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The South Will Writhe Again

A perspective from Laura Stillman


As a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill back in the day, I lived in New York City for a brief stint. One of my greatest pleasures each day was reading The Village Voice and Pauline Kael’s film and theater critiques. One particular article in The Voice negatively reviewed a film about the South, using what I considered to be stereotypes that were untrue. In my youthful enthusiasm, I wrote a letter to the editor, which was subsequently published, much to my glee! The response was labeled “The South Will Writhe Again,” which tells you all you need to know about how the editorial staff felt about my letter. I have never forgotten that clever turn of phrase.

Sadly, those words now take on a far different meaning. Over the last 5 years, the extreme-right leaning of much of the country has intensified and hardened into something unrecognizable – led by white Evangelicals’ desire to impose their religious views on all us, and coupling with the Republican Party to make that happen. My dismay over this turn has motivated me to learn more about our history and why this could actually be someone’s world view in America. I have studied much of The 1619 Project, and continued to read numerous news stories and articles trying to understand the basis of our polarization. Inevitably, I now am ashamed of the South’s leadership in pushing us back to a time of racial animosity, judgmental attitudes and policies toward women, immigrants, gays, transgender people, public schools, and a government that has the audacity to want every American to have a fair shot at this once-great country.

The poison has spread far beyond the South into other mostly-rural states throughout the Mid-West, Texas and Florida. But it all leads back to our country’s founding fathers’ failings – not actually including enslaved people, or women, in their declaration that “all men are created equal.” Even now, there always lurks in the background that mostly white, Christian, Southern, leaders don’t “cotton” to all this freedom for anyone but themselves. Their influence and power derived from slavery, and they would fight to the death to preserve that. In fact, they did – in the Civil War. And they lost!

Even before the War, we have always made concessions to the South and their insistence on slavery. States’ rights were then, and now, dedicated to the notion that individual states could decide how to treat their citizens, even if it meant they were not equal to others. Otherwise, how did Jim Crow laws ever exist after the Civil War? Even Abraham Lincoln fell into this trap, before ultimately demanding that our nation would no longer allow slavery.

And yet here we are again. Donald Trump, a ringmaster of evil intent, galvanized whites through lies, fear, and anger – assuring them that he would once again restore whose country this really was. No matter that he is now on the cusp of possible indictment for attempting to overthrow our government. His dedicated political followers are doing his dirty work every single day in states all over the country, most notably those in the South, who finally see a chance to salvage their supposed status, and punish those who oppose them. In their crowning blow, they have kidnapped the Supreme Court and placed fellow believers to help them finish the job.

What hurts is that I have always loved the South. Even as a child, I used to wonder why more people didn’t live here, at least in North Carolina. Great weather, beaches and mountains, gracious people, a remarkable university system, and a lack of pretense that made us all feel connected. The secret has been out for years now, and North Carolina enjoys an influx of newcomers, especially from the Northeast. It has changed our more conservative outlook for the better, but somehow we still can’t quite become a blue state. The regional anthem, “Dixie,” probably explains why – “old times here are not forgotten.” Those old times may be the death of us, as Southerners try their damndest to defend the indefensible abuse of other Americans’ rights.

It is my hope that we will overcome this time in our country’s life, and that the South will no longer writhe in agony about the loss of slavery.


“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.