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Contemporary Southern Identity

Community through Controversy

Rebecca Bridges Watts

Publication Year: 2008

In Contemporary Southern Identity Rebecca Bridges Watts explores the implications of four public controversies about Southern identity-debates about the Confederate flag in South Carolina, the gender integration of the Virginia Military Institute, the display of public art in Richmond, and Trent Lott's controversial comments regarding Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential bid. While such debates may serve as evidence of the South's "battle over the past," they can alternatively be seen as harbin-gers of a changing South. These controversies highlight the di-versity of voices in the conver-sation of what it means to be a Southerner. The participants in these conflicts may disagree about what Southern identity should be, but they all agree that such discussions are a cru-cial part of being Southern. Recent debates as to the place of Old South symbols and institutions in the South of the new millennium are evidence of a changing order. But a changing South is no less distinctive. If Southerners can find unity and distinctiveness in their identification, they may even be able to serve as a model for the increasingly divided United States. The very debates portrayed in the mass media as evidence of an "unfinished Civil War" can instead be interpreted as proof that the South has progressed and is having a common dialogue as to what its diverse members want it to be. Rebecca Bridges Watts is visiting assistant professor of communication studies at Stetson University.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Many people have helped to make this book possible. First, I acknowledge my family, through whom my own Southern identity was formed on visits to my parents’ hometowns, Cuthbert, Georgia, and Smiths Grove, Kentucky. I also thank my parents for supporting my education over the years and helping to care for my daughter as I revised the manuscript for publication. As I have worked on this project, I have received much support from my hus-...

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Introduction: Looking Toward a New Rhetoric of Southern Identity

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pp. 3-17

The abundance of debates cited in news headlines such as these can be seen not only as evidence of the South’s battle over the past but also as evidence of a South in dialogue with itself (and often with others). The presence of these frequent, widespread debates throughout the South highlights the diversity of voices that are now...

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1 Uniforms, Walls, and Doors: Social Mystery and Gender Integration at the Virginia Military Institute

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pp. 18-48

If ever a Southern institution embodied the region’s fixation with order, it is the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The institute’s highly regimented system of discipline, based on a strict system of classes and rules, has since its inception in 1839 served to instill a sense of order in its cadets. VMI’s particular set of traditions, rituals, and rules— its system of social mystery— has served both to identify those within VMI and to set apart or divide VMI from those outside ...

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2 When Richmond Gained Perspective by Incongruity: Old South Tradition and New South Change in the Confederate Capital

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pp. 49-86

The gothic walls of the VMI barracks were not the only site of conflict between division and identification in the Virginia of the late 1990s. Virginia’s capital, Richmond, also was riddled with not one but two such controversies during this period. Whereas VMI’s conflict focused mainly on the shift from the segregation ...

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3 Stories of the War: The Confederate Flag in South Carolina

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pp. 87-116

As contentious as the artistic portrayals of Southerners from Robert E. Lee to Arthur Ashe may have been in Richmond, no symbol has divided the contemporary South as widely and to such an extreme as the red field, blue cross, and white stars of the Confederate battle flag. This “rebel flag” has been displayed as a symbol...

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4 Senator Trent Lott: Southern Sinner, Scapegoat, and Sacrifice

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pp. 117-153

If the Confederate battle flag was the most divisive of Southern symbols throughout the twentieth century, the causes with which it has most often been associated during that century, segregation and racism, have been just as divisive in practice. At the same time that formerly segregated Southern institutions such as the Virginia Military Institute were beginning to admit women, Southern cities were making room for depictions of a more diverse array of he-...

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Conclusion: Dialectical Rhetoric as the New Rhetoric of Southern Identity

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pp. 154-163

A strong case may be made that if any one person embodied the changiing order of the South in the twentieth century, it was Strom Thurmond. As Delaware senator Joseph Biden noted in his July 2003 eulogy, “Strom Thurmond was the only man I knew who in a literal sense lived in three distinct and separate periods of American history. . . . Born into an era of essentially unchallenged and unexamined mores of the South, reaching his full maturity in an era ...

Notes

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pp. 165-178

References

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pp. 179-194

Index

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pp. 195-208


E-ISBN-13: 9781604733082
E-ISBN-10: 160473308X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781934110096
Print-ISBN-10: 1934110094

Publication Year: 2008