Every Southern town has a local historian, a life-long resident who loves the tales and culture of the region and its people. They are not professionals who have been indoctrinated by the graduate programs at the university. They aren’t concerned with the fashionable theories about the South and many times know more about Southern history than the leading experts. They should. They were reared on its stories, often tales grander and more real than outsiders would believe. Unfortunately, most history departments at Southern universities are filled with carpetbaggers bent on reducing Southern history to racism and slavery. They wouldn’t understand.
Scorchy Tawes exemplified local color on the Delmarva Peninsula. Throughout the 1980s, Tawes traveled around the region documenting the local people, their stories, and traditional Delmarva culture. His “Scorchy’s Corner” was a popular segment on the local newscast. Tawes loved the land and had an eye for beauty, as evidenced by his short segment below. He wasn’t always right, but he appreciated the roots of the Peninsula, the oysterman that worked the Chesapeake Bay, the soybean and cotton farmer, the outdoorsman and conservationist working to preserve the unique landscape of Delmarva. These were his people.
James Cannon is another “amateur” with a flair for local history. He worked with CVS for most of his career, but his true passion is Phenix City history. No one knows more about it. His collection of more than 10,000 local photographs is unrivaled. Cannon weaves tales of 1950s Phenix City–known around the South as “Sin City”–with wit, humor, and color. He is a bard, a master of the old folk ways of story telling, the way history used to be told on a mother’s knee. Phenix City comes alive, the good, bad, and ugly. He quickly points out that while Phenix City was the epicenter of illegal activity in the Southeast, in 1955, one year after the clean-up, the city was named an “All-America City.” For every gambler, thug, and prostitue, there were perhaps two or three God fearing honest residents intent on chasing the rats from town.
The great Southern popular historian Shelby Foote once remarked that historians needed to study good writers or in Cannon’s case good story tellers to be effective. That was the only way of bringing the past to the present. Most academic historians still have not mastered the pen or the art of rhetoric. Perhaps that is for the best. Not many outside the academy would want to read the pedantic, Marxist drivel most produce, anyway.