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Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures

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Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures

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Becoming Confederates

Paths to a New National Loyalty

Gary W. Gallagher

In Becoming Confederates, Gary W. Gallagher explores loyalty in the era of the Civil War, focusing on Robert E. Lee, Stephen Dodson Ramseur, and Jubal A. Early-three prominent officers in the Army of Northern Virginia who became ardent Confederate nationalists. Loyalty was tested and proved in many ways leading up to and during the war. Looking at levels of allegiance to their native state, to the slaveholding South, to the United States, and to the Confederacy, Gallagher shows how these men represent responses to the mid-nineteenthcentury crisis.

Lee traditionally has been presented as a reluctant convert to the Confederacy whose most powerful identification was with his home state of Virginia—an interpretation at odds with his far more complex range of loyalties. Ramseur, the youngest of the three, eagerly embraced a Confederate identity, highlighting generational differences in the equation of loyalty. Early combined elements of Lee's and Ramseur's reactions—a Unionist who grudgingly accepted Virginia's departure from the United States but later came to personify defiant Confederate nationalism.

The paths of these men toward Confederate loyalty help delineate important contours of American history. Gallagher shows that Americans juggled multiple, often conflicting, loyalties and that white southern identity was preoccupied with racial control transcending politics and class. Indeed, understanding these men's perspectives makes it difficult to argue that the Confederacy should not be deemed a nation. Perhaps most important, their experiences help us understand why Confederates waged a prodigiously bloody war and the manner in which they dealt with defeat.

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Brown Decision, Jim Crow, and Southern Identity

James C. Cobb

The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling was a watershed event in the fight against racial segregation in the United States. The recent fiftieth anniversary of Brown prompted a surge of tributes: books, television and radio specials, conferences, and speeches. At the same time, says James C. Cobb, it revealed a growing trend of dismissiveness and negativity toward Brown and other accomplishments of the civil rights movement. Writing as both a lauded historian and a white southerner from the last generation to grow up under southern apartheid, Cobb responds to what he sees as distortions of Brown’s legacy and their implied disservice to those whom it inspired and empowered.

Cobb begins by looking at how our historical understanding of segregation has evolved since the Brown decision. In particular, he targets the tenacious misconception that racial discrimination was at odds with economic modernization--and so would have faded out, on its own, under market pressures. He then looks at the argument that Brown energized white resistance more than it fomented civil rights progress. This position overstates the pace and extent of racial change in the South prior to Brown, Cobb says, while it understates Brown’s role in catalyzing and legitimizing subsequent black protest.

Finally, Cobb suggests that the Brown decree and the civil rights movement accomplished not only more than certain critics have acknowledged but also more than the hard statistics of black progress can reveal. The destruction of Jim Crow, with its “denial of belonging,” allowed African Americans to embrace their identity as southerners in ways that freed them to explore links between their southernness and their blackness. This is an important and timely reminder of “what the Brown court and the activists who took the spirit of its ruling into the streets were up against, both historically and contemporaneously.”

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Camille, 1969

Histories of a Hurricane

Mark M. Smith

Thirty-six years before Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and southern Mississippi, the region was visited by one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the United States: Camille.

Mark M. Smith offers three highly original histories of the storm’s impact in southern Mississippi. In the first essay Smith examines the sensory experience and impact of the hurricane—how the storm rearranged and challenged residents’ senses of smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste. The second essay explains the way key federal officials linked the question of hurricane relief and the desegregation of Mississippi’s public schools. Smith concludes by considering the political economy of short- and long-term disaster recovery, returning to issues of race and class.

Camille, 1969 offers stories of survival and experience, of the tenacity of social justice in the face of a natural disaster, and of how recovery from Camille worked for some but did not work for others. Throughout these essays are lessons about how we might learn from the past in planning for recovery from natural disasters in the future.

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Consuming Fire

The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South

Eugene D. Genovese

The fall of the Confederacy proved traumatic for a people who fought with the belief that God was on their side. Yet, as Eugene D. Genovese writes in A Consuming Fire, Southern Christians continued to trust in the Lord's will. The churches had long defended "southern rights" and insisted upon the divine sanction for slavery, but they also warned that God was testing His people, who must bring slavery up to biblical standards or face the wrath of an angry God.

In the eyes of proslavery theorists, clerical and lay, social relations and material conditions affected the extent and pace of the spread of the Gospel and men's preparation to receive it. For proslavery spokesmen, "Christian slavery" offered the South, indeed the world, the best hope for the vital work of preparation for the Kingdom, but they acknowledged that, from a Christian point of view, the slavery practiced in the South left much to be desired. For them, the struggle to reform, or rather transform, social relations was nothing less than a struggle to justify the trust God placed in them when He sanctioned slavery.

The reform campaign of prominent ministers and church laymen featured demands to secure slave marriages and family life, repeal the laws against slave literacy, and punish cruel masters. A Consuming Fire analyzes the strength, weakness, and failure of the struggle for reform and the nature and significance of southern Christian orthodoxy and its vision of a proper social order, class structure, and race relations.

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A Late Encounter with the Civil War

Michael Kreyling

In A Late Encounter with the Civil War, Michael Kreyling confronts the changing nature of our relationship to the anniversary of the war that nearly split the United States. When significant anniversaries arrive in the histories of groups such as families, businesses, or nations, their members set aside time to formally remember their shared past. This phenomenon—this social or collective memory—reveals as much about a group’s sense of place in the present as it does about the events of the past. So it is with the Civil War.

As a nation, we have formally remembered two Civil War anniversaries, the 50th and 100th. We are now in the complicated process of remembering the war for a third time. Kreyling reminds us that we were a different “we” for each of the earlier commemorations, and that “we” are certainly different now, and not only because the president in office for the 150th anniversary represents a member of the race for whose emancipation from slavery the war was waged.

These essays explore the conscious and unconscious mechanisms by which each era has staged, written, and thought about the meaning of the Civil War. Kreyling engages the not-quite-conscious agendas at work in the rituals of remembering through fiction, film, graphic novels, and other forms of expression. Each cultural example wrestles with the current burden of remembering: What are we attempting to do with a memory that, to many, seems irrelevant or so far in the past as to be almost irretrievable?

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Mixed Blood Indians

Racial Construction in the Early South

Theda Perdue

On the southern frontier in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, European men—including traders, soldiers, and government agents—sometimes married Native women. Children of these unions were known by whites as "half-breeds." The Indian societies into which they were born, however, had no corresponding concepts of race or "blood." Moreover, counter to European customs and laws, Native lineage was traced through the mother only. No familial status or rights stemmed from the father.

"Mixed Blood" Indians looks at a fascinating array of such birth- and kin-related issues as they were alternately misunderstood and astutely exploited by both Native and European cultures. Theda Perdue discusses the assimilation of non-Indians into Native societies, their descendants' participation in tribal life, and the white cultural assumptions conveyed in the designation "mixed blood." In addition to unions between European men and Native women, Perdue also considers the special cases arising from the presence of white women and African men and women in Indian society.

From the colonial through the early national era, "mixed bloods" were often in the middle of struggles between white expansionism and Native cultural survival. That these "half-breeds" often resisted appeals to their "civilized" blood helped foster an enduring image of Natives as fickle allies of white politicians, missionaries, and entrepreneurs. "Mixed Blood" Indians rereads a number of early writings to show us the Native outlook on these misperceptions and to make clear that race is too simple a measure of their—or any peoples'—motives.

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Remapping Southern Literature

Robert H. Brinkmeyer Jr.

One of the most significant and surprising developments in contemporary southern fiction is that an increasing number of southern writers are writing about the American West. In Remapping Southern Literature: Contemporary Southern Writers and the West, Robert H. Brinkmeyer Jr. studies current southern authors of western novels, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction who have been breaking the mold of southern literature by looking westward. Cut loose, in the postmodern age, from the traditional roots in a sense of place, contemporary southern writers have explored an American West shaped by the myths of lawless freedom and disruptive expansion. The rich and diverse fiction of Doris Betts, Barry Hannah, Cormac McCarthy, Madison Smartt Bell, Richard Ford, Rick Bass, Barbara Kingsolver, Chris Offutt, Frederick Barthelme, Dorothy Allison, and Clyde Edgerton, among others, challenges long-standing definitions of southern fiction and regional identity and reconfigures the myths of the West that have long shaped American life.

In Remapping Southern Literature, Brinkmeyer proposes that today's southern writers are not by this shift abandoning southern culture but are instead expanding its reach by seeking to balance the ideals of the South and West. This effort points toward a new literary tradition and a new regional and national mythology that blends place and space, settlement and movement, community and individualism, security and freedom.

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Weaving Alliances with Other Women

Chitimacha Indian Work in the New South

Daniel H. Usner

River-cane baskets woven by the Chitimachas of south Louisiana are universally admired for their beauty and workmanship. Recounting friendships that Chitimacha weaver Christine Paul (1874–1946) sustained with two non-Native women at different parts of her life, this book offers a rare vantage point into the lives of American Indians in the segregated South.Mary Bradford (1869–1954) and Caroline Dormon (1888–1971) were not only friends of Christine Paul; they were also patrons who helped connect Paul and other Chitimacha weavers with buyers for their work. Daniel H. Usner uses Paul’s letters to Bradford and Dormon to reveal how Indian women, as mediators between their own communities and surrounding outsiders, often drew on accumulated authority and experience in multicultural negotiation to forge new relationships with non-Indian women.Bradford’s initial interest in Paul was philanthropic, while Dormon’s was anthropological. Both certainly admired the artistry of Chitimacha baskets. For her part, Paul saw in Bradford and Dormon opportunities to promote her basketry tradition and expand a network of outsiders sympathetic to her tribe’s vulnerability on many fronts. As Usner explores these friendships, he touches on a range of factors that may have shaped them, including class differences, racial attitudes, and shared ideals of womanhood. The result is an engaging story of American Indian livelihood, identity, and self-determination.

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