Tuesday, January 31, 2006


ER book review: 'Away Down South'

James C. Cobb, Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). 404 pp., notes, index.

By The Erudite Redneck

James C. Cobb must have read or seriously consulted every important work of Southern history, fiction and social commentary, and several scholarly reviews of every important work of Southern history, fiction and social commentary, in researching Away Down South.

And he probably did, being a longtime history professor in Georgia. It makes Away Down South a wonderful work of historiography and bibliography.

Need a synopsis of something from Faulkner? It's probably in here. Need to know the post-death role of Elvis in late-20th-century Mississippi? It's here. Giants of Southern history such as U.B. Phillips and Kenneth Stamps, they're here, of course.

Those are just a few examples of the numerous sideroads Cobb takes readers down, but he keeps generally to one main path: the identity of the South is not a story of continuity versus change, but of continuity within change.

That sounds like a little academic mumbo-jumbo. Well, this is an academic study, and his thesis wasn't exactly clear to me. Good book, nonetheless, although it flags at the end.

One reviewer called Away Down South "riveting." That's a bit much, but Cobb's reviews, summaries and commentary of works that came before can be breathless -- just one after another, but knitted together well for his purposes.

History profs can point to Away Down South as a great example of how to bring a large number of others' works together in synthesis.

Especially enlightening to me was his account of how leading ex-Confederates immediately reclaimed the South's cultural "master narrative" after Reconstruction ended, overwhelming the budding freedman interpretation of the war and its results.

This was born the "Lost Cause," which, like any good myth, served the reestablished establishment long and well as a cultural prism through which to view reality.

Cobb's assessment of the South's role in the evolution of American identity was equally interesting. The North fell out of the mix a generation or so ago, just about the time of the successes of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

The South has been on the rise ever since, as the predominant influence on American culture.

The author does not neglect black Southern history.

Specifically, he draws direct connection between black cultural expression in the South and the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

Generally, he spends quite a number fo pages discussing the idea of whether Southern blacks can be called "Southern" when white history and culture so obviously dominate the notion.

In a word, "Yes" -- because many Southern black describe themselves so -- which should not surprise any thoughtful Southerner, white or black.

Away Down South reminded me of Bernard Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (my review) in its use of sources -- Bailyn relied on colonial-era pamphlets; Cobb relied on both academic and popular books, essays and articles.

It also made me think of Alistair E. McGrath's The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (my review).

Why? Because each book is a history of ideas more than the people who espoused them. Writing such history can be tricky when all you have to go on is the words, with their temporal baggage, shifting meanings and swirling context, that people are forced to use to express their ideas.

Which is why, muddy thesis or not, Cobb's work joins Bailyn's and McGrath's in ER's personal Top 10 books of History.


freep ... freep ... freep
kaw ... kaw ... kaw
I looked this guy up earlier today. He's got a blog, but he doesn't post very often. He looks to be as liberal (or moreso) than you ER (not that there's anything wrong with that : ))

This statement right here is what turned me off: Especially enlightening to me was his account of how leading ex-Confederates immediately reclaimed the South's cultural "master narrative" after Reconstruction ended, overwhelming the budding freedman interpretation of the war and its results.

This was born the "Lost Cause," which, like any good myth, served the reestablished establishment long and well as a cultural prism through which to view reality.

Sounds like a northerner in Southerner's clothing to me. Myth or no, I buy it. If that makes me part of 'the establishment', then so be it.
Rem, you never cease to amaze me. :-)

"Likewise, I'm sure, ER," Rem replies.
OK, Rem, sre you tellin' me that the ex-Confeds didn't fight Reconstruction tooth and nail?

You tellin' me that they didn't immediately, as soon as the Yankee occupiers were gone, start trying to rebuild, buildings as well as the culture?

You tellin' me that part of that wasn't using local law and other forms of pressure to shut up the black man and put him back in his place? You tellin' me that?

You tellin' me you don't believe that for a few years immediately after the war but before the Yankee occupiers had left that there truly was a new birth of freedom that allowed former slaves, literate ones especially, to express themselves and to champion their freedom as the biggest reason to celebrate the war as well as the end of the war?

You tellin' me that the ex-Confederates didn't then immediately start sayin' no, now, the war was really about state's rights! The war was really about defending state sovereignty! The was about everything we whites say it was and nothing that blacks say it was about?

It was about all those things, and more.

That's ALL Cobb said, and it's all I echoed.

The "Lost Cause" is the story of the Confederacy and the South as seen through the eyes of whites. Blacks, not surprisingly, do not see it that way.

That is NOT a judgment of the usefulness of the myth -- and surely you know that "myth" in this sense does not mean "made-up" -- it means a certain way of interpreting truth.

I think you were too trigger happy here. But, maybe not. Maybe there's two rivers that run by yer place: de Chipola and de Nile!

Quack ... quack ... quack
LOL - de Chipola and de Nile

Keep in mind - all I read was your review of the book. I haven't read the book so I can't place your comments in the proper context. I may have been trigger happy. All I had to go by was the blurb that I referenced. I said it turned me off.

'Myth' does carry many meanings. Based on the limited context I saw, I took it to mean that Cobb thought the "Lost Cause" was entirely made up after-the-fact. As if States Rights were not the issue. They were. Oh, maybe not for every man who fought, but the ideals were certainly at the forefront when it was time to secede.

You raised some valid points - ex-Confederates did fight reconstruction. They also fought the integration of blacks. They pretty well fought everything that the North tried to do. You know what - were I there, I'd have done it, too. All of it - the good and the bad.

The 'Lost Cause' is still worth fighting for today. Somebody out there is gonna say, "Rem's a racist" - in this PC world, it's not deemed appropriate to have nostalgia for a time and place when some group of people were severly oppressed. But like myth, racist has many levels of meaning. When I think of the old South, I definitely look at it through the eyes of a white man. I don't apologize for that. I can recognize problems/injustices/etc and still see something there worth saving/recreating.

Anyway, gotta go. I may check back in this evening. Then again, I've got two sick young 'uns, so I may not.
tweet ... tweet ... tweet ...
Get yer young'uns well, Rem. :-)

Were I livin' in the Cherokee Nation in 1861, in the area where I grew up, I'd've for damn sure gone with the Confederacy, as did the rest of the bunch livin' right outside Fort Smith, Ark., at the time.

The Union figured it had bigger chickens to fry, and so abandoned the slave-holdin' Five Ttibes to their own fate. And most, not all, jined up with the South. They had no practical alternative.
Ehh! Ehhhhh!

Lordy! You're more prolific than a hutch of rabbits. And I only missed a few days.


Anyway, I had a French teacher years ago who said, "The only thing that is certain is the future, for the past is always changing." I believe she was referring to people's tendency to edit history as it suits them. It sounds like the book you reviewed is at least trying to examine that. Sounds like a good read.

:-), SuperB. Absolutely. Nothing is ever settled in the world of ideas, but this book is a good benchmark, a place to stop and breath and rethink, for anyone who gives a rip about ewhat it means to be "Southern."
shicka ... ... ... ... shick ... ... ... ... fhshk fhshk ... ... ... ... shshsh ... ... ... ... shshsh ... ... ... ... crnch crnch nibble ... ... ... ... crnch crnch nibble ...
Good idea with the book review, ER. I've been kicking around the idea of doing them at my site.....And think I will follow your lead.

Thx for confirming my idea, and I don't mind admitting you did so.
What's with the farm you have going on here?? I figured on a 'funny farm', but not one with real animals:)
The North fell out of the mix a generation or so ago, just about the time of the successes of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

The South has been on the rise ever since, as the predominant influence on American culture.

Forgive me for demurring in that timing, unless you mean political culture. The predominant features of American culture are film and television, dominated by the East and West. In my view, the high water mark for Southern cultural influence was Wolfe and Faulkner through the New Agrarians to O'Connor and others; music with jazz to the decline of Elvis, all ending roughly when the author (or ER - it's not clear) claims it was taking off,in the sixties, presumably by pretty completely assimilated influence.

For example, claiming hip-hop as a Southern influence is slice and dice dialectic in support of a thesis.
That was me talking at that point. I meant political (conservative) and "values" (conservative Christian).

But regarding popular culture, I admit that while they often are in the vanguard, I don't consider films and television as indicators of where the bulk of popular culture is at any moment. That's what the media talks about, and most of us listen as they talk.

Many of us watch the unfolding of film and TV entertainment the same Calvin's dad did in one of the strips: He stood as far away from the living room TV, with his back against the wall, watching the news.

Other random thoughts:

Why is Hollywood losing money? Why did WB and UPN merge?

NASCAR has the biggest fan base of any sport and is the fastest-growing. Country music ebbs and flows in popularity, but mostly it flows, and it influences everything and everybody from the late Johnny Cash, who brought a country flavor to grunge tunes, of all things, and Kid Rock and Cheryl Crow, who are almost considered distant cousins by the country music community.

... I think the bi-coastal culture of this country is played out on the coasts, and lots of us in "flyoever country" watch, in amusement and sometimes in embarassment. But most of us don't take part in any of it.

To realize that, you have to turn off the TV a lot, drive rather than fly to get where you're going, and get off the interstate highways.
Hard to believe that the passive viewing hours on either screen are any more moderate in flyover country than on the coasts and the influence of rock on currently popular country music seems to me more pervasive than the other way around.

You'd have an even harder time arguing that "high" culture is dominated by the South, with the most influential universities, theaters, publishers, research institutes, think tanks, etc. on the coasts or in the northern Midwest.

But the political culture argument is very, very interesting. The disappearance of "nigger" from accepted (white) conversation seems to me a metonymy for a whole set of racial taboos that have spread from the North to the South. We're not much more than a generation away from "Segregation Forever" in public facilities and anti-miscegenation laws, yet not even David Duke dared to draw his lines anywhere near there. The limitations on the portability of conservative movement (particularly the pro-military southern tradition) can be summarized by this: the one move (I think but of course may be wrong) that would guarantee the loss of Congress and the Presidency to the Democrats would be an attempt to reimpose the draft.
Oh, well, I said nothing of supposed "high" culture. Most people don't care about that one way or the other.

I think the fact that David Duke came to mind immediately in a discussion of "Southern" political culture suggests that your concept of "Southern" is very narrow -- and pretty dated.

I confess that I don't understand what you're trying to say in that last graf. "Nigger"? Duke? Segregation? The draft. That's a real Duke's mixture ...
Oh, as for passive viewing hours: I'm sure hours spent in front of the tube are similar across the country. I'm also sure that we're watching different things, in some cases way different things. That's just a hunch, though.
BTW, I'm only sort of pushing the envelope when I say that:

New York hip hop is east Motown.

Motown wasx north Memphis.

Memphis was two steps from the cotton patch.

Southern roots.
I just love it when you go all conferderate on me.

So ER, how is it that all the tribes went with the South? That doesn't past the smell test. How then if the tribes were so united as Conferederates that Indian Territory had a higher per-capita death rate than any "State" involved in the Civil War? All of these tribes were
as fractured as the country was, and they killed ther own. Virtually all the tribes were split before the Cvil war and the war became a great excuse to prey upon their own. (next time you are in D.C. look up Albert Pike's very large statue ( the Confederate Indian Agent of the Indian Territory), you'll love it and it will give you a secret about the war you may not have yet seen.

Bedford Forrest, was he mentioned in the book? Now there is a Southern Cavalier Gentleman if there ever was one. To me Bedford Forrest is the ideal icon of the South, of the South of the Civil War, of the South in Reconstruction, of the South in Jim Crow, of the South in loving memory of the Lost Cause. No Marble God was he like Lee and the boys, no Forrest was the bloody earth South that is stll apparent along the back woods and slack waters.
Each ofd the Five Civilized Tribes did, in fact, sign treaties with the Confederacy. Yes, there was dissension with each, also. But the leadership of the tribes went Confed. What smells?

So, technically, did some of the western tribes, not that it mattered practiucally speaking. But Pike didn't come out this far, and southwest a ways, for his health.
Great Nathan Bedford Forrest's Ghost, Drlobojo! Read my 4:33 p.m. comment above and come back and tell me I've gone "all Confederate."

Damn it, I love the South, warts and all. I do not try to pretend the warts aren't there.

I am fascinated with the ideas behind government that prevailed before the war -- and the way the war changed them -- which does NOT mean I long for the ways of old, or wish things are now as they were.

If one has to badmouth the South to NOT be considered a neo-Rebl, then go ahead and call me Johnny. Otherwise, it's sill to react to every nonabusive mention of the South as if I were waving the bloody effing shirt.
Welcome back, by the way. It was gettin' way too quiet at the Erudite Redneck Roadhouse. I was fixin' to bring in some ferns.
Woof ... I eat cats ... WOOF!
I think in my haste I misused the bloody shirt metaphor. My bad.


"Otherwise, it's silly to react to every nonabusive mention of the South as if I were waving the stainless effing banner."
Arf! Arf! Arf! My catmeat! Bark off!
I'm sorry, I didn't really think I'd need to unpack it out for you. Northern political values transformed the South more than specifically southern political and religious values transformed the north over the last few decades. Racial relations have been absolutely transformed. I cited David Duke as the most extreme example of a politically credible southern conservatism in the post civil-rights era. the outlier, not as typical of the South. He could not even come close to the mainstream electable Southern racism of the mid-sixties.
Times had changed more draatically than at any time since the Reconstruction, and Southern culture will never (I think) swing anywhere close to that again.

The religious values you cite are hardly transforming the blue states, and, of course, conservatism's biggest break came with the election and landslide reelection of of Ronald Reagan - a Midwestern/Californian. Nor is the currently influential neocon movement Southern in character.

So, if you subtract race relations. another uniquely Southern conservatism would be the disproportionate respect for the military - which at one time manifested itself not only in overall participation in the military but, I suspect, a much higher percentage of traditional Southern upper class participation after the WWII than elsewhere (and this is just a guess). However, this value is also not catching on, and the resistence to involuntary military service is one indicator. I'd also guess that the Southern upper class is beginning to look like the upper class elsewhere in terms of choosing military service, although regional differences will continue to be significant.

Although I didn't mention it, States' Rights is a third mark of the southern branch of conservatism. If you look at both the opinions of conservative SCOTUS decisions and Bush Administtration own positions, you'll see that they support state's rights only in support of conservative positions, and that loose Federalism has become simply a tool to apply where it best serves conservative interests. The SCOTUS right wing's opposition to the expansion power of eminent domain (a position like most Americans I support) in pursuit of property rights and willingness to stretch the commerce clause like any good liberal activist judge when drafting an opinion on Oregon's assisted suicide law, show how far from this third mark they've gone. Southern support for conservative politicians in general has enabled the right swing, but has hardly dictated the shape of it.

On the religious matters: we're sure not looking at a new wave of Jesus freaks, let alone a Great Awakening. What I find interesting about the current debate about gay rights, a very religious-values issue - even more than abortion though less than Church-State separation - is that the main party line of the right is against gays gaining more guaranteed rights, not rolling us back to the days of the good old sodomy laws.

And on hip-hop, yeah, I suspected you'd stretch it like that. Like dismissing the effect of television as the equivalent of ignored wallpaper, at least in the Heartland, it just means you're interesting in arguable but implausible debating points rather than modifying your thesis.

But I'm glad you like Messiaen, despite what "most people" care about. Most people, after all, are mulch.
I b'lieve there are a handful of insults buried in all that verbosity,

Especially this: "it just means you're interest(ed) in arguable but implausible debating points rather than modifying your thesis."

To the rest of y'all: What TStock did just then was open up his logician's toolbox, turn it upside down and throw the first things that fell out at me. Hoot.

I have demonstrated willingness to modify my positions on more than one occasion. I've seen nothing convincing here, is all. Heck, I guess I didn't notice that you were tryin'?

That's OK. As the AA'ers say, "Keep coming back!"

Anyhoo. Obviously, I have a broader concept of "Southern culture" and "Southern politics" than TStockman does. :-)
Baily should share. Ice-T looks good enough to compare to a human's T-bone steak. Chop 'im up and serve 'im on a couple of platters with a baked potato on the side, loaded with sour cream and chives.

Cat-tastic, I say. I prefer my Ice-T medium rare
RE Southern v. northern influence: I think Tstockman has a stronger case than you do, ER (or was it Cobb's case - I forget now). But I also think there were some insults buried in all that verbosity. Tstockman isn't a big fan of the South, so that also has to be taken into consideration.

Bedford Forrest, was he mentioned in the book? Now there is a Southern Cavalier Gentleman if there ever was one. To me Bedford Forrest is the ideal icon of the South, of the South of the Civil War, of the South in Reconstruction, of the South in Jim Crow, of the South in loving memory of the Lost Cause. No Marble God was he like Lee and the boys, no Forrest was the bloody earth South that is stll apparent along the back woods and slack waters. I will go 'all Confederate' on you. Col. Forrest is an icon. And your description of his legacy is valid, but it's not that simple. Here was a man that refused to quit the war. The South is nothing if it isn't resilient and tough-minded. There's an old saying that we used to tell northerners when they came down - "Don't tell us how you did it up north." Forrest didn't back down. He kept the fight alive. In that, he embodies much of the old South - we do it our way and we don't cotton to compromise or change for change's sake.
Rem, I wadn't makin' a case as much as an assertion. If I'da meant to make a case, I'da really researched it first.

BUT, since I do, as a matter of course, interact with all kinds of people every day, not just people like me, or who think like me, and because I DO mix it up in my personal tastes, therefore my exposure to all kinds of sources of pop culture, mine is an informed hunch. Southern influences are in evidence in a way that, say, New England influences, or Midwestern influences, are not.
Could be, ER. I just know that from where I sit, I see the South being eroded away as more and more people move in. Most of the changes are subtle, but they are there. Seeing's how I see the South itself being whittled away, I don't see how she can have much influence on the rest of the country. Then again, I'm pretty well in the deep South and you're on the edge. You therefore have a different perspective.
Rem870 I agree with you completely on Nathan Bedford Forrest! But where as you see it as a positive I see it as a negative.

ER, you continually prove one thing in your Southern Sympathies, and that Oklahoma is not, has not been and will not be a homgeneous State.
By the way Rem 870, you want "tough minded" try those old farmers in Vermont, or loggers in Maine, or those ranchers in Montana, or some of those miners in Nevada....America is not short on tough minded people no matter what section of the country your talking about.

ER what proportion of the southern population can afford a ticket to a NASCAR race? About the same as the proportion of New Yorkers that can afford to go to a Broadway play?

Rem 870, you are correct about ER being on the edge of the South he was born about two miles from its Western border.
Dr. Lobojo - I didn't mean to imply that only Southerners fit that descriptor.
Ah, Drlobo, I was born, actuaqlly, in Fort Smith. And I was raised about 8 miles west, in the former Sequoyah District of the Cherokee Nation, a particularly Southern-oriented section, and about 5 miles north of the Choctaw Nation, which was foursquare Confederate in all things. You're right in saying that Oklahoma is not homogenous, in history, experience or culture. But my part of Oklahoma was as Confederate as Alabama, with its own damn and official delegate to the Confederate Congress, and my part of Oklahoma IS as Southern as Rem's part of Florida.
ER said:
But my part of Oklahoma was as Confederate as Alabama, with its own damn and official delegate to the Confederate Congress"

It ain't that simple:


Although the Confederacy had treaties with the tribal governments, popular support for the Confederacy varied. Among the Five Civilized Tribes, the Choctaws and the Chickasaws were the most enthusiastic Secessionists, while the majority of full bloods among the Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles initially favored neutrality. In the late fall of 1861 the Creek leader Opothle Yoholo called on all of the Indians favoring neutrality to join him in his camp at Deep Fork. Fearing this movement, Confederate Indian forces, supported by a detachment of Texas cavalry, moved to disperse Opothle Yoholo's growing following. Moving slowly north toward Kansas, the Neutrals repulsed the attacking Confederate forces at the battles of Round Mountain and Chusto Talasah. At Chusto Talasah some of Drew's Cherokee troops deserted and joined Opothle Yoholo. However, the Neutrals were now low on ammunition, and on December 26 the Confederates defeated them and captured most of their wagons, supplies, and livestock at the Battle of Chustenahlah. With little more than the clothing on their backs, the survivors then fled on foot through the snow to Kansas, where they became refugees...........

In 1863 the Union Cherokees held the Cowskin Prairie Council, in which they disavowed the treaty with the Confederacy, denounced Stand Watie, abolished slavery in the Cherokee Nation, and elected Thomas Pegg as acting chief. In the spring of 1863, Colonel Phillips, commanding the Indian Home Guard and supported by other federal troops, invaded Indian Territory again, recapturing Tahlequah and Fort Gibson and driving the Confederate Indian forces south and west of the Arkansas River................

As the war approached its end, anarchy prevailed throughout most of Indian Territory. Union and Confederate "deserters," Indians and non-Indians alike, formed outlaw gangs and roamed the countryside, indiscriminately killing, burning, and looting. In the last months of the war, some of the high-ranking Union officers joined in the lawlessness, stealing over three hundred thousand head of Indian-owned cattle and driving them to Kansas.

The Civil War in Indian Territory ended on July 14, 1865, when the Chickasaws and the Caddos surrendered. The war had been fought at an incredible cost. Estimates of those who were killed or died of war-related causes range as high as 25 percent for the Creeks, Seminoles, and Cherokees. Other estimates show that out of a total population in excess of sixty thousand for the Five Civilized Tribes, over six thousand and possibly as many as ten thousand died. The economy of Indian Territory was totally destroyed; almost every house, barn, store, and public building had been burned. The vast majority of Indian families had been reduced to impoverished, homeless refugees. Nevertheless, there was one more blow yet to fall. Even though as many members of the Five Civilized Tribes had served in the Union Army as had served in the Confederate Army, the federal government declared its treaties with the tribes to be void and forced the tribes to negotiate new treaties that ceded the western part of Indian Territory to the United States.

Encyclopedia of North American Indians
The Civil War in Indian Territory
Drlobo, you KNOW I know all that.

I said, and say again, "my part of Oklahoma." SIGH. Specifically, what is now Sequoyah County east of and including Gore, to the Arkansas River. (And there were other big swaths of territory, people mostly by mixed-heritage types.) It was a real hotbed of Rebelry. Stand effing Watie's stomping grounds. And, the Choctaws were by and large straight Confederate all the way.

Now, feel free to tell me some history about Tillman County west of and including Devol, or pick your spot, down to the Red River and west to Altus, or -- you get the point. You know your neck of the woods better than I do.

And I know my neck of the woods better than you do.

You are correct, again, when you say it's not that simple. But it wasn't, and isn't that damn complicated either. Holy shit.

Tennessee was a Confed. state, but east Tennesee was Union. Arkansas was a Confed. State, but the Ozarks were mostly Union. Mississippi was a Confed. state, but a whole damn county (Jones?) was Union. ...
What's up ER? Gettin no respect? Am I bein my own arrogant self? Am I stompin on your last nerve? No "Pin Indians" in your county, heh, all mixed bloods in 1861? Points be all made. Pax!

As for Tillman county the Comanche and Kiowa simply killed everybody who bothered to come that way during this period. The war fighting stayed East of the Cross Timbers. The Comancheria was not part of it.

Just for the record I looked up the Indian Territory Civil War death rates versus the general American Civil War death rates.
Depending on the high and low figures and which one you use, the total Indian Territory death rate was 10 to 17 percent. The National death rate was 2 to 3 percent. Several Southern states hit a 5 to 8 percent range. The Indians in Oklahoma really did a good job killing each other. They were excellent haters.
I fal upon the thorns of life. When I'm concise, it's gnomic. When I explain, it's verbose. Man, if'n I wanted that kind of no-win sichuwaishun, I'd be dating again.

Anyway, guilty on the insults, but just meant as debate persiflage, which is half the fun. Nothing personal about dogs or cats, nor any aspersion on either your erudition or redneckerie.

Wish I'd tempted REM into expounding his ideas on what a specifically Southern conservative politics would be.
The Pins were all up in the hills and caves, in the north part of the county. They didn't venture out much -- and they still don't.
Peace, TStock. :-) This thread is just WAITIN' for somebody to throw gasoline on it! LOL!
Heck fire ER, the Pins were the ones with Opothle Yoholo when he was attacked by the Confederates for being "neutral". And by the way, Yoholo was a Creek leader of some note.
The Civil War must be the only damn war ever fought that the losers wrote the history of.
ER, by the just for the record :) :) :)
I know you know all this, don't you?:)
:-) Grrrr. :-)
:-) Grrrr. :-)
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