Constitutional issues. To wit, John V. Denson, ed., Costs of War and Reassessing the Presidency; and David Gordon, ed., Secession, State, and Liberty.

The War

For understanding the War of Southern Independence (still the most deadly and revolutionary event in American history) two works are indispensable: Charles Adams's instant classic, When in the Course of Human Events, and Ludwell H. Johnson's North over South. The best general history of the war that has ever been or ever will be written is by a Southerner, Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative (3 vols.), a true masterpiece that is just as sympathetic and profound in regard to the Northern side as the Southern.

There are said to be more books on the War than on any other subject except Christianity. We can only touch the surface of this vast material by pointing to a few worthy titles:

Rod Gragg, The Illustrated Confederate Reader

Gary Gallagher, The Confederate War

Robert Selph Henry, The Story of the Confederacy

Thomas di Lorenzo, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (New York: Forum Books/Random House, 2002).

Marshall DeRosa, ed. The Politics of Dissolution

Walter Sullivan, ed., The War the Women Lived

Bart R. Talbert, Maryland: The South's First Casualty

Felicity Allen, Jefferson Davis: Unconquerable Heart

Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government

Douglas Southall Freeman, R.E. Lee; and for the young, Stanley F. Horn, Boy's Book of Robert E. Lee*. Ignore the ludicrous biographies by Connelly and Noland. For Lee see also Richard Adams, Traveller and J. Steven Wilkins, The Call of Duty.

John S. Tilley, Lincoln Takes Command

Charles C. Minor, The Real Lincoln

William Gilmore Simms, The Sack and Destruction of Columbia, South Carolina (eyewitness account by the South's greatest writer at the time)

Stanley F. Horn, The Army of Tennessee

Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction

Raphael Semmes, Memoirs of Service Ashore and Afloat

Robert S. Henry, "First with the Most" Forrest. The more recent Forrest biography by Jack W. Hurst is not bad, but avoid the PC version by Brian Wills.

John W. Thomason, Jeb Stuart

James I. Robertson, Stonewall Jackson

Raimondo Luraghi, History of the Confederate Navy

Robert N. Rosen, The Jewish Confederates

Kelly J. O'Grady, Clear the Confederate Way: The Irish in the Army of Northern Virginia

Charles K. Barrow, et al., Black Confederates

Arthur J.L. Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States

Much the best way to grasp the Southern spirit and experience in the war is through music and literature. One of the countless deceptions perpetrated by the notorious Ken Burns TV "documentary" on the war was the omission of most white Southern music – which is certainly as interesting as the Northern and black music that was used. Five volumes of "Songs of the C.S.A." recorded by Bobby Horton of Birmingham, Alabama, give a complete range of Confederate experience – patriotism, battle, loss, hardship, humor.

The South's novelists have been much greater than its historians. The Southern experience of the war is truly and movingly portrayed in such works as William Faulkner's The Unvanquished, Caroline Gordon's None Shall Look Back, Mary Johnston's The Long Roll, Madison Jones's Nashville: 1864; John W. Thomason's Lone Star Preacher, James Warner Bellah's The Valiant Virginians*, and many others. Don't forget the Confederate poets Henry Timrod and Father Abram J. Ryan as well as Donald Davidson's Lee in the Mountains and Other Poems. The recent films "Pharoah's Army" and "Ride With the Devil" are good in the same way, as is at least the early part of Clint Eastwood's "Outlaw Josey Wales."


No period of Southern history has been covered by more distortions in recent times than has 1865–1876. Not too long ago, nearly everybody, including Northerners, regarded this period as a shameful un-American exercise in military rule and limitless corruption. Now, it is established academic "truth" that the only thing wrong with Reconstruction was that it was not ruthless enough. The South should have been subjected to a complete Marxist, egalitarian revolution.

It seems irrelevant to the current "experts" on Reconstruction that such would have required Northerners to have had ideas and purposes rather different from what they could imagine at the time, and that it would have required totalitarianism and mass executions, not to mention violation of the terms of surrender, none of which would have bothered Radical Republicans if they could have gotten away with it.

The books by Ludwell Johnson, Thomas Di Lorenzo, and Richard Taylor cited above are essential for Reconstruction. I suggest also the following:

E. Merton Coulter, The South During Reconstruction and Civil War and Readjustment in Kentucky

John N. Edwards, Noted Guerillas, or the Warfare of the Border, definitive on the era of Jesse James.

Robert Selph Henry, The Story of Reconstruction

Stanley F. Horn, The Invisible Empire

John Chodes, "The Union League: Washington's Klan" (League of the South Paper)

Walter L. Fleming, Sequel of Appomattox

Howard K. Beale, The Critical Year

I prefer the above works to the often-cited Claude G. Bowers's The Tragic Era which is good on the evils of Reconstruction, but written from the viewpoint of Northerners who turned against it rather than Southerners who suffered through it.

For serious students there is Walter L. Fleming, A Documentary History of Reconstruction, assuming it has not yet been purged from libraries. While we are at it, there is still a lot to be learned from films such as "The Birth of a Nation" and "Gone With the Wind." The main thing wrong with "Birth" is too favorable a view of Lincoln. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Southerners like D.W. Griffith, the director, and Thomas Dixon, who wrote the novel that was used as a base, went out of their way to be good Americans and give some respect to the prevailing Northern sentiments. Besides, after Reconstruction, Lincoln and the war looked less bad.

State Rights and the Real Constitution

St. George Tucker, A View of the Constitution of the United States, with Selected Writings. Tucker was the first great American legal authority, who understood perfectly what the Constitution really says.

The works of John Taylor of Caroline. New Views of the Constitution, in a recent edition edited by James McClellan, provides an excellent entry into Taylor's sometimes difficult works. Taylor's Tyranny Unmasked also has a recent edition.

M.E. Bradford, A Better Guide than Reason, Founding Fathers, and Original Intentions

Alexander H. Stephens, A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States

Marshall L. DeRosa, The Confederate Constitution of 1861

Russell Kirk, John Randolph of Roanoke

John C. Calhoun. The Essential Calhoun, ed. by Clyde N. Wilson, is a good place to start. See also H. Lee Cheek, Jr., Calhoun and Popular Rule, and Margaret Coit, John C. Calhoun: American Portrait

Albert Taylor Bledsoe, Is Jefferson Davis a Traitor?

Robert L. Dabney, A Defense of Virginia and the South

See also "The Great Civil War Debate," a video from American Vision with J. Steven Wilkins and Peter Marshall.

Donald Livingston, "Secession and the Modern State," and Clyde N. Wilson, "From Union to Empire," are numbers in the League of the South Papers series. LOS also has available many video and audiotape lectures about Constitutional and other questions. This is only to scratch the surface of a wealth of literature, but it will get anyone started.

A good basic treatment of American government is James McClellan: Liberty, Order, and Justice.

The First South: Colonial and Revolutionary History

John R. Alden, The First South*

Louis B. Wright, The First Gentlemen of Virginia. See also Wright's edition of Robert Beverley's History and Present State of Virginia*, the first original work of Southern (and American) literature (1715).

Douglas S. Freeman, George Washington

Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time

Albert J. Nock, Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson's writings, which can be found in many versions in print and libraries: "Autobiography," Notes on the State of Virginia, public papers, especially the Kentucky Resolutions and the first inaugural, and letters.

Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. A magnificent South Carolina lady who founded the indigo industry and mothered two signers of the Declaration of Independence.

M.E. Bradford, A Better Guide Than Reason and Remembering Who We Are

For more serious students, Richard Beale Davis, Intellectual Life in the Colonial South, 3 vols. Good for dipping into and the definitive proof that New England had no monopoly of "American" learning and culture.

William Gilmore Simms, The Life of Francis Marion. Consciously or not, Mel Gibson's film "The Patriot" followed the trail that was blazed by Simms in regard to the Revolutionary War in the lower South. Simms wrote a series of novels, assiduously researched, set in Revolutionary South Carolina, which give a feel for the people, place, and time that can be found nowhere else. Among the more notable of these are Woodcraft, Katherine Walton, and The Scout. And the prolific Simms wrote a similar series about the colonial South, including The Cassique of Kiowa and The Yemassee. Many readers think that Simms knew Native Americans and frontiersman better than James Fenimore Cooper.

An important aspect of the history of the South in this period is the movement across the Appalachians. For a start try Marquis James, Andrew Jackson: Border Captain* and Elizabeth Madox Roberts's wonderful novel of early Kentucky, The Great Meadow.

The Old South: Plantation and Plain Folk

Mention of the antebellum South, not too long ago, commonly brought up pleasant images of a peaceful, dignified, charming way of life. (You can still get that feeling from surviving plantations, like Mount Vernon.) Now the mention brings up lurid images of chains and whips. Both ideas of the Old South are caricatures that have been believed mainly by outsiders. The latter image, as a generalization, is as much or more untrue as the former.

I should make clear that slavery and the plantation did not make up the whole of Southern life and culture by any means. As one fine historian put it, the plantations were prominent hills in the Southern landscape but took up only a small portion of the land. Most of the topography was covered by smaller independent farms, where most of the population, including a large fraction of the black people, lived.

Louis Filler, Slavery in the United States, is a reasonably dispassionate and comprehensive survey.

Ulrich B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South*. Now out of favor, Phillips was in fact a great historian who did more research about American slavery than anyone ever has and who was a progressive for his time.

Raimondo Luraghi, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South*

Robert M. Myers, ed., Children of Pride

James E. Kibler, Our Father's Fields

Duncan L. Heyward, Seed from Madagascar

Avery O. Craven, The Coming of the Civil War*

Joseph Hergesheimer, Swords and Roses*

John Taylor of Caroline, Arator, ed. M.E. Bradford

Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, a classic work on slavery that manages to avoid hysteria and be sympathetic to white and black Southerners both.

Robert W. Fogel and Stanley Engermann, Time on the Cross, one of a number of books on the South that have been announced to have been disproved, though they haven't really been.

William Garrott Brown, The Lower South in American History*

J. Steven Wilkins and Douglas Wilson, Southern Slavery as It Was

Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy*

Everett Dick, The Dixie Frontier*

Frederick L. Ogg, The Old Northwest, on the Southerners who founded the Midwest.

For more serious students, Lewis C. Gray, Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860, a classic work of its kind; and Michael O'Brien, ed., All Clever Men*, which indicates that intellectual life in the Old South was significant and not preoccupied with slavery.

One of the most important works in Southern history is Frank L. Owsley's Plain Folk of the Old South. Owsley demonstrates that the South was not, according to abolitionist propaganda, made up of slaves, haughty aristocrats, and degraded poor whites, but the bulk of the people were independent farmers and stockraisers who had economic sufficiency and a love of liberty and were not bossed by anybody. The official stance of academic historians today is that "Owsley has been disproved." They must say this, because if the Old South was not as the abolitionists fancied it to be, desire for independence cannot be discredited and its invasion and destruction cannot be justified. In fact, Owsley has not been disproved and cannot be. The literature which might seriously challenge him does not exist.

A supplement to Owsley is Grady McWhiney's Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South. McWhiney does a superb job of showing the connections between British border ways of life and the plain folk of the Old South. Unfortunately, in order to do this, he must use as sources the observations of puritanical Englishmen and Yankees who were outsiders to Cracker culture, and these observers give a highly derogatory tone to the description of Southern plain folk. I am also dubious about the open-ended term "Celtic." And clearly the very real phenomena described by McWhiney do not make up all of the elements that went into the formation of Southern society. The Low Country of Virginia and the Carolinas did not orginate in Celtic parts of Britain, not to mention French Louisiana.

A realistic view of the life of the Old South, neither defensive nor citical, appears in the literature it produced. The writers of the Old South, in fact, were creating a real American literature while New Englanders were turning out milksop verses and egomaniacal essays.

Johnson J. Hooper, The Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs (Alabama)

George W. Harris, "Sut Lovingood" stories (Tennessee)

A.B. Longstreet, Georgia Scenes

William Elliott, Carolina Sports by Land and Water (ignore the PC introductiuon in the most recent edition)

William Gilmore Simms, Paddy M'Gann

Outstanding modern novels about the Old South:

William Faulkner, Go Down Moses. (By the way, Faulkner does not regard his protagonist, Ike McCaslin, as a hero for refusing his bequest of slaves. He regards him as a failure for not accepting his responsibilities.)

Caroline Gordon, Penhally (Kentucky)

Caroline Miller, Lamb in His Bosom (South Georgia)

Andrew Lytle, The Long Night (Alabama)

Perhaps the most outstanding cultural production of the Old South was Birds of North America by John J. Audubon of Louisiana. Audubon's interesting journals, which give a view of American society, have also been published. The painter George Caleb Bingham and the artist and architect Benjamin H. Latrobe have left vivd pictures of the Old South.

See also Jesse Poesch, Art in the Old South

Most Southern history is written as if the South is a peculiar sport of nature that needs explaining. The implicit unexamined assumption of the historian is that the North, or the mainstream United States, is the universal norm against which all else is to be measured. But what about that assumption? Maybe the South is just what it is and does not so much need explaining as it critics. Why have they been so preoccupied with slandering and reforming it?

In fact, you cannot understand the conflict that led to the War of Southern Independence unless you know something about the Old North. It was the North that suffered a revolution in its ways of thinking and doing. The historical path taken by the Old South is only explained by the economic, demographic, political, and religious changes in the North in the 19th century. It was these changes that brought to power the elements that demanded the destruction of the South and that reinterpreted the Constitution and the meaning of the Union. Only recently have historians begun to look carefully at the Old North, and some good books have appeared. If there is one certain indisputable generalization we can make about the North in the War and the periods before and after, it is this: The Union side NEVER did anything with a primary motive of benevolence toward the black population of America.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men

Anne Norton, Alternative Americas*

Harlow W. Sheidley, Sectional Nationalism: Massachusetts Conservative Leaders and the Transformation of America

Susan-Mary Grant, North Over South: Northern Nationalism and American Identity

Richard F. Bensel, Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America

Ernest L. Tuveson, Redeemer Nation

Eugene Berwanger, The Frontier Against Slavery*

V. Jacques Voegli, Free but Not Equal*

Howard Floan, The South in Northern Eyes*

Edgar Allan Poe, the South's greatest 19th century writer, despised New Englanders, their pretensions, and their baneful influence on American culture. In his collected essays and criticism, which can be found in many libraries, take a look at "Boston and the Bostonians," "Brook Farm," and "The Literati of New York City." If you want to know what the people who settled Boston were really like, watch Vincent Price's Puritan witchhunter in the film "The Conqueror Worm," which is based on a Poe story.

State and Local History

Southerners have historically been the most loyal to the United States and ready to fight in its defense of all Americans. They are also the Americans most loyal to their own region and their own states, and the most likely to remain in their native territory. This is not paradoxical because loyalty is an indivisible quality of character. Their loyalty makes Southerners natural enemies of those powerful Americans who are not loyal to their people or country but to the government and the "propositions" it allegedly represents.

State histories, histories of regions within Southern states, and even county histories are abundant and many are quite good. The older state histories, which were used as textbooks in better days, are superior to the current ones drawn up to federal regulations. I can cite only a few outstanding examples.

John Gould Fletcher, Arkansas. Fletcher was a poet and one of the Twelve Agrarians.

Grace King, New Orleans: The Place and the People*. Grace King was a Louisiana writer whose novels and stories are better than her contemporary and currently celebrated feminist Kate Chopin. See also King's fiction Balcony Stories.*

T.R. Fehrenbacher, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.

J. Evetts Haley is best known as the author of A Texan Looks at Lyndon. He was also a very fine historian of the Texas cattle kingdom in Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman, Jeff Milton: A Good Man with a Gun, and a number of other works.

In a few earlier listings and those that follow, states and subregions that the work reflects will be mentioned in parens.

After Reconstruction

For the period of Southern history from the end of Reconstruction until World War I, the works of C. Vann Woodward cannot be avoided, particularly Origins of the New South, American Counterpoint, and Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel. Woodward was a native Southerner who was negative about nearly everything that Southerners hold dear and highly successful at it. But the works mentioned remain interesting because Woodward, while he criticized the South, did not accept the moral pretensions of the North. He was a good writer who was capable of an ironic detachment from American as well as Southern mythology.

Other Woodward works, Reunion and Reaction, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, and The Burden of Southern History need no longer be read. They are exercises tailored perfectly to appeal to the leftist mentality at a particular point in time, and their ideas have been shown to be of doubtful validity. Woodward, alas, left a large company of talented PhD students, most of them renegade Southerners from well-to-do families, who have managed to take over and distort many of the areas of major interest to students of the South.

For a pre-Woodward view, see Holland M. Thompson, The New South*.

Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery

Elizabeth Alston Pringle, A Woman Rice Planter

As always, the best view of this period is given by the South's creative writers:

Thomas Nelson Page, In Ole Virginia and The Burial of the Guns

William Faulkner, The Reivers and Intruder in the Dust (Mississippi)

Owen Wister, Lady Baltimore (Charleston)

Charles Henry Smith, "Bill Arp" Stories and Sketches* which have appeared in several editions (North Georgia)

Joel Chandler Harris's stories of "Uncle Remus." These stories are of course no longer in favor. Uncle Remus was as wise, kind, and honorable as anyone in literature and therefore not a good role model. (Middle Georgia)

The South: Twentieth Century and Beyond

Historical writing about the 20th century South suffers from the general characteristics of such writing in the second half of that century: leftism masquerading as professional objectivity, and the blindness of over-specialization. There is a vast literature, some of it good within its own terms, some not. But we want works for the reader in search of real, humane knowledge and understanding. The writings cited in the first section above, "General Works," make for a good start.

Modern Southern Literature

Southern literature in the 20th century is the marvel of the world and probably the most lasting cultural acheivement of the U.S. Literature begins with language and that subject begins with The Language of the American South* by the great literary scholar and critic Cleanth Brooks. Southern speech has always attracted attention and Brooks knows where it comes from. A few years ago there was a PBS television series on the English language put together by a humorless, pseudo-intellectual Canadian. It was wrong about nearly everything. According to this production, there is no such thing as a Southern accent since it was never mentioned. There was a variety of English from the South which originated with one particular isolated black group.

Then there was a general American accent. The segment about this included people who kept insisting they spoke Southern, which they obviously did, though according to the series such a form of English does not exist! Apparently U.S. Grant and Bedford Forrest talked just alike, as do Bob Dole and Strom Thurmond. Brooks knows the origin and significance of Southern speech and he is backed up by the specialized works of the late Prof. Raven McDavid of the University of Chicago. McDavid was the premier authority on American speech and a native of South Carolina.

Works on Southern Literature:

Jay B. Hubbell, The South in American Literature

Cleanth Brooks, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country

M.E. Bradford, Generations of the Faithful Heart and Against the Barbarians

Mark R. Winchell, Cleanth Brooks and the Rise of Modern Criticism and Where No Flag Flies: Donald Davidson and the Southern Resistance

Donald Davidson, Southern Writers in the Modern World

Political and Social Commentary:

J. Evetts Haley, A Texan Looks at Lincoln

Works of Ronald and Donald Kennedy previously cited

Thomas Fleming, The Politics of Human Nature

Gordon Thornton, The Southern Nation: The New Rise of the Old South

Oran P. Smith, ed., So Good a Cause

Eugene D. Genovese, The Southern Tradition

Ted J. Smith, ed., Steps Toward Restoration

Joseph Scotchie, The Vision of Richard Weaver


Ben Robertson, Red Hills and Cotton (upcountry South Carolina)

Marjorie Kennan Rawlings, Cross Creek (northern Florida; avoid the horrible movie version.)

John Graves, Hard Scrabble and Goodbye to a River (East Texas)

Zora Neal Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road (African-American)

Essays: Literary and Social Commentary:

William Faulkner, Essays, Speeches, and Public Letters

Robert Penn Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War

Andrew Lytle, From Eden to Babylon

John Donald Wade, Selected Essays*

Allen Tate, Essays of Four Decades

Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners

Works of M.E. Bradford and Richard Weaver already cited

George Garrett, My Silk Purse and Yours and Sorrows of Fat City

Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos

Wendell Berry, What Are People For? and other works

Florence King, Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye and The Florence King Reader

Tom Wolfe, Hooking Up

H.W. Crocker III, Robert E. Lee on Leadership

Fiction and Poetry:

Here we enter the realm of taste. Not being a literary critic, my taste runs to creative literature that conveys with verity the life of the South, and not that which may be judged by the world as the greatest. I have already mentioned many of the best, by my rule, in appropriate sections above. Undoubtedly, there is a vast collection of good Southern writers and books to choose from, and they are still coming. Other books by the writers suggested below and books by other writers are just as good.

Flannery O'Connor, Collected Stories (Georgia)

Fred Chappell, I am One of You Forever, Brighten the Corner Where You Are, Farewell, I'm Bound to Leave You, Look Back All the Green Valley, and Midquest (western North Carolina)

Wendell Berry, Memory of Old Jack and Jayber Crow (Kentucky)

Tito Perdue, Lee, The New Austerities and Opportunities in Alabama Agriculture

George Garrett, The King of Babylon Shall Not Come Against You (modern Florida). Garrett's Elizabethan novels, Death of the Fox and The Succession are not strictly about the South, but they are masterpieces set in the English world out of which the first Southerners came.

Walker Percy, The Second Coming, Love in the Ruins, and others (Louisiana)

Donald Davidson, Big Ballad Jamboree (country music)

James E. Kibler, Poems from Scorched Earth (South Carolina)

James Lee Burke, in a whole series of novels about Detective Robicheaux in the Louisiana Cajun country has raised crime fiction to the level of serious literature for the first time since Poe. Burke is also the author of a fine Southern "Western," Two For Texas.

Cormac McCarthy, a Southern writer, has produced a classic "Western" trilogy: All the Pretty Horses, Cities of the Plain, and The Crossing.

Other Southern novels set in "the West": Charles Portis, True Grit (Arkansas and Oklahoma) and Alan LeMay, The Searchers (Texas), both of which became John Wayne vehicles.

Then there is the saga of the Alabama writer Forrest Carter, friend and supporter of Governor George Wallace, who wrote the book Gone to Texas upon which Clint Eastwood's "The Outlaw Josey Wales" was based. Carter also wrote The Education of Little Tree, about the sufferings of an Indian boy at the hands of puritanical authorities. The book was reprinted by the devotedly multicultural University of New Mexico Press and became celebrated in Native American studies. Any reader other than an American intellectual could see right away that the book is really about the persecution of Southerners by Yankees. Imagine the consternation when Carter's background was revealed! (The movie version became anti-Southern, of course.)

The history of the Southwest (and to some extent the Northwest) is the history of extending the South into new territory. Without Southerners, the West is just a boring account of sodbusters, railroads, and cavalry. But that is a story for another time. Meanwhile, if you wish, you have a lifetime of satisfying learning before you.

July 9, 2001

Dr. Wilson [send him mail] is professor of history at the University of South Carolina and editor of The Papers of John C. Calhoun.

Copyright © 2001


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