Contemporary Southern Identity
Community through Controversy
A study of four public debates about the meaning of being southern
In Contemporary Southern Identity, Rebecca Bridges Watts explores the implications of four public controversies about southern identity---debates about the Confederate flag in South Carolina, the gender integration of the Virginia Military Institute, the display of public art in Richmond, and Trent Lott's controversial comments regarding Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential bid. While such debates may serve as evidence of the South's "battle over the past," they can alternatively be seen as harbingers of a changing South. These controversies highlight the diversity of voices in the conversation of what it means to be a southerner. The participants in these conflicts may disagree about what southern identity should be, but they all agree that such discussions are a crucial part of being southern.
Recent debates as to the place of Old South symbols and institutions in the South of the new millennium are evidence of a changing order. But a changing South is no less distinctive. If southerners can find unity and distinctiveness in their identification, they may even be able to serve as a model for the increasingly divided United States. The very debates portrayed in the mass media as evidence of an "unfinished Civil War" can instead be interpreted as proof that the South has progressed and is having a common dialogue as to what its diverse members want it to be.