Whose South Is It? Choose "A" or "B"


Mr. Ravitch is professor of history emeritus at the University of California, Riverside. Mr. Luker, an Atlanta historian, is co-editor of the first two volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King.

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The following exchange between Mr. Ravitch and Mr. Luker took place on Richard Jensen's Conservativenet -- a"daily electronic newsletter" for scholars and researchers.


Here in Georgia we get daily laments in the papers about how our Southern Heritage is being dragged through the mud by Northern demagogues, black and white, like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Dick Gephardt and Scallywags like Senator John Edwards who want to take away our flags, our statues, and our history. You might think that Sherman had marched through Georgia again with the same genocidal fury as before. (Incidentally I was told at a Civil War Reenactment recently that Sherman actually did more evil in South Carolina than in Georgia since he blamed South Carolina for having started the war in the first place.)

There is gloating that newly elected Governor of Georgia Sonny Purdue has been tripped up by the old Confederate flag he pretended he loved before the election and is now trying to forget about. Whether he supports it or opposes it he will be in somebody's dog house. Northern demagogues, black and white, have put all their hopes for political correctness on the Atlanta business community which will allegedly care more for big bucks than for its Southern Heritage. Liberals always think that only money motivates people, not conviction.

But what everyone forgets is that essentially the South has won. The schools and the neighborhoods are more segregared than ever. Whites continue willingly to make enormous sacrifices to send their kids to private schools which are largely white if the public schools in their areas are too black. White teachers are fleeing black schools in droves for jobs elsewhere and black kids are being taught in poorer and poorer schools by less and less qualified teachers, if they even have teachers, since the shortage of teachers is reaching alarming proportions in some places.

Churches continue as always to be the most segregated of institutions, and that is to be expected since they are more social clubs than temples of the gods and people want social contact with their own kind. Where there are many Catholics in the South -- in coastal places like Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and of couse New Orleans, where the Irish particularly and the French never trekked too far inland into Baptist Rednecks territory for fear of being scalped by the violent natives -- white and black Catholics continue to go to largely segregated churches. Despite the law segregation is stronger today than when it was legally required. You cannot force people to deny their instincts and most precious desires.

The South has really done a better job of solving the unsolvable racial problem of America than the rest of the nation. Here there is no need to hide one's racial feelings but there is also no need to shout them from the housetops. Everyone has them, honors them, and keeps them to himself because it is not necessary to prove to anyone how enlightened you are or are not. You can feel at home in your race, both whites and blacks can, as you cannot in New Jersey or Michigan or California.

Whereas the rest of the country must indulge in hypocrisy, deceit, political correctness, or self-denial, Southerners can be themselves.

"A Yankee by birth, a Rebel by choice" proclaims the button I sometimes wear. I find the South more comfortable than anywhere else in these United States. Here you can be yourself, live where you want, go to school with those you wish, and babble about God's will with those you wish -- all without Northern pharisaism. You can be a good Confederate or Copperhead and make no apologies. The blacks seem as happy as they can be and on the whole are more polite and deferential than in the North -- as they have always been. Don't let a few Martin Luther King, Jr. parades and a few civil rights movement neanderthal leaders fool you. They may get a lot of attention in New York or Chicago but here we ignore them without concern. Let them eat at the lunch counters. Here in Savannah we go to Elizabeth's on 37th Street (where the only problem is that some one might steal your car!).


Here in Georgia, I daily lament how our Southern Heritage is dragged through the muck by Southern demagogues, mostly white, of neo-Confederate stripe and Carpetbaggers like Norman Ravitch who cheer them on. They still don't recognize that the South is black and white and, increasingly, Hispanic and that our public symbols must be the public symbols of all of us.

Responsible public officials, like the Republican state senator from Ravitch's Savannah, have acknowledged that the stars and bars will never again wave as Georgia's state flag. When conviction is unworthy, money is persuasive.

The South has won because, like it or not, Norman Ravitch lives in a state which has an attorney general and a labor commissioner, who are African Americans. The South has won because, like it or not, Norman Ravtich lives in a Savannah which has an African American mayor.

The South has won because no law forces Norman Ravitch to attend a church with African Americans if he doesn't want to. The South has won because no law forces African Americans to bear with Norman Ravitch in any congregation if they don't have to.

The South has won because we know a world to be artificial if everyone around us looks just like us. Southerners can be themselves because they meet daily with others who are Southerners with a difference. We know who we are because we have a common heritage with those who don't look like us.

"A Rebel by birth, a Rebel by choice" says the button I wear and my black brothers and sisters affirm their Southern heritage by their proud rebellion against a corrupted Southern heritage. We all recognize the pharisaism of the Yankees and of the Yankees among us. When Norman Ravitch is prepared to put his life on the line, to go to jail for his newly-found "Southern convictions," as we did for ours, we'll listen to his Yankee blather.

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Cajiedog - 11/17/2003

From: unreconstructed

Not ONE SINGLE Southern city on here. Its plain to me you all don't know what you are race baiting about!

The Country's Most Segregated Cities
By Stephanie A. Crockett, BET.com Staff Writer

Posted Nov. 4, 2002 -- Legal separation of the races has long been over, but we're still living separate lives. Here's a list of the country's most segregated cities. Do any of them surprise you? Hit the Discuss Now button and tell us why or why not.

10. Philadelphia

9. Chicago

8. New York City

7. Buffalo-Niagra Falls, N.Y.

6. Cincinnati

5. Newark, N.J.

4. St. Louis

3. Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria, Ohio

2. Detroit

1. Milwaukee-Waukesha, Wis.

Why are we still separating ourselves? Shouldn't we be able to live, work, go to school and church together? Tell us what you think.

Hey, they need some of them thar pickups with Confederte Flags on them up thar.

Michael R. Davidson - 2/6/2003

From Mr. Ravitch's point of view, I am apparently a classic white, northeast, liberal, demagogic carpetbagger. I am so demagogic that I do not think that a racist and segregationist symbol has any place on statehous grounds. I am so demagogic that I attend an integrated church. I am so demagogic that I publicly greet my black and hispanic students, whether I be in my local credit union, McDonalds, or Wal-Mart. I am so demagogic that I regularly share a drink with our college's (black) soccer coach in the local bar.

I never cease to be astonished that there are still those who wish to return to the 'Old Times' when none of this would have been possible. But then, I am rightly told that that there are some things I do not 'get' about the south.

Michael R. Davidson
Assistant Professor of History
Newberry College

Tracy K'Meyer - 2/6/2003

Just one question for Ravitch, could he please clarify his praise for what he characterizes as southern black "deference". Are blacks still supposed to be deferential? To whom? Why?

Steve Lowe - 2/6/2003

Jesse Jackson, while he may officially reside in the North, is a Southerner by birth. He grew up in Greenville, SC. So he's not a "Northern demagogue," as Norman Ravitch would have us believe, but a product of the Jim Crow South who grew up amid the segregation for which Ravitch is so nostalgic. While Ravitch wants us to condemn the "outside agitators," he's apparently unaware that the civil rights movement--then and now--has some Southerners involved. Ugh.

James W. Loewen - 2/6/2003

Mr. Ravitch knows no history, at least of the South. He writes:
I was told at a Civil War Reenactment recently that Sherman actually did more evil in South Carolina than in Georgia since he blamed South Carolina for having started the war in the first place.)
Well, DUH! That's the first thing you learn when you study Sherman's march. The second thing is that Sherman did very LITTLE "evil" in EITHER state. The myth of Sherman's destructiveness is a creation of the 1890s, as primary sources I quote in my entry on Colombia, SC, in LIES ACROSS AMERICA make clear.
Then Mr. Ravitch claims:
...the South has won. The schools and the neighborhoods are more segregared [sic] than ever.
This too is simply wrong. By any measure, Southern schools and neighborhoods are less segregated. Atlanta in this regard bears some resemblance to Detroit or Cleveland. Ravitch needs to get out more. Smaller cities and towns have just one HS, just one middle school, and decreasing residential segregation.
I first lived in MS in 1962. Does Ravitch really think MS is more segregated now?
Finally, Ravitch is a terrible sociologist:
"...people want social contact with their own kind." He does not understand that "their own kind" is socially defined, and that simple fact has enormous implications for the future, which, despite the neo-Confederates, lies ahead.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/5/2003

I have less to disagree with Professor Moner's post than Ravitch would because I acknowledge the necessity of "outside" interventions in Southern affairs both in 1860 and 1960. The region is better for those interventions. Yet, it would be very naive not to acknowledge that the interventions re-enforce a regional consciousness apart from the national community. I disagree with Moner's simple cosmopolitanism, which assumes that the answers to all questions and the resources to solve all problems reside somewhere in a Yankee state of mind. His call for George Bush's intervention in Southern politics is surely meant in jest, but it just as surely ignores what such intervention did for "regime change" in the South last November.
The issue between Ravitch and me isn't, as Moner seems to believe, whether there is or legitimately should be a regional consciousness, but how it is expressed. Ravitch, himself an "outsider," nurtured in such centers of Yankee enlightenment as Princeton and the University of California, where he exercised considerable influence as a history professor and dean, delights in telling us now that he has retired to Savannah, where he feels free to vent his racism and celebrate a South that should have been put behind us in 1865, let alone 1965.

Gus Moner - 2/5/2003

Well, it never ceases to amaze me when I read how many Southerners, by that term I identify only those who have inherited the pharisaic separatist, religious, racist and segregationist creed that is at the core of their redemptions as white supremacists in that region, are always howling against ‘foreign’ or ‘Northern’ intervention in their internal affairs. These good people, bless them, are indeed blinded by their multi-tiered hypocritical tenets and so they are adamant in their rejection of intervention in the internal affairs of their failed "nation" even by other fellow citizens. How very un-symbolic of what the US is supposed to stand for in this day and age.

By this reasoning, if there is racism in N Dakota, no one from Ohio ought to have a say or opinion or act in the matter. It’s an internal affair to that state only. It’s reminds me of the attitude of the anti-government isolationists who go live on the edge of civilisation to get government “off their backs”; until there is a forest fire when they then complain vociferously about the lack of government services.

These Southern isolationists reject intervention by other citizens of their nation in their ‘internal affairs’ (racism, ostracism) and would not even consider the heresy of having an international group opine or suggest what to do with their situation. It would be railed against as intervention in the internal affairs of their imaginary state, (the one that failed 140 + years ago) but that they keep alive in their minds and hearts. Yet, they are so very patriotic and keen to go overseas and intervene in the internal affairs of others. What logical citizens we have raised there, eh?

I agree with Mr Kates that whom you associate with is your business. I would add that I agree only as long as position and money inherited from a past segregationist/slavery society does not skew the range of possibilities for the entire composite of citizens. For the historical economic, political and social advantage enjoyed by the white residents gives them a broader range opportunities and influence that discriminates against the minorities even today.

This is the core of the problem, not whether they want white-only churches and schools. However onerous that may be, one cannot force blacks to go to a certain church, nor whites; its not a mandatory situation. The linguering tragedy is that they control the socio-political, judicial and economic levers of their regions and use them to further their segregationist policies to the detriment of the minority population. So, as blacks achieve positions of power and influence, the institutional changes they may institute will hopefully benefit the historically disadvantaged and segregated inheritors of these the political and economic systems. What people choose to do socially and religiously to associate is their business. Not so with schools, government contracts, judicial and government employment, housing oportunities, education, etc. Finally, I would add that this repressive system also requires "Regime Change" in the South! Please Mr Bush!

don kates - 2/3/2003

Having not been in the South when I was a civil rights worker in the early '60s, I was astonished by the changes when I visited a couple of years ago; for instance, in a 5-star hotel I saw an elderly white man and his elderly black woman companion -- a thing that would never have been seen when I was there before.
If black and white people WANT to remain segregated, that is what freedom of choice is all about. What is wrong is for the law to enforce segregation or to adopt a flag which insults or exclude part of the community.