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  • The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory
  • Leon Fink
The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory. By W. Fitzhugh Brundage ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005. xiii plus 418 pp. $27.95).

As part of a more general fascination with the constructivism of historical knowledge and popular memory, Fitzhugh Brundage offers a glittering set of related essays that effectively bring the story told by David Blight's pace-setting Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), which leaves off at the turn of the 20th century, up to the present moment. Concerned with the perpetually-racialized image of Southern history within the region's own civic culture, Brundage, author of previous major works on lynching and southern cooperative colonies, ranges imaginatively to collect a diverse treasure of popularly-sanctioned historical projects. The book's chapters encompass, in turn, southern white female historical societies of the 1890s; black festival days of the same era; establishment of (white) professional state archives after 1900; creation of Negro history societies and Negro History Week, circa 1910-1940; rise of (white) [End Page 536] southern tourism industry, 1920-1940; post-World War II urban renewal and the destruction of historic black communities; and political battles over the by-now openly-contested markers of Southern history and identity since 1970.

Within a lively and very readable narrative frame, Brundage turns up delectable morsels of insight at every turn. The lack of national (or even state-level) investment in memory-making, suggests Brundage, left U.S. "cultural policy" in the hands of local voluntary societies like the Oxford (Georgia) Women's Club or the Every Saturday History Class of Atlanta. Both the ideology of public service, derived from ante-bellum notions of "republican motherhood," and the non-controversial nature of women (as opposed to ex-soldiers) memorializing the Confederate dead, helps account for the rise of chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy at the turn of the century. The "traditions" such women guarded, however, were ambivalent when it came to women's public roles; while the cultivation of refined white status fueled patriarchal arguments for some commemoration activists, for others their demonstrated role as community reformers further justified a demand for suffrage.

Brundage equally reveals many new leads in the black community's approach to the past. Together, 'Juneteenth' (Emancipation Day), Lincoln's birthday, Me- morial Day, and (for an extended period) even July 4 witnessed virtually black-only celebrations throughout the South. Even as black militia companies, post-Reconstruction, were forcibly eliminated, "quasi-military" secret and fraternal orders like Savannah's Knights of Pythias in 1906 took over: "the men in uniform may not have been in the militia, but the local black newspaper reported their maneuvers as though they were." (73) According to Brundage, a "preoccupation with black manliness" "circumscribed black women's roles in commemorations until at least World War I," (83) a point that might productively engage Glenda Gilmore (Gender and Jim Crow)'s argument regarding the alleged dominance of black women in post-Reconstruction public roles.

Gender is again productively at the center of Brundage's analysis in discussing the rise of state record-keeping. The university-based movement to create state archives and historical journals, he demonstrates, was equally a move by professional men to seize control of the larger task of memory-making from amateur and "sentimental" women. As John Spencer Bassett of Trinity College (now Duke University) counseled, the historical discipline required the mind of "the self-mastered man... trained to a true recognition of facts."(130)

A chapter on the rise of southern tourism, centered on post-World War I Charleston, is perhaps the most original and fully-developed of Brundage's ambitious forays. Even as earlier plantation fiction, plays, and minstrel shows effectively drew on mass nostalgia, Charleston's efforts, he demonstrates convincingly, "helped to anchor this mythic South in a real place." (184) Taking advantage of automotive touring and the regional "good-roads" campaign, Charleston boosters combined construction of the Francis Marion Hotel with a host of supporting initiatives. More successfully than any other locale in the region, the Charleston elite re-made the built environment...


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pp. 536-538
Launched on MUSE
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