Editor’s Page
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Editor’s Page

How southern is Kentucky? Is Kentucky in the South? Is Kentucky of the South? These are questions that have perennially engaged commentators and scholars. A handful of new books examine Kentucky’s southerness, especially through its post–Civil War Confederate identity. Yet, Kentucky historians have traditionally viewed Kentucky as being exceptional—sometimes an exception within the South and sometimes one apart from it. Kentucky challenges historians to define the indefinable qualities of southernness. Where are the boundaries of the South? How are they defined? By state borders, by geographical features, by partisan affiliation, by linguistic similarity, by food, music, or folk culture? Are the boundaries of the South shaped by shared historical experience? If so, what events define southern history and southern culture? In the 1860s, Kentucky was a slave state that remained loyal to the Union. Which is more “southern,” slavery or supporting the Confederacy? How much of one or the other does it take to tilt the scales in favor of southernness?

C. Vann Woodward, for what it is worth (and it is no stretch to say that his opinion is worth more than many), included Kentucky in his masterful Origins of the New South. In that volume and elsewhere subsequently, we learned that Kentucky eventually turned to racial segregation like its Deep South counterparts. Yet it was the only southern state that did not pass a poll tax or other laws designed specifically to disenfranchise African Americans en masse. Do the de jure trappings of Jim Crow, which were present to a much lesser [End Page 549] degree than farther south, outweigh the de facto results, which were—tragically—often the same for African Americans in Kentucky? So, again, how southern is Kentucky and how exceptional? The three articles in this issue each address these questions in some way.

J. Michael Rhyne takes an innovative look at the last two years of the Civil War, when the commonwealth was wracked by political infighting and guerilla warfare. Rhyne writes that we should not view the war in the way it is traditionally viewed, as a war between states or sections. Instead, he argues, the war, in Kentucky at least, should be viewed as a war over federal authority. Most white Kentuckians remained loyal to the federal government, but following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the recruitment of African American men in 1864, many in the commonwealth began to question federal authority, albeit from within the system unlike their Deep South counterparts. All suffered as a result of this internecine conflict, but especially African Americans.

For his article, Nathan McGee has examined listener responses to the programming of John Lair’s Renfro Valley music complex. Born in Rockcastle County in the 1890s, Lair had dreams of show business success but had no musical abilities himself. Thus, he turned to songwriting, producing, managing, and emceeing. He got his break in Chicago in the late 1920s as the host of a country-music radio program. From there he moved to a radio station in Cincinnati for several years, but he always planned to return to his eastern Kentucky roots and broadcast radio programs from rural Appalachia. His dream became a reality in the late 1930s when he and his musical acts moved to his new Renfro Valley music complex in Rockcastle County. By then, Lair’s programs already had a huge following around the nation. As McGee points out, many southerners who had moved out of the region during the Great Migration tuned in to Lair’s programs to hear the sounds of home. For southern migrants living in the urban Midwest, listening to the home folks sing traditional tunes helped ease the transition to city life and mitigated the conflicts with native urban dwellers. [End Page 550]

In his article, John Paul Hill provides a fascinating look at the political maneuverings that occur when a president nominates a controversial pick for the Supreme Court. About a year into his first term as president, Richard Nixon nominated Judge G. Harrold Carswell of Florida to fill a soon-to-be vacant seat on the highest court in the land. The Senate rejected his first nominee...