The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1935
Two U.N.C. Professors
A Penetrating Social History
Looking At The Past, They
Show That Cracker And
Aristocrat Stemmed From
The Same Source.
THE SOUTH LOOKS AT ITS PAST.
By B.B. Kendrick and A.M. Arnett.
196 pp. Chapel Hill. University of
North Carolina Press. $2.
W. J. CASH
In this, the latest of the regional studies issuing from the Chapel Hill press, the authors (professors of history in the Woman's college at Greensboro) have produced an excellent and penetrating sketch of the social history of the South from the beginning down to our own day.
Short, it necessarily confines itself to the development of a few salient themes, and by no means covers all that there is to be said. Moreover, it follows the so-called scientific method pretty closely, and more or less sedulously avoids the innumerable and tempting paths of imaginative reconstruction--paths, which it seems to me, deserve in many cases to be followed through. But within these limits, it is easily the best analysis of the South which has appeared, and deserves to be read by every intelligent Southerner and every person interested in understanding precisely why the South presents the curious and striking phenomena it does present.
Cracker To Manor
Thus it makes clearer than it has ever been made before that the old South of fact was a very different thing from the old South of legend,--that actual aristocrats were extremely few, and, what cries to be driven home over and over, that the common people of the South, including the despised "white-trash," stemmed from exactly the same sources as the ruling class.
Thus, again, it brings out the fact that Reconstruction had no little part in creating that legend of the old South in the minds of Southerners: and makes plain the connection of the Yankee's oppression with the development of violence, the rise of an outrageous credit system for the financing of the cotton farmer, and the connection, in turn, of the ruin consequent on that system with the vast social movement for the building of the cotton mills and the adoption of Progress.
And there is an excellent account by Professor Arnett (I assume that it is by Professor Arnett, since he has given a great deal of attention to the subject before) of Bourbon democratic politics in the efforts of the small farmers and poor-whites to escape from the do-nothing policies of such politics in the face of the fact of the Negro.
On two points alone would I differ from the findings of the professors. In the first place, they argue for the existence of the genuine middle class in the old South. And while I know very well that a great many of the people who have been lumped together by the legend and Yankee opinion as poor-whites, were in fact no such thing but self-respecting yeoman farmers, I believe that the term "middle class," with its great freight of established and inescapable connotations, is misleading in the premises. As well as I can make it out, the actual division which existed was between "nice people" and "not-nice people." And in most parts of the South, the more preposterous sort of the yeoman, often allied to their planter neighbors by blood or marriage, were likely to fall well within the first group to assimilate themselves to the planters, and to think of themselves as differing from them only in degree. Others, in a country where the social line was never drawn with the rigidity which is sometimes imagined, occupied a kind of vague border status, and still others were indubitably grouped in the minds of their neighbors more or less completely with the genuine poor-whites.
Battle For Identity
But what I doubt even more seriously than this doctrine of existence of a true middle class, is the argument that the physical revolution which the factory and Progress have brought to the South involves a corresponding mental revolution--that they represent a final surrender of Southern identity to the Yankee idea, and a passage of the South into the ideological current of the nation generally.
As I pointed out in "The American Mercury" some years ago, it seems to me that the essential psychological center of the South remains very nearly where it has always been. I think that the adoption of the factory and Progress represents not a decisive yielding of the land in its long struggle with Yankeedom but a sort of desperate shift in strategy, having, as its objective that for which the battle had been waged all along, the maintenance of its essential identity intact. Such changes as have come are almost entirely superficial. Living in a modernized and industrialized physical environment, the South retains the mind it framed for itself under the agricultural conditions of the early nineteenth century. And because of its peculiar history, it retains that mind with a stubbornness--a patriotic recalcitrance almost without parallel. Therein precisely, as I believe, lies the key to much that is extraordinary in its phenomena.
Finally, I must not leave the book without saying that it succeeds in being more racily written than is common with studies of the kind and so in being easy reading.
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