As a Southerner, I have always enjoyed the simple joy of driving down the backroads of Alabama. The black top two lanes that cut through the state are beautiful, flanked by old pecan orchards and cattle farms, where rustic tractors sit half visible behind tall grass, like monuments to our agrarian roots. Amongst the hand-painted signs and well-worn service stations that line these roads lies the heart of Alabama.
Yet, the heart of Alabama is changing, and I cannot help but feel a tinge of sorrow as I witness the transformation unfolding before my eyes. The small farms that dotted the landscape have been gradually replaced by sprawling subdivisions, where rows of characterless houses emerge almost overnight. The charming service stations, where old men used to pass the time with stories of old, now yield to the yellow-black glow of Dollar General, emblematic of the creeping homogenization brought about by modernity.
Indeed, the South has seen an industrial renaissance in the past two decades. Lured by the promise of low taxes and a union-free workforce, industries have flocked to our region. Yet, we have always been an agrarian people, our roots deeply intertwined with the land. This seismic shift from agriculture to industry marks a profound change, one that leaves me with mixed feelings.
As the tech, film, aerospace, and automotive sectors make their way to our warmer climate, the landscape continues to shift. My home state of Alabama has quietly emerged as the automotive capital of the United States, hosting five major manufacturers and one hundred and fifty suppliers, employing thousands of Alabamians. It is the same story across the South. The tech industry in North Carolina now employs close to half a million people, while Texas boasts the title of the largest technology exporter since 2012.
There is no denying that this influx of jobs and tax revenue has brought increased prosperity to the South. Yet, it is bittersweet for me, growing up, the South was often seen as poor, uneducated, and archaic, a land that progress forgot. This perception, in a way, shielded us from external influences. When I graduated high school in 2007 my school still celebrated Robert E. Lee Day and the DMV was closed for Confederate Memorial Day. For the most part, we were left to grow and practice our culture in relative seclusion, hidden away in our hollers and farms. Our poverty and perceived cultural stagnation became a protective cloak, preserving our unique identity.
But, the rapid industrialization and urbanization of the South is a Faustian bargain, threatening the very essence of what makes us who we are. We are already seeing our rich customs, traditions, and values being overshadowed or discarded in the relentless pursuit of profit and conformity. How many statues and headstones now lie in ruins or hidden away in storage lockers because transplants brought forth by the lure of money and employment sought to turn the South into little New England?
The consequences of large corporations dictating our cultural landscape weigh heavily on my mind. In a world driven by mass consumption and fleeting trends, I can’t help but worry that the vibrancy and authenticity of our Southern traditions may be reduced to mere commodities, stripped of their true essence and significance. The introduction of conflicting values from diverse backgrounds further compounds these concerns, as it threatens to dilute the very core of our heritage and erode our collective identity.
Moreover, the rapid expansion of urban centers raises valid concerns about the displacement of longstanding communities. Iconic cities like Atlanta and North Carolina’s Research Triangle now wield significant influence, overshadowing rural areas and threatening the very fabric that has nurtured our customs and shaped our collective memory for generations.
Reflecting on this situation, I find myself drawn to Christ’s words in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Are we willing our identity for GDP and manicured lawns? Is increased tax revenue worth forced cultural amnesia? I for one do not want a South that is indistinguishable from Ohio or Illinois.
In the face of “Americanization”, it is incumbent upon us, as Southerners, to band together and safeguard what is dear to us. We must become active stewards of our culture, tenaciously protecting the traditions that define us. It is crucial to preserve our heritage through grassroots efforts, community involvement, and the passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next. We must teach our sons and daughters to sing “Dixie Land,” to hold names like Lee, Jackson, and Davis in reverence because, when money dries up, it will be our children who remain.
Let us celebrate the shared heritage that binds us, cherishing our customs and traditions as treasures to be nurtured and safeguarded. As proud keepers of our cultural richness, we must strive to instill a sense of pride in the next generation. By fostering a collective commitment to our Southern identity, we can create a legacy that stands the test of time and weathers the storms of modernization.
In the midst of rapid change, we must remain steadfast in our dedication to preserving the soul of the American South. Our culture is a tapestry woven from the threads of our ancestors’ resilience, our communities’ strength, and our vibrant traditions. Our children deserve to experience the backroads, the pecan orchards, cattle farms, and rustic tractors, for they are more than mere scenic beauty – they are symbols of our identity, our roots, and the very essence of who we are as Southerners. With reverence for our past and determination for our future, we can ensure that the heart of Dixie continues to thrive, ever vibrant and deeply cherished, and if all else fails we should remind economic guests, “A Southen man don’t need them around anyhow”.