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front porch Dixie, the song reminds us, is the place where old times are not forgotten. Even before the terrible swift sword ofthe Union army put a premium on southern nostalgia, regional apologists encouraged the idea that southerners were a people of the past, renouncing the mad rush of Yankee progress to retain a slower pace oflife and the values ofan older time. In the world ofthe plantation romances, worship of tradition and disdain for the grubby go-getting ofmodernity were predictable as the moonlight and indispensable as excuses for the slave South's inability to keep up with the growing wealth and power of its free-labor competitor. Historians are always discovering, however, that the real past is often too big to be remembered in all its complexity. For all of us, memory tends to be selective, picking and choosing segments ofbygone times for a congenial portrait ofwhere we came from and who we used to be. This is especially true when memory is reabove : RolandHayes at the Georgiaplantation where his mother was a skve. Hayespurchasedthefarm in 1926. Courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives. cruited for some present purpose, whether it's the marketable nostalgia of a Tv episode of The Waltons, or rose-colored stories of plantation race relations that skip over such mementos as the whipping post and the auction block. Even the finest memories of old times not forgotten involve quite a bit oflooking away, as "Dixie" also reminds us, especially from details that don't quite fit the script. There is a lot ofvalue, however, in dredging up memories ofthings forgotten, or in studying the kinds of stories that people tend to forget. Some of the authors in this issue of Southern Cultures look closely at some forgotten subjects with intriguing results, and remind us all how diverse the South has been and is today. David Cecelski introduces us to a mostly forgotten kind of southern "agriculture ," the turpentine plantation. The southeastern coastal plain was once blanketed by a dense, unvaried forest of massive long-leafpines that turpentiners exploited for the resinous pine sap used to make tar, pitch, rosin, and turpentine. In particular, Cecelski shares with us the recollections ofJames Battle Avirett, scion ofa wealthy family of turpentine "planters," who once was famous in Confederate memorial circles as the world's oldest Confederate chaplain. Avirett's family owned a 20,000-acre turpentine "orchard" in North Carolina's Onslow County and a work force of 1 2 5 slaves who "boxed" the trees, extracted their sap, and processed it into tar, pitch, rosin, and turpentine for the naval stores industry. Long after The War, Avirett wrote a memoir of plantation life that stressed the grace and gentility of the master's family, the childishness of the enslaved work force, and the ruined fortunes inflicted by defeat and emancipation. None of this would be remarkable except for Cecelski's discovery—unmentioned by Avirett himself—thatwar and politics had little or nothing to do with the Avirett family's downfall. In reality, the lands and slaves were sold and the former owners were already penniless several years before 1 861. It was not heroic defeat in war, but fire, changing market conditions, and the near-extinction ofthe pines themselves that destroyed this antebellum idyll. Cecelski's story is a recovery of lost memory on several levels. He reminds us ofa forgotten industry, ofa kind offorest that is now almost vanished, and ofthe long history ofecological destruction and transformation in the Southeast. He reminds us how planters like the Aviretts—without really admitting it—somehow realized their dependence on the skills and intelligence of the African American they exploited and ridiculed. Finally, he explores why the Aviretts' true history of economic and personal failure was suppressed in favor of a culturally and politically appealing story of gracious gentry, docile bondsmen, and Yankee villains. Unlike Allan Gurganus's oldest living Confederate widow, it seems that the oldest Confederate chaplain had as much to forget as to remember. Besides the plantation romances, another thing that almost everybody used to remember about the South was that ethnic diversity was essentially foreign to the region. Racial diversity was a simple split between...

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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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