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The Adaptable South: Essays in Honor of George Brown Tindall.

GEorge Brown Tindall, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for over forty years, has been one of the pre-eminent historians of the South and one of the foremost trainers of Southern historians since World War II. The essays written by former students of Tindall comprising The Adaptable South are offered as a Festschrift in honor of his vast achievements. The volume focuses on the major historical themes of the post-Civil War history of the South which Tindall himself brought to the attention of an entire generation of colleagues and students.

Each essay touches upon a facet of the accommodating nature of Southern culture. As Tindall has on so many occasions pointed out, the struggle to maintain continuity between the Southern past and the present has led to a display of the incredible flexibility within Southern culture, resulting in social adaptation instead of transformation. The individual essays tell their own story of a particular time, location, or event in the history of the South, tracing it over time and observing the tendency to adapt as Southerners reconciled the events of the day with their own image of the past. In an essay on the cotton mills of the New South period, Gary Freeze pulls up from the well of Tindall's past insights: "it is the kind of myth, based upon a perceived reality of a genuine past, that George Tindall has found to be essential to the manner in which Southerners have made sense of their history and developed plans for their future." This observation is the common thread which runs through all the histories told in this book.

The essays are ordered chronologically from the Reconstruction period to the presidency of Jimmy Carter. The first four essays focus on Christianity and evangelism, the Southern textile industry, biracialism, and Negro thought and how they adapt to the priorities of the New South. The remaining five essays look at the post-world War I South - at Southern women's history, Southern folklore, the experiences of two politicians, Frank Porter Graham and Jimmy Carter, and the Civil Rights Movement as experienced in Lowndes County, Alabama. Together these essays provide a view of how virtually all the major themes present in Southern history evolved from life in the antebellum South to the ways of the industrial "New South," and into the post-world War II South of today.

The first essay, by Jack Maddex, traces the evolution of the Southern Presbyterian church from its Old South mentality of defending slavery to the New South ways of racial paternalism and segregation. Maddex points to how separation became a central tenet of the Church by the turn of the century and how this is very similar to the overall evolution that occurred in Southern society generally. Gary Freeze's article on cotton mills near Salisbury, North Carolina, demonstrates how pervasive a notion religious paternalism was in adapting Southern agrarian culture to the burgeoning mill towns all across the Piedmont South. Lester Lamon's story of Maryville College in Tennessee provides a case-study example in which a Presbyterian educational institution attempted to adapt to the order of the New South, only to fall into the ways of segregation by the turn of the century. The school's initial desire to provide for the needs of blacks and its subsequent waffling back and forth between segregation and desegregation display the lack of opportunity for, and toleration of independent decision-making in Southern life.

Walter Weare's essay on black expositions in the South observes how after 1900 blacks constantly faced political and legal disenfranchisement. In light of these enforced race relations, small black businessmen sought to adapt the "New South Creed" to themselves and adopt science, business acumen, and self-help as their guiding principles. Weare says that a small black bourgeoisie sought accommodation, or in other words, "black compatibility with a modern industrial state." Wayne Mixon's article on the writer Amelie Rives tells the story of the limits of Southern culture as they relate to women and their perceived place in society. Mixon shows how Rives supported the notion of feminism and how she wanted other women to embrace the change represented by the "New South" to improve their daily lives.

The other essays, in the areas of folklore, politics, and civil rights, describe similar moves to embrace the new ideals of the twentieth century, but not without a strong reconciliation with the Southern past. The essay on Jimmy Carter by Robert C. McMath, Jr., in particular illuminates what Tindall explored so thoroughly in many of his writings - the Southern triangle of political culture: Bourbonism, Populism, and Progressivism. McMath tells us of the Southern "business progressivism," its antecedents in Populism and Bourbonism and how all of these traditions were present in the modern-day presidency of Jimmy Carter. In sum, all the articles in this volume observe a "persistent regional conservatism that has usually led to adaptation rather than transformation in southern society," Tindall's recurring theme throughout his work.

The volume includes a well-crafted introduction by Dan T. Carter, covering the career and writings of George Tindall. Also included are a transcript of an interview with Tindall conducted by the editors, and a bibliography of Tindall's principal writings. There is no doubt that George Tindall is deserving of such a volume. His former students executed a job well done in utilizing Tindall's major analytical observations about the South while paying tribute to this eminent scholar of the New South era.
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Author:Walters, Tyler O.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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