The search for the “New South”

180pxvirginia_ancestries_by_county "Dickinson says you know you’re in real Virginia "when the big issue is hunting. People who are for hunting and the Second Amendment are going to vote Republican to protect against radical socialist communist views. It’s also about faith: I don’t see how any person who believes in Jesus Christ could vote for Obama or any Democrat." "  Fisher


"There’s no such anxiety up the road at Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge in Prince William County. The "real Virginia" concept draws nothing but blank stares here. Most students feel no connection either to Southern culture or to the notion that Northern Virginia is an outpost of the District. They think of Prince William as generic suburbia, hardly different from similar settings in New Jersey or North Carolina."  Fisher


Walker Percy wrote in "The Thanatos Syndrome"  that if there is such a thing as Southern culture, part of it consists in not talking about it.  Percy knew very well that the South abides, but his point was well taken.  Ron White says that he knows he should be quiet about some things, but "lacks the ability."  Amen, brother.

I learned long ago that people see what they want to see.  Marc Fisher drove south along I-95 all the way to Fredericksburg, fifty miles from Washington in search of "proof" that Southerners are inbred, mouth breathing, trolls.  He found what he was seeking.  He could have stayed in the District of Columbia and found equally bizarre, if slightly different folk.

This "controversy" over the blueness or the redness of places in Virginia is silly, but…

Northern Virginia is no different from New Jersey?  I have heard that from so many RNC people and country club Republicans that I marvel that they have not caught on to the fact that this fervent wish of theirs has led to defeat after defeat for their hand picked candidates.

Joe McCain thinks Arlington and Alexandria are filled with "communists?"  I can’t imagine how Joe imagines that saying things like that benefited his brother’s chances.  Alexandria is full of churches.  European visitors marvel that there are so many churches, of so many kinds, and they are so heavily attended.  What does Joe think they are preaching in all those churches?

Gun control?  I had a conversation with a police lieutenant here about this last week.  (I am a "life" NRA member.)  He said that there is virtually no problem at all here with crimes involving guns and that the police are well aware that most households in town have a few guns.  I asked him if there is any problem with people who have "concealed carry" permits for pistols. (I do, as do a lot of other people.)  He thought that a strange question.  The answer was no.

"Real Virginians" are deeply alienated from new people in the state?  Really?  Why is it that Mark Warner is originally from Connecticut and is 30 points ahead of Gilmore (a native Virginian) in the US Senate race?  In the supposedly "red" parts of the commonwealth Warner is 20 points ahead.  Why is it that Tim Kaine, the governor, is from the midwest somewhere?  Why is it that Virginia was the first state to elect a Black governor?  That was 20 years ago.

The truth is that Virginia is a miniature of the American melting pot.  The various aspects of our matrix of culture are continually being modified by new Virginians.  That is a good thing.  Stagnation in demography and ideas leads only to decline.

Many people hostile to the South have long wanted to believe that there was never a distinctly Southern cultural area in America or if there was, then it was fated to soon disappear.  This is still a popular idea.  Ask Thaddeus (aka Chris) Matthews.  He sees Barack Obama’s coming election as a "Second Battle of Gettysburg." (He said so the other night.)  Somehow, places like New Orleans continue to be Southern, but Matthews doesn’t like that either.

Virginia is becoming a richer place, enriched by the gifts of the spirit that the "new people" bring.  Those gifts are melding with the many old gifts to make us all wealthier.  pl

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27 Responses to The search for the “New South”

  1. J says:

    The ‘problem’ with the GOP as a ‘whole’, and the RNC (through their mouthpiece FOXNEWS) in particular is they like to play the ‘label’ game on people and areas instead of accepting them as human beings and Americans whose fabric is the Red, White, And Blue. The GOP and their co-hearts the MSM try and label ‘blue’ versus ‘red’ versus ‘purple’ versus ‘white’, etc.. All a bunch of blarney on their parts.
    From the Reagan administration on, we have seen the ‘label game’ increased especially in this current Bush-Cheney-Neocon bunch.
    Why they can’t accept Americans for what they are — a melding pot of human hopes and dreams, I can’t understand.

  2. Cujo359 says:

    Apparently, this Fisher is way ahead of me. I’m still trying to figure out why hunters would necessarily be disinclined toward socialism, whether it’s in Virginia or anywhere.
    I also don’t see why believing in Jesus Christ should necessarily mean someone wouldn’t vote for a political candidate. Seems to me that Christ felt that charity and tolerance mattered. He also took a dim view of moneychangers, which is something that McCain certainly can’t claim. At best, the issue of whom Jesus would vote for strikes me as nebulous.
    I suspect that there are times when one’s knowledge of a topic is inversely proportional to one’s willingness to claim authority on it.

  3. Dan M says:

    “Northern Virginia is no different from New Jersey?”
    Well, which part of new jersey and which part of northern virginia? I even know some people in new jersey who like college football! And guns! And the bible! Just like real Virginians!
    mouth-breathing liberal in new jersey

  4. Nancy K says:

    I am 4th generation Californian on my mother’s side and my father came to Ca during the dust bowl. I lived in Anaheim as a child, surrounded by miles of citus trees, before Disneyland.
    Now, there is hardly anyone I know born in Ca, everyone is from somewhere else.
    We have 5 children, 1 lives in Los Angleles, 1 in North Carolina, 1 in Boston, 1 in New Hampsire and 1 in Lima Peru.
    It’s a whole new world, and all we can do is hold on to a little bit of our old culture and enjoy the best of the new.

  5. Dave of Maryland says:

    The division would seem to be between urban & rural. The only significant difference between rural Virginians & rural Kansans (my native state) is that rural Virginians have a stronger sense of being Virginians than rural Kansans do of being Kansan. Rural people all love Jesus & guns in equal measure. I suspect this is not limited to the rural US.
    City life is different. What significant differences are there between Trenton & Richmond? City folk go from city to city. North, south, east, west, makes no difference. They never see the countryside, except through glass of some sort. Rural people generally don’t travel, or don’t like it much when they do. (The exceptions all end up in cities. Like me.)
    Are there nuances? Maybe. Twenty years ago while on a visit to my family in Iola, Kansas (population 7000, maybe) I decided to make a cheese sauce. I went to every store in town. There was not a single stick to be found.
    Alton Brown, of Food Network fame, a native of Georgia, if memory serves, twice set off on his bike across America, looking for roadside food. The first year from east to west, the second from north to south. He ate well until he got out of the south. After these two embarrassing failures, he gave up the quest.
    So is there a Butter Belt? Should we search out its geographic coordinates? People who delight in food, it seems to me, are inherently superior to those who do not. That’s a rural distinction worthy of further study.
    Who & what do rural people vote for? If they’re okay financially, they vote morality, for lack of anything else. They go to church on Sundays for the same reason. If they’re fearful & don’t have money (like now), they vote practicality. Nothing mysterious about it. Those who only know rural America from behind glass (as if caged in a zoo) have little idea of its needs. And so make no effort to appeal to them. Rural folks have real needs, and they’re not that different, in Mississippi, in Wyoming, in west Texas. Until that happens, rural voters will vote as a duty. Rather than in expectation of reward. Go to church every week, get heaven as a reward. Or so they hope!
    What reward do rural folk get for voting? Only the possibility of making the world a morally better place. That’s all that’s ever been offered them. This is not so hard to figure out.

  6. A posting to the Guns and God crowd. Interesting thing about the Old Dominion is how Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom foreordained the opening sentence of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. AS to guns, of the 98 Virginia counties almost 1/4 prohibit the discarge of firearms anywhere in the County. Class I misdemeanor I believe. Check you local law but many cities have same prohibition.

  7. Curious says:

    I tell ya one thing I don’t like about virginia mountains … early spring even.
    Forget the lovers. What does one suppose to wear? It’s 40F in the morning and 70F by early afternoon.
    Even the birds can’t decide if they have to to go back migrating south or north.
    Utter and total temperature chaos.

  8. Lord I live in Oakland Ca and we love guns and Jesus as much as anybody else. Half of Oakland is shooting at each other on Saturday night, and on Sunday the churches are full. Praying we won’t get shot, mostly. OK I’m kidding. But the middle and upper-middle class churches are as full as the working-class ones. Explain that to me? And the Jewish temples and Islamic mosques and Buddhist Zendos are doing well, too. Also the pagans have a strong presence.
    Don’t make too many assumptions about California liberals ’cause we’ll fool ya. See you in church (my mother’s Methodist, gay-loving, Buddhist-accepting, left liberal church maybe?)
    Oh yes and if you want agriculture, we have community gardens, backyard chickens and goats, and horse stables galore. In fact there’s a feed and tack store on the avenue in the ‘hood near me, serving all the horse people who live two miles east and uphill.

  9. David W. says:

    Well said, Col. Being a Northerner, I’m outside of your traditions, but I’d like to think that the message of your post also speaks to America as a whole.
    Here’s to both the ‘New South’ and a ‘New America.’

  10. sarge says:

    I grew up in Upstate NY. We lost most of our large manufacturing facilities and other operations to Southern States lured by tax breaks during the early 1990s. Left behind are decimated cities and poor rural areas with no hope for the future.
    In my mind, the north is the new south.

  11. zanzibar says:

    Is it really about a “new south” or the difference between rural and urban folks across the country?
    Even in California there is a distinct difference in attitudes between those that live in Fresno and Yuba City and those that live in the large urban centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco. The population distribution makes it a “blue” state and if the polls turn out to be correct Obama could win with a larger margin than even Ronald Reagan.
    Is America really of rural character or do we by and large have an urban ethos?

  12. Kevin says:

    Amid a retail freefall, gun and ammunition sales are soaring.

  13. TomB says:

    On an interesting and somewhat related point has anyone followed this business that seems to be taking place in Penna. where Rep. Murtha seems to have been calling some of his constituents “racists” and “rednecks”?
    Would be informative for anyone there or for anyone who knows more about his race to tell us whether these were just slips from the guy, or on the other hand perhaps some kind of conscious strategy dissing one segment of his constituency in order to please another?
    The two reports I’ve seen seem to imply that it’s the statements themselves that have gotten Murtha into the reelection trouble he apparently is facing, although of course the possibility is that he knew he was in trouble before and decided that slinging such charges was his best bet for overcoming them.
    Regardless, it’s kind of funny since in that one report I read even though Murtha apparently said these things very bluntly and openly and doesn’t deny them, he accuses his *opponent* of “swift-boating” *him* for calling attention to his statements.
    Regardless of whether they’re right or wrong still, can seem rather odd.
    So at any rate was wondering if anyone knows more about it and can tell us about it. Seems to me to be very interesting not just politically but culturally too.

  14. Will says:

    NC, although rich in history, obviously took a back to its neighbors during the 18th, 19th centuries- an island of humility b/n two mountains of conceit or so, as one wag put it.

  15. Patrick Lang says:

    It is intresting how many of you are still reluctant to accept the idea of the South as a distinct cultural area rather than merely an area where people are or were poor and backward. pl

  16. Will says:

    As far as culture, the south was once, predominantly, in culture, the home of the scotch-irish.
    See Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America …
    Webb interweaves his own Scots-Irish family history throughout the book with some … Webb maintains that Scots-Irish attitudes form the bedrock of American

  17. Nancy K says:

    Guilty as charged, or at least I was. Having lived in Calif my entire life I was very ignorant of Southern life. However my daughter married a man whose family has lived in NC for several generations and now calls NC her home also.
    We have visited several times and we have found Southern life and people to be wonderful.
    I believe that maxim ignorance breeds contempt is true. We have a few years left before retirement and we are already looking towards Asheville NC. I think for many people instead of “go west young man go west” it will be “retire south senior retire south.”

  18. zanzibar says:

    My comment was more related to voter attitudes in the urban south which tend to vote more Democratic compared to their rural areas.
    This seems not much different compared to other regions of the country.
    The south as a distinct cultural area makes sense – however don’t you think that with national TV/pop culture that there is an element of homogenization taking place?

  19. ked says:

    Col, I think there is an understandable conflation in people’s hearts & minds between values & culture.
    Indeed, rural living does give rise to a world-view & behavior patterns distinct from urban life, yet similar across the country. However, culture penetrates a region based more upon a shared specific history & how deeply it is promulgated. An apt (yet very limited) analogy might be that of nature vs nurture.
    There is similarity in lifestyle between those living in Charleston SC & Portland OR… but culture – not quite.
    I tend to support Faulker’s view of Southern history as applied to an abiding Southern culture – a city there is never too distant from the countryside.

  20. My mother is a native of Virginia, family roots back to the 17th century. Her mother was a native of Macon, Georgia, with family roots through Milledgeville back to 17th century Virginia. I *know* the South is a distinct cultural place and I certainly do know that its distinctiveness includes culture and learning. I also know that some white Southerners were against slavery in the 19th century and for integration in the 20th. Hope you’re not including me among those who paint the South as rural and ignorant.

  21. Steve says:

    What is interesting about the South is how–while it’s frequently portrayed as racist–southern culture is a wonderful blend of black and white. You can find it in a shared language, music, and food.
    Someone once said that the civil rights movement allowed (among other things) was the ability of black southerners to consider themselves as southerners. Consider–if you are old enough–what the term “southerner” implied in 1960: a white person. Nowadays, not quite so exclusive.

  22. Will says:

    From the population map for this article, it is instructive that in the westernmost portion of VA, the population is id’s as merely “American.”
    From James Webb’s book “Born Fighting:”
    “The Scots-Irish (sometimes called the Scotch-Irish) are all around you, even though you probably don’t know it. … In their insistent individualism, they are not likely to put an ethnic label on themselves when they debate societal issues. Some of them don’t even know their ethnic label, and some who do don’t particularly care. They don’t go for group-identity politics any more than they like to join a union. Two hundred years ago the mountains built a fierce and uncomplaining self-reliance into an already hardened people. To them, joining a group and putting themselves at the mercy of someone else’s collective judgment makes as much sense as letting the government take their guns. And nobody is going to get their guns.”

  23. fnord says:

    A question to y`all from Norway: How is the level of hate between folks who disagree this election? From our newsreports, wich are pro-Obama admittedly, it looks like McCain/Palin is brewing up some serious lynch-mob tactics? The endorsment for Obama by the editor of American Conservative Scott McConnell, and signed by among others Fukuyama is one to spread around to neighbours and strangers. Print it out and hang it on the walls of your local city, with pride. Local activism. is the heart of democracy.

  24. rjj says:

    From our newsreports, wich are pro-Obama admittedly, it looks like McCain/Palin is brewing up some serious lynch-mob tactics?

    How did your news reports cover WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION [pretend this is 72 point red wavy font] in 2003?

  25. Dan M says:

    Just re-reading this thread again and Randy Newman, that jewish-american son of new orleans, came to mind.
    “He’s free to be put in a cage in harlem and NYC
    He’s free to be put in a cage in the southside of chicago
    He’s free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis

  26. Az Slim says:

    Some of the posters here might find David Hackett Fischer’s book “Albion’s Seed” interesting. Hackett looks at 4 different regions in the US: New England, the Atlantic middle states, Virginia and the Appalachian back- country. He describes how these 4 areas were settled by people from 4 culturally distinct areas of England. And that the early settlers carried these distictions with them to the new world.
    For example, when looking at Virginia, he notes that early settlers were recruited from from southern and western England. This area, he notes, “…was divided into comparatively large manors” “…and dominated by a small landholding class.” By contrast, early New England settlers, most from East Anglian market towns, were middle class skilled craftsmen.”

  27. TR Stone says:

    Being from the “North” (Ohio), I had an extended business opportunity in Gainsville, GA. My business contact explained to me (he being from Detroit), that the people down here are cursed with “terminal politness”. At a four way stop, no one would go “first”.
    In doing my business, I found the people on the factory floor, where I was overseeing the installation a “robot”, to be the most intelligent, inquisitive, and hard-working that I came across, no matter where in this country I had a similiar experience.

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