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123 Where Do We Go from Here? The Implications of Black Intellectual History in the Modern South robert greene ii When questions about race come to the forefront of American political, cul‑ tural, and intellectual discourse, arguments about the South are never far behind. John Egerton’s The Americanization of Dixie, published in 1974, and Tracy Thompson’s The New Mind of the South, published in 2013, both point to a tendency to hope that the South has changed and perhaps for the better. Yet when each of those books was written, scholars and intellectuals clearly had a role to play in reshaping what the South meant to southerners and the rest of American society. Violence, racism, and attachment to the past lie under the surface of all understandings of the American South. Intellectual history, a field dedicated to ideas and schools of thought among those willing to en‑ gage in public debate, can contribute to such understandings. The field will only matter, however, so long as southern studies scholars actively engage the wider community by adding to public debates. The recent intellectual history of the American South—the intellectual and ideological contours within which southerners have debated ideas since 1965—is essential to understanding the roles of scholars, intellectuals, and academics in today’s South. This leads to a question: what, precisely, should scholars give back to a region traditionally known for anti-­intellectualism and quashing dissent? This essay first gives a brief history of ideology and discourse in the South since the passage of the Voting Rights Act by Congress in 1965. This legislative achievement is acknowledged as the traditional end of the “heroic” phase of the civil rights movement, which began with the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.1 This is the era of protest and activism remem‑ bered fondly by many Americans, coming before the rise of Black Power and white backlash. The post-­ 1965 era in the South is one traditionally seen only through the lens of the “Southern Strategy” crafted by the Richard Nixon election team of 1968 and perfected by Ronald Reagan in 1980.2 This was an attempt by Republican strategists to peel away white southern voters from 124 greene their traditional home in the Democratic Party and to get them to become long-­ term supporters of the gop. Despite recent works that have attempted to add nuance to discussions of this political shift, notably Matthew Lassit‑ er’s The Silent Majority (2006), the idea of white backlash in the Deep South tied to racism still maintains a powerful hold on historians. While this is an important part of the South’s history after 1965, equally important are other political and intellectual changes: the ascension of African Americans back into the political realm as powerful actors; the rise of Latino immigration to the region, especially after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed by Congress; the increasing importance of women to southern politics through their political participation (not to mention the prevalence of “family values” issues); and the changing voting patterns of white Southerners on a local, state, and national level. The intellectual history of this era takes into account all these changes, while arguing for the need to understand the complexity of intellectual and political discourse in the South during this era. I argue that changing ques‑ tions about race—and racism—still shaped southern intellectual discourse from the late 1960s well into the 1990s. White-­ black relations still shaped most southern intellectual discourse after the civil rights movement ended, although augmented with questions about gender (especially after the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment of the 1970s) and immigration (beginning in the 1990s but intensifying in the early twenty-­first century). My coverage of southern intellectual history argues that the 1970s set up an intellectual and political discourse that has lasted until the present. This essay also aims to broaden the conversation about the role southern studies scholars can and should play in social justice debates. Events during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have opened new av‑ enues for debating the lingering question of race in American society. Police violence against African Americans, fervent debate over immigration from Latin America, and fears among some conservative white Americans of losing their perceived place in society all allow for intervention by southern studies scholars in the public sphere. The story of the United States cannot be told without understanding the story of...


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