The phrase, “The New South”, appears in the 1886 speech that Atlanta newspaper editor, Henry Grady, delivered to the New England Society in New York. In fact, the origination of the phrase is often attributed to the former Atlanta editor. Reconstruction was only a few years in the past when Grady addressed the New England Society. The South was struggling to recover from the War and Reconstruction; a struggle made more difficult as a result of an absence of technology, an unskilled workforce, and inadequate sources of capital. So, even though the pillaging of residential areas by Union troops followed by harsh Reconstruction measures had demoralized Mr. Grady, and most Southerners, he realized that the economic survival of the post-war South was dependent on cooperation with Northern commercial interests.
Henry Grady’s New York speech, like other forays into the North by influential Southerners, was conciliatory in nature, but not apologetic. Grady simply made his Northern audience aware of his region’s plans to create an industrial economy to augment the shortcomings of its agricultural system, i.e., “The New South.” But lest the Northern assemblage misconstrue the meaning of his phrase, Grady explained “… I accept the term, “The New South,” as in no sense disparaging to the Old. Dear to me, sir, is the home of my childhood and the traditions of my people.” He also expressed his high esteem for a Confederate monument that stood in his hometown of Athens, Georgia. Speaking of the dead Confederate soldier the monument honors, Grady said: “Not for all the glories of New England – from Plymouth Rock all the way – would I exchange the heritage he left me in his soldier’s death.”
The New England audience enthusiastically applauded Mr. Grady’s glowing tribute to the fallen Confederate soldier. Even though the hostilities, and certainly, the catastrophic casualties, of the War, remained in their memories, these Northerners understood how important regional heritage is. Furthermore, they surely realized that although North and South should share basic societal assumptions in common, there were also traditions unique to each region that should not be disturbed.
Before the War Between the States and Reconstruction, both North and South were thriving regions. Although certain aspects of their cultures differed, that was considered normal in a Union of individual states. But, after the South’s defeat, the establishment altered the meaning of “Union”, deciding that the Northern way was the national way. – Even though slavery was eliminated, and laws were enacted to grant constitutional rights to blacks, that was not enough. They believed that the South had to become a replica of the North, or otherwise be characterized as backward and provincial. Until fairly recently, this stereotypical vision of the South was firmly adhered to by the national media, even being adopted by timorous Southern journalists.
It is confusing that so many Southern journalists still seem to believe that the Northern way is indeed the “national” way. In recent decades there has been a mass exodus from the North to others areas of the country, primarily the South. Considering the unwholesome living conditions in the large Northeastern metropolitan areas, it is easy to understand why so many people want to relocate to the South. Even establishment views of the South are changing and opinion polls in all regions of the nation, indicate that the majority feel that Southern customs are primarily about heritage, rather than hate.
But Southern journalists seem almost embarrassed by the Southern way of life. In quite a few of their columns, they strive to find or create new forms of “racism” in Southern traditions. – I remember a curious comment in a letter to the editor of a Southern newspaper. The letter addressed a recent column wherein a journalist claimed that yet another of the South’s traditions might be offensive, and consequently should be trashed. The letter writer strongly approved, stating that “change is always for the best.” For those of us who think logically, this is a puzzling concept. Yet many in today’s generation have been conditioned to believe that whenever something about society is changed, it is always an improvement.
But you don’t have to be a disciple of Edmund Burke to understand that all changes are not beneficial. In fact, many proposed changes go against common sense. Societal modifications proposed by politicians and activists, often fail to make things better. Frequently, they make things worse, and even cause detrimental side effects. – Even if the proposed change does not produce the promised results, its proponents still claim that it must be continued because it will eventually work, it simply hasn’t been in effect long enough. They also insist that other areas of our society must be corrected, even completely restructured. – One of their most ambitious goals involved in “restructuring society” is the eradication of Southern heritage
Southerners like myself, who want our heritage left alone, are accused of either supporting a “lost cause” or being on “the wrong side of history.” These trite banalities have become a standard component of the repertoire of today’s journalism: – manipulative words and phrases, and fashionable cliches, are replacing logical argument.
The phrase ” the wrong side of history” is counteracted by the concept that C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” To understand what Lewis means by “chronological snobbery”, consider these excerpts from his lengthy description: ” …the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited… our own age is also a “period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions… those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack…”
The New South that Editor Grady and other influential thinkers anticipated, took almost a century to emerge. The region’s poverty was too severe, and its debts too excessive. The South’s ability to surmount the disastrous effects of the War and Reconstruction, was also restrained by post-war revisions to the nation’s business regulations, which benefited Northeastern commercial entities, to the detriment of Southern enterprises. And, although there were Southern newspapers, like Henry Grady’s Atlanta Constitution, the Northeast essentially dominated the dissemination of news, so the nation became subjected the North’s version of events.
Lacking Henry Grady’s mettle, few of today’s Southern journalists will defend their region. Nor will they refute the ongoing condemnations of Southern ways, which is quite strange, considering how irrational many of these condemnations are becoming. At a TV station in Charlotte, a cameraman working in the background was overheard whistling the tune “Dixie.” One complaint from a local activist was sufficient to intimidate the station into reprimanding the cameraman and offering an official apology to the public. And now, female students at the University of Georgia are being advised not to wear hoop skirts at the annual spring balls! University administrators are fearful that hoop skirts might remind someone of the antebellum South and possibly offend them.
The term New South continues to be heard, but it no longer means the advent of industrialism that Henry Grady spoke of. Today the region might be better described as “The Neutered South”; a South shorn of its heritage; a South where workmen cannot whistle the tune “Dixie”, and college girls cannot attend fancy-dress balls wearing hoop skirts.