The rhetoric of Southern identity: debating the shift from division to identification in the turn-of-the-century South
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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 in the South. I examine -- from a rhetorical perspective informed by Kenneth Burke's theory of identification and division -- four debates that have taken place in the South and/or about the South over roughly the past decade, 1995 to the present. In this decade, Southerners and interested others have debated such issues as 1) admitting women to the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel; 2) integrating displays of public art in Richmond to feature Confederates and African Americans side by side; 3) continuing to fly the Confederate battle flag in public spaces such as the South Carolina Capitol or including it in the designs of state flags such as those of Georgia and Mississippi; and 4) allowing Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, who seemed to speak out in support of the South's segregated past, to continue in his position of Senate leadership. Looking at each of these debates, it is clear that at issue in each is whether the ruling order of the South should continue to be one of division or whether that order should be supplanted by identification. Judging from the outcomes of the four debates analyzed here, the order of division seems to be waning just as the order of identification seems to be waxing in influence over the turn-of-the-millennium South. But a changing South is no less a distinctive, continuing South. I argue that a distinctive Southern culture based on a sense of order has existed and continues to exist amidst the larger American culture. If some form of "Southernism" is to continue as a distinctive mindset and way of life in the twenty-first century, Southerners will need to learn to strike a balance between their past, with its ruling order of division, and the present, with its ruling order of identification.
Virginia Military Institute
Watts, Rebecca Bridges (2003). The rhetoric of Southern identity: debating the shift from division to identification in the turn-of-the-century South. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from