Exploring the Corazón de Dixie with Julie M. Weise

corazonImmigration from Mexico is very relevant to our understanding of the contemporary American South.  It’s also been a political hot potato. To help us understand the history of Mexican immigration to our region, Pop South talks with historian Julie M. Weise, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Oregon, about her new book Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910.

PS: For general readers, why does your book begin in 1910?

Mexican-origin people have been a significant part of U.S. history since 1848, when the United States took what is now the U.S. Southwest from Mexico and made those who were living there into U.S. citizens. But 1910 is when the major narrative of Mexican American history shifts from conquest to immigration. The Mexican Revolution began that year, and the upheavals it caused kicked off the first major wave of cross-border migration; this only quickened due to demand for Mexican labor during World War One and the Roaring ’20s. Most people think of this migration having gone only to the Southwest; scholars have explored it also for the Midwest. But when one looks back to sources written at the time, it becomes clear that Mexican migrants were really everywhere in the U.S. during the 1920s — from Alaska to Pennsylvania, and indeed, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. These latter migrations are the subjects of my book’s early chapters.

PS: How has the culture of Mexicanos added to the culture of the American South?

Mississippi even has a "Hot Tamale Trail." Photo credit: Southern Foodways Alliance
Mississippi even has a “Hot Tamale Trail.” Photo credit: Southern Foodways Alliance

The influence of Mexicano culture on Southern culture has, at least until recently, been experienced at the very local level, and at times has even been deliberately hidden; this is part of why it has taken so long for their story to be told by historians. Mississippi’s signature Hot Tamales were most likely first brought there by the thousands of Mexicanos who lived and worked in the Delta in the 1920s-30s; yet, those Mexicano descendants who remained in the Delta deliberately assimilated into the white side of the color line and seldom acknowledged, let alone celebrated, their Mexican heritage. So until recently, the tamales were not closely associated with their original purveyors. Across the river, black and white people who lived in the Arkansas Delta in the 1950s –many still alive today– have vivid memories of the exciting cosmopolitan influence that Mexican workers brought to their small towns during that decade.

PS: What makes the experience of Mexicanos in the South similar/different from other regions of the United States?

During the Jim Crow period, Mexicanos struggled economically everywhere that they worked as low-wage, mostly-rural laborers; the South often provided them a bit more economic mobility than elsewhere but at other times, their economic conditions there were worse. However, the limits placed on Mexicanos’ life chances specifically by race were much less significant in the South than in the Southwest. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) was interpreted by courts to guarantee Mexicans’ legal classification as white, but Southwestern locations like Texas and California found workarounds and still solidified Jim Crow exclusion of Mexicanos from the privileges of whiteness.

By contrast, Mexicanos were oppressed by a distinctly non-white racialization in early 1920s Mississippi, but by the 1930s had successfully challenged that status and eventually assimilated onto the white side of the color line. Interwar New Orleans is perhaps best compared to Chicago or Los Angeles, urban locations that also had growing black and European immigrant populations in that period. My research shows that New Orleans is unique among these cities, the only place historians have yet uncovered where Mexicanos’ racial experiences were much closer to those of European immigrants (not just off-white Italians and Jews but even German and French immigrants) as opposed to their Mexicano counterparts elsewhere.

PS: In the current debate over immigration, there is tough talk about building a wall on the southern border of the U.S. to keep Mexicans out.  Historically, how has the U.S. South evolved in its thinking about Mexican immigration to where it now includes support for a wall?

From the 1960s-90s, Mexicanos became an important rhetorical symbol for white conservatives in Southern agricultural towns. Mexicanos came to be seen as a not-black minority with whom white conservatives and Evangelicals could “build bridges” across race lines without directly confronting slavery and Jim Crow. This was an opportunity to make amends for their opposition to civil rights for blacks, while at the same time having a convenient foil with which to criticize blacks’ work ethic. In that sense, the growing population of Mexicanos in conservative parts of the South shaped particular local cultures of pro-immigrant conservatism, which defied (and often butted heads with) national trends in anti-immigrant politics during the late twentieth century. For example, local white conservative legislators would regularly do everything they could to prevent immigration enforcement, and white Evangelicals invested disproportionately generous resources ministering to Mexicanos as opposed to white or black poor people in their communities.

Paradoxically, the South’s integration into the nation, and the adoption of California-generated images of Mexicanos as unworthy consumers of whites’ tax dollars, has made local conditions and policies progressively harsher for the South’s Mexicanos since about 2005. These movements have been based more commonly in the region’s least “Southern” spaces–suburbs and exurbs–rather than its traditional rural areas, though that may be changing as we speak thanks to forces unleashed by the campaign of Donald Trump. While some say the Southernization of U.S. politics accounts for its rightward turn in the 1980s, it’s the Westernization of Southern politics that accounts for the South’s recent turn to the right on immigration.
Julie Weise
Julie Weise

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Writing Corazón de Dixie while teaching courses on global migration, I began to notice intriguing parallels between the ideas of Mexican workers and their government officials about what migration was supposed to accomplish for Mexican men in postwar Arkansas, and the ideas about migration held by migrants (Spanish, Italian, and Turkish among others) who worked in northern Europe, particularly Germany, during the same period. I am excited to be now learning German and perfecting my French so that I can study the ways these discourses moved across the Atlantic, and perhaps the Pacific as well, in the postwar period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Comfort’s Homecoming

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Last week Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corporation, which owns the Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve brands, announced it is selling the Southern Comfort brand to the New Orleans-based Sazerac Company.  Many will see this as a homecoming for Southern Comfort.

The original recipe for the whiskey-flavored liqueur is credited to a New Orleans bartender named Martin Wilkes Heron who created the concoction in 1874, which he named “Cuffs and Buttons.”  Heron later moved to Memphis where he began bottling his recipe in 1889, and renamed it “Southern Comfort.”

Southern Comfort's tie-in with GWTW.

SoCo, as it’s often called, has stiff competition from flavored whiskeys and has seen a decline in sales in recent years.  But it wasn’t always the case.

Southern Comfort enjoyed a major boost in 1939 when it became one of several companies that tied their brands to the enormously successful film Gone with the Wind.  In the case of SoCo, it was the creation of the “Scarlet O’Hara Cocktail.”

The drink, made with cranberry juice and Southern Comfort with a squeeze of lime, was marketed as the “Grand Old Drink from the South.”  The then New York-based distributors of the brand suggested that customers “try it in a Scarlet O’Hara cocktail, but no more than two lest you be Gone with the Wind.”

Because SoCo is sweet, it has long had the reputation of being more appealing to women.  It was certainly a favorite of ’60s rocker Janis Joplin.

So a few years ago, Southern Comfort sought to increase sales among men with the commercial called “Whatever’s Comfortable.”

While the commercial caught people’s attention, it didn’t draw much of a new male customer base.

It will be interesting to see what Sazerac does in its marketing of Southern Comfort now that it’ll be back in the Crescent City. Personally, I’d recommend some heritage marketing that ties it back to the place where it all began.

Cheers!

Bidding Adieu to Confederate Monuments in New Orleans

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Jefferson Davis Monument, New Orleans.

In the wake of the human tragedy Charleston, South Carolina, where nine members of Emanuel AME Church were murdered by a white supremacist neo-Confederate, there has been a push in southern states to remove the symbols of the region’s Confederate past.  Until now, only battle flags have been targeted.

But recently, the city council in New Orleans voted to remove Confederate monuments from its urban landscape, including those to Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, as well as one to the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.  Council members accomplished this feat through an ordinance that defined these monuments as a public “nuisance.”

According to the ordinance:

They honor, praise, or foster ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens as provided by the constitution and laws of the United States, the state, or the laws of the city and suggests the supremacy of one ethnic, religious, or racial group over another.

This angers Confederate sympathizers like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who believe that such memorials honor their ancestors’ sacrifices.  It also makes some historians a little uneasy, as they worry about erasing history, arguing that even when that past is ugly it should remain as a reminder to never repeat that past.

Yet much of what the ordinance says is true.  Confederate monuments were erected in a moment of white supremacist backlash to black progress and were not simply memorials to honor ancestors.  They were that, but they were also powerful symbols of white rule serving notice to black citizens that they were, at best, second-class citizens.

Unveiling ceremonies, Jefferson Davis Monument in New Orleans, 1907.
Unveiling ceremonies, Jefferson Davis Monument in New Orleans, 1907.

When the Jefferson Davis Memorial in New Orleans was unveiled in 1907, it was attended by thousands of white citizens. The ceremony included over 500 children from the city’s white public schools who formed what were known as “living battle flags.”  These children, dressed in the colors that make up the flag, were then arranged on a stand so that they formed a Confederate battle flag.  In that formation, they sang “Dixie” and even “America.”

But make no mistake, the loyalty expressed by white southerners during this and similar ceremonies across the South were first and foremost to the former Confederacy.

Monuments and memorials are generally a reflection of the values of the generation that originally placed them there. In 1907, the Davis monument reflected the values of a generation of whites dedicated to the idea of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Indeed, during speeches given at unveiling ceremonies across the South, they said as much.

So how should we consider removing such monuments and memorials?

If landscapes are constantly evolving, can the removal of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans or elsewhere be understood as part of that evolution and a reflection of values of the current generation?

Others will see this as a historic preservation issue.  As most of us know, preservation is a difficult sell under the best of circumstances.  Some buildings get preserved, while others are razed in order to build something new in its place.

In this, I am reminded of a statement made by a curator at the National Museum of American History many years ago during one of my visits.  She discussed how the museum had previously exhibited women’s work in the 18th and 19th centuries by showcasing several spinning wheels of various sizes. She asked, rhetorically, “how many spinning wheels are needed to demonstrate that this was the kind of work most women did?”  Not an entire room full.

The same might be asked about the hundreds of Confederate monuments and memorials that are found across the southern landscape.

How many are needed to demonstrate that a generation of southern whites built monuments to the Confederate past?

 

 

 

In honor of #SFA15 :Southern Food: A 19th Century Photo Album

If you’ve never checked out Michael Twitty’s blog Afroculinaria, you’re missing out on an opportunity to learn about how African Americans contributed to southern history and culture through the food we eat and enjoy.

Afroculinaria

I can’t tell you how important I think food is. I’m currently at the 18th Southern Foodways Alliance conference in Oxford, Mississippi.  Coming back to the world’s largest gathering of South-centric chefs, thinkers, academics, entrepreneurs, authors, students, artists, photographers and enthusiastic eaters you can’t help but be made more awake to the unifying pull of the Southern culinary journey. This year’s symposium asks a simple but penetrating question about the South of the popular imagination: “Who’s selling, who’s buying and at what price?” Presenters have come from across the country and the globe to talk about the meaning and import of Cracker Barrel, to sample food by the likes of award-winning chefs like Mashama Bailey and to see a shrimp and grits dunk tank.

The past is often read as a series of moments that we have left behind, unforgiving and simpler than the moments that make up our now…

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Country Soul with Charles L. Hughes

COUNTRY SOUL Cover ImagePop South continues its conversations with book authors.  Today, our focus is on Charles L. Hughes new book Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South (UNC Press, 2015)Dr. Hughes is a Director of the Memphis Center   at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

PS:  The main title of your book “Country Soul” comes from the term “country-soul triangle,” which you use in your book. Where did that phrase come from, and why is it so appropriate?

CH: I developed the term “country-soul triangle” to refer to a network of recording studios in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. At legendary places like FAME and Stax, black and white musicians produced a wealth of classic recordings in the 1960s and 1970s. Each city had its own successful scene, of course, but I’m interested in exploring the many connections between them—sounds and players traveled back and forth between these three cities, leading the triangle to become a center of the era’s music industry and turning each city’s signature “sound” into an internationally-recognized symbol of quality. Musicians in the triangle recorded with a wide variety of artists, but they were most associated with country, soul, and their stylistic blends. So it felt appropriate to term it the country-soul triangle.

PS:  Who are some of the prominent artists who recorded in the country-soul triangle that you talk about in the book?

CH: The list of artists who recorded in Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville during this period is truly overwhelming. Even in a book like this, I could only scratch the surface. Still, I tried to discuss as many performers as possible. I talk about soul stars from Aretha Franklin to the Staple Singers to Joe Tex; country artists including Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, and Dolly Parton; and pop and rock artists ranging from the Osmonds to the Rolling Stones to Dusty Springfield. The artists who recorded hits in the country-soul triangle—whether homegrown artists or visiting stars—form a constellation that demonstrates just how significant Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville were to the era’s popular music. It’s really exciting to spotlight them in the book.

PS:  Although you talk about many of the famous artists who recorded in the triangle, you focus primarily on the behind-the-scenes musicians at these studios. Why did you choose this approach?

CH: These musicians were the most important reason for the triangle’s success in so many genres. Their versatility and efficiency made them some of the most in-demand players of their era, and they established Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville as places where a wide variety of artists could go to cut successful records. They were also central to the way that country and soul developed artistically and culturally—not only did they develop the actual music, but they established the genres as symbols of race and politics in the 1960s and 1970s. Relatedly, they also dealt with racial politics on the most concrete level, thanks to their ongoing collaborations in the studio. Whether they were well known (like Stax’s Booker T. and the MGs) or less famous (like the FAME Gang in Muscle Shoals), the musicians dealt with the complex realities of racialized sound and an interracial workplace on a day-to-day basis. The results weren’t always positive, and certainly weren’t always equitable, but they were pivotal to understanding their larger historical importance. For that reason, I found them to be the most illuminating people to anchor my discussions.

Charles Hughes author photoPS: Many readers of Country Soul will be familiar with the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals. What is your own personal response to the film? What do you think it got right, and what else would you like fans of the movie to know?

CH: I really enjoyed Muscle Shoals, and I was particularly happy to see the Shoals musicians get their due credit for their significant role in shaping American popular music of the last 50 years. To see and hear them discuss their achievements, along with so many of the artists they worked with and influenced, was a welcome confirmation of their importance and a wonderful tribute to their accomplishments. On top of that, the film was filled with great footage and sounds, so—as a fan of the music—I was thrilled to watch it. At the same time, Muscle Shoals also reflects a common simplified narrative, particularly in terms of race, that I’m trying to complicate with the book. It presents the Shoals studios (particularly in the early days) as something of a utopia where race wasn’t an issue, but I discuss numerous racial conflicts and more broadly demonstrate that race was a central concern of the musicians working in the Shoals. Additionally, the film focuses largely on white men—most prominently FAME Studios founder Rick Hall—while marginalizing the accomplishments (and criticisms) of the many black artists who participated as both studio musicians and performers. (For that matter, many of the important white contributors got minimized too.) As I discuss in Country Soul, this reflects a larger tendency to credit white people as the visionary heroes and treat African Americans as passive or secondary participants. I not only discuss the historical roots of this narrative, but address its continuing implications.

PS: How did you get interested in this topic?

CH: I came to this story through the music. Country, soul, and their hybrids have long been among my deepest musical loves. From Dolly Parton and Charlie Rich to Otis Redding and the Staple Singers, I’ve realized that many of my favorite artists and recordings are products of the country-soul triangle. I also grew interested in the musicians and songwriters working behind-the-scenes, people like George Jackson, Dan Penn, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who helped create so many great records, in so many different genres. As a historian of race and the South, I became fascinated by the existence of these interracial collaborations that existed in the heart of racial turmoil. I wanted to explore the story of how this occurred and try to illustrate these musicians’ importance to the broader story of race in the United States.

If you’re interested in hearing some of the music Dr. Hughes discusses in his book, he’s put together a playlist on Spotify.  Click playlist.  He’s also created a playlist on YouTube.

A People’s History of Southern Barbecue

From the talented pen of Michael Twitty.

Afroculinaria

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/04/barbecue-american-tradition-enslaved-africans-native-americans?CMP=share_btn_tw

Enjoy this piece I wrote, freshly published on The Guardian giving a short history of how barbecue is connected to American food and freedom through its enslaved African and Native American roots!

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The “General Lee” Commercial: An iconic car is missing its battle flag, but is anyone fooled?

Since this is getting so much traffic, I thought I’d repost it.

Pop South

During the 1970s, The Dukes of Hazzard was one of the most popular shows on American television, and while Bo and Luke Duke (played by John Schneider and Tom Wopat, respectively) were technically the stars of the show, the real star was their car.  The 1969 orange Dodge Charger sped through the back roads of Georgia, leaping over hay bales, creeks, or other cars, nearly always getting “the boys” out of a jam. It was one of the most iconic vehicles ever to hit the small screen and its name was “the General Lee,” a nod to the most beloved of white Southern heroes, Robert E. Lee.   And emblazoned on the roof was a large Confederate battle flag.

Well, no more.

In a new commercial for Autotrader.com, the “Duke boys” are back and so is their car.  They are driving the hell out of that Dodge Charger to escape “the…

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What’s in a Flag? Photos Worth a Thousand Words

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The news of the past week has run the gamut from deep despair to joyous celebration, as millions of Americans grappled with the murder of black parishioners at Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina, while millions of others celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision upholding marriage equality.

Throughout this news cycle there has been an explosive debate over the Confederate flag and the need to take it down from government-sanctioned spaces, while, simultaneously, LGBT citizens and their allies have raised the flag of pride to commemorate a Supreme Court victory that makes this year’s pride season even more special.

This past week, there have been some amazing images of both flags, together and separately, that remind us that symbols do matter in issues of civil rights.  Below are some of the photos and cartoons that have made the rounds that speak volumes about flags and people’s passion for causes.

Activist Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag outside the SC State Capitol.
Activist Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag outside the SC State Capitol.

 

Confederate flag goes down, while Rainbow/Pride flag goes up.
Confederate flag goes down, while Rainbow/Pride flag goes up. Courtesy: Southern Poverty Law Center

 

 

The "General Lee" gets a new flag of pride.
The “General Lee” gets a new flag of pride.

 

Pride flags outside of the Supreme Court
Pride flags outside of the Supreme Court

“It’s Time:” SC Governor Nikki Haley Calls for Removal of Confederate flag from Capitol Grounds

Today, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R), flanked by leaders from both parties including U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Lindsay Graham and Democrat Congressman James Clyburn, held a press conference to formally announce her support to have the Confederate flag removed from the State Capitol grounds. The pressure to remove the flag, of course, comes following the murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston’s Emanuel AME church.

It was a politically savvy speech, in which she maintained her conservative creds by acknowledging those she knew wanted the flag to remain without being (completely) insensitive those who wanted it gone.

She spoke about “moving forward” and acknowledged that “on matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history.” [That’s an understatement.] She also sought to distinguish between South Carolinians who revered the flag’s heritage from the likes of Dylann Roof, whose use of the flag was “sick and twisted.” [Translation:  There are good and bad flaggers.] And, while she supported the private display of the Confederate flag, she noted that “The State House is different.”  Yes, it is.

Then she got to the business at hand.  “With no ill will,” she said, “it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” The room erupted with applause. She went further and declared that she will use her authority as governor to return the South Carolina state legislature to session to take action to remove the flag if it has not done so by the close of the legislative session that ends this week. While she offered her respect to those who still revered the flag, she was quick to return the focus to those who lost their lives in Charleston on June 17, 2015. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” and acknowledged that the fact that the flag “causes so much pain” was reason enough to take it down.

Finally.

South Carolina State Capitol. Credit: Charleston Post and Courier
South Carolina State Capitol. Credit: Charleston Post and Courier

This is a swift turnaround from just a few days before.  Then, Haley expressed no interest in “policy discussions,” saying instead that her job was “to heal the people of this state.” She also maintained that the flag, an emblem of white supremacy and violence, posed no problems or even discussions with CEOs planning to set up shop in South Carolina.

But she could not ignore the flag’s association with this latest act of racial violence, especially as images of 21 year-old Dylann Roof, who perpetrated this crime of terror and violence, circulated.  Neither could she refute the recent protest on Capitol grounds, the #TakeItDown movement, and the moveon.org petition, which gathered more than a half million signatures calling for the flag’s removal.  Even her fellow Republican Mitt Romney tweeted to take it down. [Note: If Haley wants to remain in contention as a Republican running mate in 2016, she needed to do this.]

One hopes, however, that the Governor finally realized that to truly heal the people of South Carolina, she had to consider ALL of the people–and not just those who still cling to a relic of the past that should have long ago been relegated to a museum.