Captain John Smith 's account of the founding of Jamestown in the s and s, and William Byrd II 's secret plantation diary, kept in the early 18th century. Both sets of recollections are critical documents in early Southern history. After American independence, in the early 19th century, the expansion of cotton planting and slavery began to distinguish Southern society and culture more clearly from the rest of the young republic. During this antebellum period , South Carolina , and particularly the city of Charleston, rivaled and perhaps surpassed Virginia as a literary community.
Simms was a particularly significant figure, perhaps the most prominent Southern author before the American Civil War. His novels of frontier life and the American revolution celebrated the history of South Carolina. Like James Fenimore Cooper , Simms was strongly influenced by Walter Scott , and his works bore the imprint of Scott's heroic romanticism. While popular and well regarded in South Carolina—and highly praised by such critics as Edgar Allan Poe —Simms never gained a large national audience.
He followed in with one of the country's first science fictions, A Voyage to the Moon: Yet in his poetry and fiction Poe rarely took up distinctively Southern themes or subjects; his status as a "Southern" writer remains ambiguous. In the Chesapeake region, meanwhile, antebellum authors of enduring interest include John Pendleton Kennedy , whose novel Swallow Barn offered a colorful sketch of Virginia plantation life; and Nathaniel Beverley Tucker , whose work The Partisan Leader foretold the secession of the Southern states, and imagined a guerrilla war in Virginia between federal and secessionist armies.
Not all noteworthy Southern authors during this period were white. Frederick Douglass 's Narrative is perhaps the most famous first-person account of black slavery in the antebellum South. The book depicts the life of its title character, a daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his black mistress, and her struggles under slavery.
In the second half of the 19th century, the South lost the Civil War and suffered through what many white Southerners considered a harsh occupation called Reconstruction. In place of the anti-Tom literature came poetry and novels about the " Lost Cause of the Confederacy. These writers idealized the defeated South and its lost culture. Prominent writers with this point of view included poets Henry Timrod , Daniel B. Others, like African-American writer Charles W.
Chesnutt , dismissed this nostalgia by pointing out the racism and exploitation of blacks that happened during this time period in the South. In , Mark Twain published what is arguably the most influential southern novel of the 19th century, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Kate Chopin was another central figure in post-Civil War Southern literature.
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These stories offered not only a sociological portrait of a specific Southern culture but also furthered the legacy of the American short story as a uniquely vital and complex narrative genre. But it was with the publication of her second and final novel The Awakening that she gained notoriety of a different sort.
The novel not only shocked audiences with its frank and unsentimental portrayal of female sexuality and psychology. It paved the way for the Southern novel as both a serious genre based in the realism that had dominated the western novel since Balzac and one that tackled the complex and untidy emotional lives of its characters.
Today she is widely regarded as not only one of the most important female writers in American literature, but one of the most important chroniclers of the post-Civil War South and one of the first writers to treat the female experience with complexity and without condescension. During the first half of the 20th century, the lawyer, politician, minister, orator, actor, and author Thomas Dixon, Jr. Today Dixon is perhaps best known for writing a trilogy of novels about Reconstruction , one of which was entitled The Clansman , a book which would eventually become the inspiration for D.
Griffith 's infamous film The Birth of a Nation. Overall Dixon wrote 22 novels, numerous plays and film scripts,  Christian sermons, and some non-fiction works during his lifetime. Later in the 20th century, however, Pentecostalism became one of the fastest growing religious groupings in America, confounding a generation of interpreters who condemned it as the opiate of the dispossessed. These primitives instead provided much of the soundtrack and expressive forms that reshaped American cultural styles later in the 20th century.
Guitars, tambourines, and other rhythmical instruments, once seen as musical accompaniments for the devil, found their way into black Pentecostal churches in the early 20th century. White Pentecostals soon picked them up, and the two shared hymns and holy dancing.
White and black Pentecostal musical styles remained distinct, but they intersected at many points. Both employed rhythmical accompaniments, enthusiastic hollers, and holy dancing. Holiness and Pentecostal preachers and singers were among the most culturally innovative and entrepreneurial of 20th-century plain folk southerners. Black and white Pentecostals seized on the opportunities provided by mass media to spread their message. Black gospel during these years developed its own tradition, its favorite touring quartets and choirs and first star soloists such as Mahalia Jackson , and its own fierce internal competitions among publishing outfits, composers, and traveling singing groups.
In gospel, then, the steams of southern religious music, white and black, flowed alongside one another, sometimes exchanging tunes and lyrics and styles, while remaining distinct. Radio became their most effective medium, for it reached out-of-the-way places where many parishioners lived. Southern evangelical culture also varied greatly by subregion—between city and country, the Southeast and Southwest, Virginia and Texas, Florida and Kentucky, the Appalachian Mountains and the Lowcountry, the piney woods and the Black Belt, the Dust Bowl and the Florida swamplands.
Where historians have until recently generalized about the regional religion, scholars from other disciplines, especially folklore, musicology, and religious studies, have brought their expertise into the study of practices that exist on the margins of dominant evangelicalism. Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom , scholars have addressed subjects such as ring shouts, conjure rituals, chanted sermonizing, and blues hollers. The blues were one medium for older African-derived spiritualities driven underground by the assimilationist tendencies of lateth-century black religious leaders.
Fears of unseen powers—signified by specially concocted mixtures of roots, plants, and bags—compelled frequent recourse to conjure men. Belief in conjure—or at least a willingness to suspend disbelief—pervaded much of the Deep South. Many southern believers, black and white, engaged in a Pascalian wager, trusting in their Christianity but also keeping one foot in the world of spirits invoked by conjurers and narrated in popular tales.
It was self—evident wisdom to place some stock in both. The parallel among whites may be found most strongly in the Appalachian Mountains, where a variety of distinctive subregional religious traditions, with considerable folk and supernatural roots of their own, lived on in the face of the rise to respectability of the southern denominations.
Later in the 19th century, Protestant denominations began extensive home missions work in the mountains, disparaging the vital religiosity of the people while ignoring the tradition of native preaching. It has also been distinctive for the remarkable strength, resilience, and durability of evangelical Protestantism in the region, far exceeding that of any other region in the country.
Until recently, Catholics have been concentrated primarily in particular subregions Louisiana and Texas, in particular , Jews have never made it even to 1 percent of the population base, Latinos were scarce outside of Texas, and Asians represented the tiniest minority of all.
This is a far remove from the United States as a whole, where for example Catholics form the single largest religious grouping, while in the South Catholics at least outside of Louisiana have always struggled for legitimacy and recognition. This does not mean they were nonexistent.
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In a few particular cases, such as New Orleans and surrounding regions of Louisiana, Catholics were actually predominant, and evangelical Protestants were the relative upstarts. But even in Louisiana, once traveling far enough northward Baptists and Methodists displaced Catholics. The same holds true for Florida, where the relative anomaly of southern Florida gives way to a more familiar white and black evangelical Protestant scene in the northern half of the state and particularly in the Florida Panhandle.
One may start the discussion of minority religions in the South, and the diversification of southern religion itself, with the Catholics. Over 15 percent of Southerners polled in claimed a Catholic identity. But Catholicism has found its way into the Deep South as well, and increasingly it mixes in unobtrusively with the familiar landscape of evangelical Protestant churches. Immigration accounts for part of this; more significant, however, is migration, as national firms draw in increasing numbers of workers from other parts of the country. In particular urban regions—Atlanta, Charlotte, the North Carolina Research Triangle, and even in the evangelical Vatican of Nashville—Catholics have assumed a regularized presence in the southern landscape, such that to be southern and Catholic no longer seems the anomaly that it was in the past.
Black Catholics, too, have grown out of their Louisiana base and have found homes elsewhere. Historically, the Catholic Church in the South tried to promote itself among black southerners as one church that did not discriminate, one that welcomed all. As black Catholics well knew, this was partly a sham. Parochial schools in the South, including New Orleans, were segregated through the late 19th century, and many Catholic churches increasingly took to segregating pews during services or even to requiring blacks to stand at the back and receive Holy Communion last when whites filled up all the pew spaces.
Despite the heroic efforts of some priests and the attempts by Catholics to avoid the segregated church model of the Protestants, Catholics increasingly fit into a southern mold as well. Jews have an intriguing relationship as well with the history of religions in the South. Jews held a respected spot, too, in the cultural imaginary of southern evangelical Protestants, since Jews were, after all, descended from Abraham and Moses and David.
Thus, biblical literalists had to give them respect, even if they knew nothing in particular of what Judaism was actually about.
Race, Culture, and Religion in the American South
Thus, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the South was relatively free of overt anti-Semitism. Later in the 20th century, Jewish southerners, including many well-known department store owners and merchants in cities such as Birmingham, Memphis, and Atlanta, had a complicated relationship with the civil rights struggle. Many were supportive of the black freedom struggle, both privately and publicly.
A few were well-known segregationists. Finally, some mention should be made of the recent demographic explosion of Asian religions in the South. In the census, immigrants to the South numbered just over eight million people. The largest percentage of these consists of Latino immigrants, especially to Texas and Florida; but they have increasingly been joined by Asian immigrants to southern cities.
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By , for example, the city of Atlanta included some 10, Buddhists, 12, Hindus, and 30, Muslims. Nearly 25, Vietnamese had taken up residence in Louisiana, and close to 50, Asian Indians mostly of Hindu or Sikh faiths in Georgia. In North Carolina, nearly , Asians had taken up residence in the state by the census, and evidence of their impact could be seen in Hindu statutes, Thai temples, Cambodian wats, and Vietnamese Catholic shrines that were popping up even in the most unexpected parts of the southern landscape.
Perhaps because they are still a relatively small percentage of the population yet, or perhaps because they have filled vital niches in the southern economy, Asian immigrants to the South have experienced surprisingly little of the harassment that traditionally greets newer foreign-born groups. It is too soon to say, however, how Asian religions will change the southern religious landscape.
Most probably, they will become part of the landscape, noticed by those looking for evidence of their presence and likely unnoticed by the millions of Baptists and Methodists driving to their church parking lots. Studies of southern religion make up a vital part of American religious history. The distorting influence of racial segregation is being dissolved as scholars attempt culturally complex histories of southern religious cultures.
The overemphasis on the homogeneity of evangelical Protestantism in the region is giving way to an appreciation of diversity and complexity within the regional religious traditions. Important questions and avenues of scholarship remain.
Genres of Southern Literature
The discovery of southern Jewish history goes on apace. Meanwhile, the diversification of the contemporary South brings religious pluralism to the region. Since much of this concerns contemporary groups, anthropologists and sociologists have been the pioneers of this work. Important questions remain in understanding religion in the present-day South. The new South, symbolized by rising mega-regions such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston, stems in part from the successes of local leaders in attracting corporate enterprises to their region.
In the s, H. With it has come a revitalized scholarship, largely freed of older defensiveness and denominational hagiography, on the one hand, and academic iconoclasm, on the other. In the s and s, an initial burst of interest in southern religious history, spurred on by both the civil rights movement and the resistance to it, established the field, and in recent years the online Journal of Southern Religion continues to give the field a vital presence. Any discussion of southern religion must begin with the landmark works of Samuel S. The South, by contrast, was known for deism among intellectuals such as Thomas Jefferson, High Church Anglicanism among white planters, rabble-rousing in the backcountry among Scots-Irish folk famously indifferent or hostile to organized religion of any kind, enslaved people whose religious views appeared to whites to be largely inscrutable and unknowable, and Native Americans in dozens of religious groupings varying by geography and tribal groupings.
Works by scholars such as Samuel S. The Beginnings of the Bible Belt , 7 focusing on the early days of southern evangelicals and their accommodation to the moral reality of a patriarchal slave society, shows how much can still be gleaned from rereading the sources with a fresh set of questions. If religion in the Old South has become a mature field, scholarship on the era since the Civil War is still, relatively speaking, in its adolescence. As a result, many of the works discussed here date from the last decade.
Questions remain as to whether studies in post—Civil War southern religion will add detail to, or fundamentally change, dominant paradigms for understanding southern history. In the process they have added significantly to the body of literature on southern religion, even though many of the studies are about other topics. Some important areas, such as the history of southern Pentecostalism, cry out for more research.
Hardly any substantial scholarship exists on some key figures, such as Charles Harrison Mason, founder of the Memphis-based black Pentecostal Church of God in Christ. Some topics such as Appalachian mountain religious expression have drawn the attention of anthropologists but not often of historians. However, the impact of a new generation of scholarship and the recent establishment of the Journal of Southern Religion will provide an agenda for the scholarly future. Much of the material that can be used for primary research in the field of southern religious history is starting to come online, and in the case of audio materials is available in CD form.
For an outstanding collection of primary writings from the 18th century to the late 20th century, including slave narratives and memoirs, denominational histories, reminiscences, didactic and polemical material, hymn books, programs, and church records, the best place to start is Documenting the American South. Another invaluable collection is the American Missionary Association Records held at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans; in particular, this is the starting point for understanding religion and education in the post—Civil War South.
Recent published documentary history collections are providing easy-to-access and invaluable forays into primary source research. A Documentary Witness , and a volume of essays that nonetheless can be mined extensively for primary source references: Bond has compiled a rich set of sources in Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia. So much of southern religion has been captured in sound, most especially in music. Recent compact disc collections of formerly rare and inaccessible recordings have opened up this part of southern religious history to nearly any researcher.
The best starting point is the six-CD collection Goodbye Babylon Dust-to-Digital Records, Atlanta, Georgia, , a sampler of nearly every kind of southern religious music recorded earlier in the 20th century. The field recordings, mostly gathered in the American South, of Alan Lomax have been compiled in a number of different CD sets, but a vast holding of them gathered from forward have been placed online on the Association for Cultural Equity website. Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony. Mercer University Press, Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.
University of North Carolina Press, Yale University Press, University Press of Mississippi, Unlike most other white southern liberals of this era, she advocated a social reform agenda that made its core mission a direct attack on racial inequality. Hammond was an exceedingly prolific writer, yet her career has gone largely unnoticed by historians. Green especially questioned why In Black and White remained out of print. Yet one key to understanding why Hammond was allowed to lapse into historical obscurity, Green suggests, may lie within a deeper examination of the Southern Methodist Church, whose leadership seems to have deliberately forgotten Hammond and her important contributions.
In this forceful volume, she linked the absence of economic opportunity to the multiple social ills that characterized southern black poverty. As cure, she advocated social legislation and policies to promote urban improvements ranging from publicly owned transportation to public health programs.