The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, JUNE 13, 1937
For The Positive, Prof. Buck:
Will Uncle Sam's Other
Really Take The Reunion Road?
--For The Negative, W.J. Cash
Here's An Argument That Will Interest All Confederates
Site ed. note: Taking on a contemporary account of the South by a Harvard professor, Cash finds it unduly sugar-coated and fanciful of the notion that all was well in "the new South" and populated by "the sons of light". Not so, says Cash, especially with regard to treatment of African-Americans. The South still retreated from the union, still dangerously vested its future in the past. Query, with all the many advances made in the past thirty-five years in the South, does it still try as a whole to rest easy, to retreat to past fantasy, to say that all is alright now, all is excused, all is "ducky-wucky"? Is it? Are the many problems associated with poverty and race resolved? All getting along in splendid integration throughout every institution, public and private facility, neighborhood, and economic, social, and professional strata? Done all we can, eh?
For Cash's complete exposition on this subject, see The Mind of the South, Book III, "The Mind of the South: Its Survival, Its Modifications,and Its Operation in our Time", p. 189, et seq.
In his "The Road to Reunion," published last week by Little, Brown and Company at $3.50, Dr. Paul H. Buck has written a book which falls short of being worthy of the highest praise.
The slip cover quotes various bigwig professors as saying that the book is not only good history but literature. That, however, is mainly nonsense. The book lacks a good deal of being writing of the first order. But for a Harvard don--Dr. Buck is a member of the faculty of political science at Cambridge--or for any sort of a college professor, it is undoubtedly very superior writing. One reads it, if not with positive delight in the author's mastery of the language, at least without pain--effortlessly. The author knows how to select the right word, and how to make sentence follow sentence, paragraph follow paragraph, easily--how to bind the whole into a continuous unit. And not a professor in a thousand knows these tricks of the writing trade as whoever has waded through their weary books knows to his sorrow.
But the book's chief claim to distinction is its history--and it was of that I was speaking when I said that it falls just short of the highest merit. What it sets up to be is an account of the South's gradual return to the national fold in the years between 1865 and 1900. And in many respects the story is admirably rendered. Beginning with the tale of the psychological heritage of the Old South and of the Civil War, Dr. Buck shows a truly astonishing grasp of the actualities--his report here, being indeed the best I have ever encountered from a Yankee hand and going a good deal deeper than some of the currently flourishing accounts from Confederate hands.
His account of Reconstruction and of its reaction on the Southern mind is well done, too. And he traces the gradual passing of the irreconcilable spirit--of the spirit of those men who all their lives clung to their oath never again to clasp a Yankee hand or return a Yankee salute, who all their lives refused to take off their hats to the national banner or to observe such national holidays as the Fourth of July, and the birth of the spirit exemplified by Ben Hill and Henry Grady--a gradual return of patriotism to the nation through the eighties and the nineties until it burst in bloom with the death of the "Maine" in the waters of Havana harbor--with great skill. Everything is here in its proper relationship, from the great passion of romantic Southern plays which developed in Yankeedom in the late eighties and the nineties, down to the birth and growth of the cotton mills.
But when all this is said, the author is still guilty of several grave faults of perspective. The first one is that having decided to eschew Scylla at all costs he sails his bark straight upon Charybdis--that is determined to avoid the ancient Yankee habit of representing the South as inhabited entirely by Negro-baiting villains whom Sherman had better have butchered to the last jack, he swings to the opposite extreme as so many other Yankee writers have been doing for the last 30 years, and fills the land with the immaculate sons of light. He even seems to take stock in the preposterous argument of Fleming that the celebrated Black Code was not intended in effect to restore slavery--though a simple reading of the laws that made up that code is sufficient to convince anyone.
Again, he assumes blindly, as so many Yankee writers nowadays do, that the fact of the South's return to full and perfectly honest participation in patriotism to the United States means that it has consented to be absorbed into the national pattern, and that by now, indeed, it has been mainly so absorbed. I haven't space to argue that here now. But I do not believe that anybody who inquires closely into the facts can fail to see that from the 1830's forward in the Civil War and the Reconstruction period, the South was really battling to preserve a pattern, which while it was related to the general American one, was yet enormously different from it. Nor do I believe that careful inquiry will not show that it continues so to battle to this day, though perhaps with weakening force, and always within the framework of the nation. When Allen Tate calls the land "Uncle Sam's Other Province," he is not dealing in fancy, but strict fact.
Finally, Dr. Buck in his zeal to be kind to the South unduly stresses the more civilized aspects of our current life under the Potomac, and unduly minimizes the abundant stores of evil which we are at present uncovering with such quite positive zest. Closing this book, one feels very much as one used to after closing one of those books which were in fashion some 15 or 20 years ago, books written by the more complacent varieties of Southern college professors and called "The New South" or "The Changing South." One feels that the South has satisfactorily disposed of all its problems, and everything is just perfectly ducky-wucky.
AS FOR NEGROES
I know no intelligent and informed Southerner who will take stock in any such stuff. We know very well down here, we who have looked at the land in which were born and bred, that our treatment of the Negro is something more than "a discipline." We have our grave doubts that this "discipline" is worth the price of the staggering burden of evils--and evils for white men--which we are beginning to realize we pay for. We have some little question that the coon 1 is quite altogether and heartily sold on this "discipline," and may be counted on to go cheerfully on shouting his fool head off for it. We are not too sure, when we listen to Dr. Will Alexander over at Nashville, that we really are as completely just and gentle as we might be. And--we are not even absolutely certain that the great Yankee boon of industrialism has exactly ushered in the millennium.
1 As with other such references, note that Cash contrasts a sympathetic use of "Negro" with the disparaging "coon" "shouting his fool head off" for this continued "discipline" (in a context of the white South having historically generally representied the situation thusly and the more intelligent contemporary Southerners "not so sure" of that representation)--which "discipline" amounted to a Plessy v. Ferguson kind of notion of segregation as "separate but equal", when in fact the reality was disparate and invidious conditions bred and tolerated by separation of the races in all public, private, and institutional settings--quite as invidious in certain parts of the South as under the days of the infamous Black Code or "Jim Crow laws" of the post-Reconstruction era. See "A Visit to Mecklenburg Sanatorium"- June 11, 1939 for a good example of just such "discipline" of which Cash speaks as applied in practice and why he spoke here so fervently for the need for continual crticism and change.
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