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Look Away Dixieland

A Carpetbagger's Great-Grandson Travels Highway 84 in Search of the Shack-up-on-Cinder-Blocks, Confederate-Flag-Waving, Squirrel-Hunting, Boiled-Peanuts, Deep-Drawl, Don't-Stop-the-Car-Here South

James B. Twitchell

Publication Year: 2011

As a boy, James Twitchell heard stories about his ancestors in Louisiana and even played with his great-grandfather’s Civil War sword, but he never appreciated the state and the events that influenced a pivotal chapter in his family history. His great-grandfather, Marshall Harvey Twitchell, a carpetbagger from Vermont, had settled in upstate Louisiana during Reconstruction, married a local girl, and encountered much success until a fateful day in August 1874. The dramatic story of the elder Twitchell’s life and near assassination fuels the author’s pursuit of his family’s history and a true understanding of the South. In Look Away, Dixieland, Vermont-native Twitchell sets out from his current home in Florida on the inauguration day of America’s first black president to find the “real” South and to try to understand the truth about his illustrious ancestor. He travels in an RV from Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp across Alabama and Mississippi to Coushatta, Louisiana. As he drives through the heart of Dixie, Twitchell sorts through the prejudices he learned from his northern rearing. In searching for the culture he had held at arm’s length for so long, he tours small-town southern life—in campgrounds, cotton gins, churches, country fairs, and squirrel dog kennels—and uncovers some fundamental truths along the way. Notably, he discovers that prejudices of race, class, and ideology are not limited by geography. As one man from Georgia mockingly summed up North versus South stereotypes, “Y’all are rude and we’re stupid.” Unexpectedly, Twitchell also uncovers facts about his great-grandfather and sheds new light on his family’s past. An enlightening, humorous, and refreshingly honest search, Look Away, Dixieland reveals some of the differences and similarities that ultimately define us as a nation.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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Introduction: Deep in the Heart of Dixie

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pp. 1-16

I have two stories to tell. One is about a trip I took across the Deep South, and the other is about my great-grandfather, who, for a while, lived there. I think of these stories as the vertical and horizontal axes of my sense of Dixieland. The vertical one is my family history going back to when “Dixie” really caught the American imagination, namely, after the Civil War. And...

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1 My Great-Grandfather

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pp. 17-44

To understand the Deep South, you must first understand Reconstruction, and to understand Reconstruction, you need to understand the morality play that is late nineteenth-century American history, and to understand this morality play, you need to know the stock characters, the dramatis personae,...

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2 March across Georgia

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pp. 45-73

On January 20, 2009, the day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, we started our exploration of Dixieland by driving the View up into the Okefenokee Swamp. My wife and I were going to spend a few days getting acclimated to our land yacht at the Stephen C. Foster State Park. As we learned, that’s a few days more than Mr. Foster ever spent in the entire state...

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3 Sweet (Almost) Home Alabama

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pp. 74-96

As we drove into Alabama I sensed something change. It looked as if we had dropped into a new chart with new coordinates. I felt dispirited. This place was rough. There was more trash on the highway, less pride of ownership in the places we saw along the road, more sense of a grind of unremitting poverty. Stars didn’t fall on Alabama, junk did. From Dothan to Enterprise...

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4 Mississippi, the Most Southern Place on Earth

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pp. 97-118

Crossing over into Mississippi we noticed two things: first, this state is getting the jump on its neighbors by starting to build Interstate 14 along the side of U.S. 84. In places the large blue background exit signs announcing lodging, gas, and fast food are already up. Someone needs to tell them the other states are not cooperating. And, second, we noticed that the best-looking...

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5 Louisiana Gumbo

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pp. 119-136

Truth be told, we didn’t even stay in Natchez. Ever the suckers for a good advertisement, we stayed across the river in Vidalia, Louisiana, and commuted. River View RV Park & Resort claims on the Web that it is “The Finest RV Park on the Mighty Mississippi” and the place to stay while visiting Natchez. I didn’t really calculate what “on the Mighty Mississippi” might mean....

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6 The Red River Valley: What Really Happened

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pp. 137-170

We finally retraced our steps to U.S. 84, crossed through the forest like characters in a fairy tale, and made our way to the scene of the family slaughter. Well, not quite to the scene. We made our way to the Grand Bayou RV Park and Resort in Coushatta. The name is rather grand, yet deserved, as it is the nicest place to stay in this parish. Owned by the town...

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pp. 171-175

I loved this project. It came at a difficult time in my life, and it gave me something to concentrate on that was both introspective and out in the world. Plus, doing it moved me from the computer screen back to the yellow pads. To write it, I had to get off my butt and move around. Trying to understand my kinsman was inspiring. If ever there was someone who should have curled up and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780807139677
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807137611

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2011