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frontporch William Faulkner prefaced RequiemJor a Nun with an evocative story about the origins ofcivic justice in Yoknapatawpha County. Starting offas comedy, the tale involved a drunken spree, a jail break, and the mystifying loss of a precious but essentially useless iron lock, but the point of it was that the leading men of Faulkner's so-far nameless frontier settlement decided they needed to become a town: "By God. Jefferson. Jefferson, Mississippi." And to become a town, they needed to have a courthouse, and so they built one. The process ofnaming their town and building their place of justice changed the men ofJefferson. "Something had happened to them," Faulkner tells us, as they transformed themselves from a random collection ofwanderers to a conscious, self-governing community. It was not long before the men ofJefferson needed another courthouse to replace the log hut they started with. Watched by silent Indians, white men and slaves sweated together in the summer heat to build the biggest thing any one of them had ever seen. Faulkner described the new building with a startling departure from his usual tone ofironic detachment. "Musing, brooding, symbolic and ponderable," he called it, "tall as cloud, solid as rock, dominating all: protector of the weak, judicate and curb ofthe passions and lusts, repository and guardian of above: North Carolina State Capitol, April 1991. Courtesy ofthe NC. Division ofArchives andHistory. the aspirations and hopes; rising course by brick course during that first summer, simply square, simplest Georgian colonial. . . ." Thus the master of southern letters epitomized the aspiration for self-government in his fictional community. The tale of Jefferson's courthouse makes a solemn backdrop for what transpires in the novel that follows—a searing examination of justice and injustice in the trial of a poor and friendless black woman, the saindy Nancy Manigo, whom Faulkner also calls "the murderess, the nigger, the dope-fiend whore." Southern politics has not always been as awe-inspiring as Jefferson's courthouse . From the carousing campaigns of colonial days, when Virginians sought election by "swilling the planters with bumbo," to the even livelier era ofJacksonian barbecues and militia musters, to the current wave of attack ads and financial scandals, the process of southern self-government has had its sordid and its foolish moments. For many ofus, the process ofself-government has become so dispiriting that politics itselfhas become a term of reproach, and aspirants to public office outdo one another in denunciations ofthe government they wish to join. William Faulkner was well aware that the reality ofsouthern government rarely matched the ideals that built theJefferson courthouse. He could not recount the tragedy of Nancy Manigo's murder trial, however, without also offering his genuine tribute to the human aspiration for justice under law. So it is with politics. These days, most ofus can't stand the subject. As I write, my own hometown just completed a municipal election where three citizens out of four refused to participate. As much as we complain about the government though, some ofus keep running for office, some ofus keep getting elected, and all ofus end up looking to the government to protect what we think is important: family values, better schools, less crime, lower taxes, cleaner water, human justice. And as we do so, the grubby and endless search for public office mysteriously absorbs and reflects some of our deepest cultural concerns. With these thoughts in mind, we have devoted this issue of Southern Cultures to the subject ofpolitics. The core of the issue is a set ofarticles kindly gathered for us by Ferrel Guillory, formerly the regional political columnist for the Raleigh News and Observer, and presendy lecturer in journalism at the University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Thad Beyle, who teaches political science at the same institution. Our guest editors have collected a stimulating sheaf of essays on the contemporary political scene from Republican and Democratic activists, from political scientists, and from a leading state officeholder. What does the end of the one-party South mean for the region's future? How does women's political activism coexist with traditional conceptions of gender? What about the role of money in southern politics? And the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 1-4
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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