Life in the New South demands a written record. That’s my premise.
Growing up in Dallas-Fort Worth and central Florida did not instill in me a natural appreciation for all things Southern. That fascination, which sometimes borders on morbid curiosity, surfaced during my time as a features writer for The Macon Telegraph. During my first job right out of journalism school at Troy University, I was introduced to some of the most colorful stories Macon could conjure. This is my attempt to process what I think Southerness has come to mean in the contemporary South.
There’s nothing earth shattering or particularly inspired about what catches my eye. As the traditional Southern identity wanes and those who hold on to it are marginalized, there is a new Southern identity emerging. I find the new Southern identity intriguing. There are hints of the old, but it is definitely new.
My father and my oldest son were both born in Macon, Georgia. I met and married my wife there. I have connections to that town that run deep. In my journey from Macon to the Atlanta suburbs, I have learned that the distance between these two worlds is measured in years, not miles. In between, there is some interesting soil to till.
Not everything is political. Not every issue is racial. Not every cliché still has a connection to its root of truth. The South is no longer bounded by agrarian, familial or religious themes. The New South is not homogenous.
When Henry Grady coined the term “New South” as an attempt to attract industry and help the South overcome its collective hangover from the War Between the States, I doubt very seriously he had in mind what the South has become. But that’s OK. I’m not making judgments, just trying to capture a sense of what is.
So what is the New South? What would a chronicle of the New South contain?
Clues. Suggestions. Hints. Observations.
Discovering telling details of the New South is not always easy. The character of the New South isn’t always obvious. It’s much like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous opinion in the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision on obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”
Over time and with your help, the emerging Southern identity might just come into clearer focus. Maybe, we can understand ourselves a little better as a result.