An open letter to White people who tire of hearing about slavery when they visit slave plantations: especially Suzanne Sherman.

This is brilliant. Read, learn, and look history in the face.

The Negro Subversive

Dear Ms. Sherman,

When I read your reflection in The American Conservative I was so sorry to hear that you had mistaken the museum at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello for a monument to the Declaration of Independence. This mistake clearly caused much despair to you, and I suspect, to your unwitting children, who later found themselves flung headfirst into the depths of their mother’s folly before a crowd of annoyed weekenders. And so, though it was due to your own mistake, I offer you my sympathy and am glad to hear, for the sake of your emotional well-being, that out of the glare of national attention, on a lesser known property, Jefferson’s Poplar forest estate, you were able to receive the version of history which you most preferred. For the sake of people like you, if it would not be such a terribly expensive endeavor, mental health professionals might find it…

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Clapping Back: West Virginians and the Power of Social Media

Geo-map-USA-West-VirginiaLast night, as hilarious memes of Chris Christie at Donald Trump’s press conference circulated on social media, the Daily Show tweeted the following:

It’s one of a genre of “jokes” about the state that comedians have relied on for decades for a cheap laugh. Before social media, about all West Virginians could do was shake their heads and express their frustrations among family and friends.

Not any more.  Social media has changed the rules of the game.  People from the state may not have the national audience that Trevor Noah has, but they can certainly clap back when it’s called for.  And boy, did they clap back.

And then my own:

I may not agree with all of my West Virginia kin on a variety of topics, but I’m pretty sure we are all in agreement that it’s time to put this worn out excuse for “funny” to bed.

Southern Slayer: Beyoncé’s “Formation”

Unless you were living under a rock or don’t pay attention to such things, Beyoncé released a new song yesterday called “Formation.” The southern setting (New Orleans), Bey’s reference to her roots in the Deep South (Alabama and Louisiana), the entire song’s southernnass is all there, layer upon layer. Some call the song “gritty” and ask if Bey is an “activist.” And hashtags for days. #ISlay #sheslay #hotsauceswag and #RedLobster

As a southerner and a southernist I am excited by this song and video, but I can’t do it the justice it deserves.  So, I am relying on the rich voices of others–black and feminist–to break it down for you. About its message and meaning and layers and importance. It’s a pop culture moment for the South, but so much more.

Read Zandria Robinson’s thoughts on “Formation” on New South Negress and in Rolling Stone. Regina Bradley writes about it at Red Clay Scholar. Both Drs. Bradley and Robinson also appear in a piece about “Formation” on NPR. And from New Awlins, Dr. Yaba Blay on Colorlines.

Read Awesomely Luvvie’s post, too.  She’s a humorist, but she’s making some salient points, too.

And, by all means, watch this video:

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

Tell Pop South readers about your next project

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

Socopic

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

Jefferson-Davis
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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