pw01.gif (2287 bytes)

| Inside America | South Links

Notes on Dixie Rising


This page provides notes and observations which are intended to assist in your critique and review. This page provides working class notes, not a finished product. I intend this to stimulate and guide your thinking, not to substitute for your own grappling with the book. I hope that you find this useful in your work.

You might start with a review of the book carried in Business Week, which I think provides a fair and accurate portrayal of what Applebome is trying to convey and why this is a significant contribution to the contemporary literature of the South.

General Commentary

Some introductory remarks:

Structure of the Argument

Applebome provides a journalistic tour of the South, using particular places to illustrate themes. Garreau did this, as did Toqueville: the method is empirical, validating, and familiar. However, it also has limits, although not crippling. Applebome's knowledge of the history and literature of the South appears impressive, especially for a Yankee. And he is clearly sympathetic to the South, a convert. He refuses to push a simple, one-dimensional line of argument, such as the Savage South (racism) or the Sunny South (prosperity). Although he goes out of his way to avoid an analytical appraisal, the following structure appears to me:

  1. The ascendant South: Cobb County, GA; Charlotte, NC; and Memphis, TN. These areas, each in its own way, have succeeded, breaking through to affluence and success. Lots of satisfied migrants from the North and West are found, but few blacks.
  2. The backward South: the black South: Selma and Montgomery, AL, in the Black Belt; Wilmington, NC; and two chapters on the Mississippi Delta; and Honea Path, SC,

These above are the chapters of substance detailing first-hand accounts of the South. Around them are three chapters which provide interpretation:

  1. The Introduction to the theme: the convergence of the South and the rest of the nation in politics, economics, culture, religion, values. That is, no longer is the South a special case of a backward region (although pockets exist, as depicted in 6 chapters). Indeed, how could the South be seen as lagging when it controls enormous power in Congress and the Presidency (including the VP), when it leads the nation is job growth, when millions continue to flock South and stay (while blacks from the South often return from the North)?
  2. Chapter 12 pits two Southern writers against each other. Erskine Caldwell saw Tobacco Road, which became the staple Northern caricature of Southern backwardness. Lewis Gizzard championed the Bubba myth of the red-neck, white South. Both were incomplete, certainly more lopsided than Applebome's more balanced depiction of the South. He punctuates this chapter by ending with a Faulkner quote from Absolom! Absolom! on the South: "It is us."
  3. A conclusion which sums up the book. We can replicate the structure of the argument about the South for all of America. We can expand the argument by citing the racism of all America not just the South, that poverty of class and region can be found outside the South, that Southern politics is now American politics, and that we can find Southern religion and values throughout America. I think he is right.

Thus, the case for the convergence of the South and America is made, no small matter of the relations of a region to the nation. And it is readable and current. But like all books I use in this course, they become stale soon, go out of print, and must be replaced. Which is why this web site has potential.

Survey of the Book

I have chosen to get this unfinished page up and linked rather than wait until I am satisfied with it. It represents an enhancement of class notes, but is much more time-consuming. Check it for updates and I will announce status in class.

Cobb County, Georgia: Newt Country

I have visited Cobb County several times and find Applebome's portrayal correct. Yes, this is the heart of the Congressional District of former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. As such, Applebome provides a synopsis of the core district of the resurgence of the Republican Party in the South and the fuel for the conservative revolution associated with Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. I think he painted an accurate and readable picture.

Of what significance is the choice to start in Cobb County? How does this start us on the road of the main theme of Dixie Rising: The Southernization of America? Some points to consider:

  1. Applebome begins with Cobb as representative of the political ascendancy of the South, but not with Little Rock, the home base of the most prominent Southern politician, Bill Clinton. Note that despite the right-wing rhetoric, Cobb is on the government take big time. It is the home of pork barrel largesse, festooned with federal defense contractors and federally financed projects. Cobb County is heavily subsidized by Big Government.
  2. Applebome does not begin with race relations. Why? Perhaps he does not want to become another (expatriate) Yankee beating up the South for its entrenched racism. The theme emerges later and runs throughout the book, but Applebome does not start there. Southern partisans do not cotton to Yankees disparaging Dixie.
  3. Nor does Applebome celebrate the explosive economic growth of the Sunbelt South, which many others do --- including Garreau. He does not even seem impressed by it. His portrayal of the emerging Southern economy, as seen from Cobb, is to link economic growth with big corporations, especially defense; with government subsidy, not the free market enthusiasm of Gingrich and most Southern boosters; and with the warm, seasonally hot, climate.
  4. The story does not start in Atlanta. Why not? Cobb County is divided by a moat (Chattahoochee River) from predominantly black Atlanta. Cobb is white. Atlanta is black. Cobb is suburban while Atlanta is urban. The economic activity of corporate (not banking: that's Charlotte) Southland may be Atlanta, but the white power structure lives and votes in Cobb. To celebrate Atlanta does not tell the story right, because it implies a black presence in the ascendant South, which is not what Applebome has in mind. Many impressive achievements by black Southerners is recorded here, but the regional record is still dismal.

Cobb County works for Applebome by stressing the role of the South in national politics, with government spending, and with the Protestant Evangelism so strong there. Southern partisans will be displeased with the retelling of the lynching of Leo Frank, who was Jewish. Note the congratulatory tone conveyed in the Marietta newspaper. The latent cultural bigotry of the region comes across early. Make no mistake, Cobb is a hotbed of Evangelical fundamentalist Christianity. Even Catholics are rare in Cobb. But Cobb fits the theme quite well and is the essential South culturally, economically, but especially politically --- without Bill. Where to next: the Black Belt.

Charlotte, NC: The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle around Durham, Charlotte, and Raleigh, North Carolina, typifies the vision of the New South, first heralded by Henry Grady shortly after Reconstruction. Some progress on racial reconciliation has been observed, certainly better than, say Boston's, but Applebome views the efforts as having fallen short. And this is the best the South has to offer.

Applebome uses this chapter to discuss the genteel, progressive ideal of the New South in the context of the greatest success of this ideal. He spoofs Charlotte a bit here and there for its pretensions at being world class, but his is an inviting portrait of a modern go-go yuppie South. Those who know it. like our visitor, Professor Lowell, are quite impressed with the mixture of high finance and Southern gentility. Too bad it does not work as well for black folks.

Applebome parks a discussion of The Mind of the South, the classic by W.J. Cash, published in 1941.The romantic nostalgia for the warmth and comfort of Southern white culture probably represents as benign an informed Southern perspective as is around.. The book is still in print. The sense of community and shared values of the romantic South has not been more alive than in that book. Question is, how real is the nostalgia?

Selma and Montgomery

The cartoon-like characterization of Newt (see photo introducing Cobb County) gives way to the battleground of Civil Rights in the poor Black Belt, not what Southern boosters would prefer to emphasize. These communities have not shared in the general exuberance of Dixie Rising.

The excerpts from Eyes on the Prize show the national significance of the heroism displayed in Montgomery and Selma. Indeed, a whole course could focus on the Civil Rights Movement of that era. Applebome returns to Selma to find little progress and entrenched racism. His is not a happy picture. The emerging South has not shed its reputation for deep racial divides. This runs counter to the story which Southern partisans would like you to hear.

Wilmington, NC: The Legacy of Williston High

The story of a quality black high school on the cusp of the Brown vs. Board of Education tells the story here: Might enhanced segregation been preferred to failed integration? The issue is raised, but Applebome knows that integration had to be the preferred value. But he also realizes that blacks again suffered the loss of a viable alternative when integration on white terms became the law of the land. And with it, the Massive Resistance of most of white Southern society. The sad story of Southern racism seems even more poignant when we consider that the false hope of integration has precluded the evolution of black-controlled institutions, especially education. Applebome keeps alive the debate: integration vs. black empowerment.

Columbia, SC: Southern Partisans

The surge of neo-Confederate, far right, culturally nativist organizations has been documented in my home page for the South. Check out the web sites listed there for the full treatment. I think Applebome was quite reserved in his treatment of the Southern partisans. Not a word on the militia movement, for example. The racist diatribes and association with what is left of the Ku Klux Klan comes across in this lively chapter. This is the South that fits the Yankee stereotype of a culturally backward region, so Applebome might have wanted to tread lightly here. After all, he must go home at night.

Honea Path

The white rural poverty of mill towns and the cycle of poverty common in declining rural areas is displayed in this sad chapter. Violence and narrow-mindedness come across. The anti-union sentiment, felt by many, reinforces the built-in poverty and harsh working conditions. Maybe too much is spent discussing the labor history of the South. There is something larger as well which should not get lost: low wages kept down by the potential influx of rural folks willing to work for less. The absence of unions to advocate for the worker tells part of the story. Southern politicians seem not to respond, thus confronting the class structure found throughout the rural and small town South. Given large families, the process shall reproduce itself.

Race is again part of the story. Note how many interviewed wish to keep blacks from competing for their jobs. Racial discrimination, not unions, shields many low-wage workers from competition and limits opportunity for black rural workers. (See page 196.) The "reserve army" of rural workers, a kind of peasantry, keeps wages down. There seems little to break the cycle of poverty. I wonder if, ironically, minimum wage laws, the policy of the liberal North, in fact keeps wages above subsistence in Dixie. Here, as in several other chapters such as the Mississippi Delta, Applebome sees a society without a significant middle-class: a poor majority and a rich white minority. And the persistent racial polarization keeps divided those who might otherwise unite to change the class structure.

The Mississippi Delta

If the North is still looking for the stereotype of a backward South, Mississippi, provides it. Is this 14,000 square mile region the most desperately poor area in America? Maybe. Mississippi joins West Virginia as the most economically deprived states in the USA. Yet, rich white neighborhoods are evident. What is missing seems to be a middle class, although a pocket of black prosperity is found outside Jackson. Note also the contrast between virtually all white Ole Miss and the University of Jackson, 98% black.

Applebome calls into question he folly of building an economic base on gambling. The absurd, racist politics of the state of Mississippi makes us realize that this state is the most Southern. No pretty picture here. The silly academic celebration of Elvis Presley and the eccentric depiction of the predominantly Caucasian Center for Southern Culture also lampoon this backward state.

Nashville, TN: Country Capital of America

Nashville, once the regional home of vernacular Southrn music, has spawned a major cultural industry, country music, which needs no introduction. Applebome portrays this predominantly white musical form as America's music. Maybe he is right. Nashville has triumphed and Applebome tells its story. Note that L.A. and New York are clearly out of this action, but the success is of this 2 billion dollar industry is impressive. I found the chapter, well, entertaining.

The connection of Nashville to the theme of Dixie Rising seems obvious: Here is a clear success story involving the export of a cultural tradition to the rest of the USA. Like the triumph of Christian fundamentalism and conservative politics we saw in Cobb County, country music, and all the richness it represents, is the South spread generously around America. Alas, this but scratches the surface. But it is a real, documented, and familiar sharing of the South in the life of the nation.


Allow me to make several points by posing key questions:

  1. Has Applebome convinced me that the South has become the dominant American region. No. However, others may be surprised --- not necessarily delighted --- to realize that Dixie has become a key player in politics, economics, culture, religion, and values. The simple picture of a violent, racist South must be brought up to date and differentiated, without dropping the reality of its racism and violence but recognizing that those tendencies, although not Southern exports, are shared throughout America. A glib, judgmental, typically Northern stereotype is not supported by Dixie Rising.
  2. Has the book conveyed a rich, entertaining, and current survey of the South. Yes, I think it has. If not, tell me what book has, please!
  3. What contribution has Applebome made about the South? Applebome has provided a complex, informed, and balanced view of Dixie. It is probably the most widely reviewed and read popular survey of the South since John Egerton's 1978 account, The Americanization of Dixie, a highly regarded and widely read book. Where Egerton, a journalist from Tennessee, saw a South mired in poverty, injustice, and racism, Applebome sees a more complex region. That makes Applebome's effort worthwhile.

sunline.gif (1432 bytes)

ProfWork, by Wayne Hayes, Ph.D.
for Inside America, AAMR30501
March 9, 2000