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Grady McWhiney: 77, Historian of 'Celtic' South, Dies

Historians in the News




Grady McWhiney, a historian who called his fellow Southerners "crackers" in influential books and articles, then explained that this was a compliment to the glorious Celtic heritage he said they shared, died on April 18 at his home in Abilene, Tex. He was 77.

Causes included cancer and heart and Alzheimer's diseases, Donald S. Frazier, president and chief executive officer of the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation, said.

"It's just a question of which one broke the tape," said Dr. Frazier, who shared with Dr. McWhiney, his former professor, a penchant for storytelling on porches, aged bourbon and endless analyses of the Civil War.

Dr. McWhiney (pronounced like "whinny") was also a respected judge of fiddling contests, but his major contribution was in putting forth the idea that Southerners descend from the wild Celtic tribes of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. He contrasted Celts and Southerners with the English and Yankees.

His "Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South" (University of Alabama, 1988) most fully expressed his theory. He traced "cracker" to the Gaelic word craic — still used in Ireland and anglicized in spelling to "crack" — and said it meant "entertaining conversation." (Folk etymology had had it that cracker came from cracking or pounding corn, or using whips to drive cattle.) ...

Dr. McWhiney is seen by some as the godfather of what has come to be called the neo-Confederate movement, whose members urge the South to secede once more. The League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center called a hate group, is headed by Michael Hill, a former student of Dr. McWhiney's, and is a very visible part of the movement.

In 1994, Dr. McWhiney helped found the league and was a director for a few years, but resigned, complaining that it had been taken over by "the dirty fingernail crowd," Dr. Frazier said....


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