The independent news organization of Duke University

History of racial terror central to Southern heritage

I write to thank Nick Christie for his heartfelt editorial on Southern nationalism. I am a white Southerner, born and raised in North Carolina. I am also a historian. On both counts I want to register my discomfort with the defensive efforts of Christie's critics in Tuesday's Chronicle to deflect our attention away from the history of racial terror that Christie rightly recognizes to be central to our Southern heritage. The violence of the language used by family friends and extended family was deemed by my more liberal parents inappropriate for children's ears. Even my parents had doubts, sending my sister and I to a private school the first year of integration (which came to North Carolina with all deliberate speed in 1972). The private school was filled with white children who spoke openly about their parents not wanting them in schools with n-----s, and teachers who overheard without objection. My sister and I couldn't bear the racism, so we left to take our chance with the riots my parents feared. My next three years in public school were an extraordinary experience, although by the time I graduated it was obvious that¬Y segregation was being informally reinstated through the efforts of local authorities and teachers. I say all this to underscore the many ways in which race mattered in the South in which I grew up. I recognized my people, my past, our culture, in the crowds of those horrific photographs of lynchings displayed on the website Christie cited. Southerners were certainly not the only perpetrators of racial violence, past or present. But to wave that historical fact as some kind of regional exoneration is to join the ranks of racism's apologists. We've got enough work to do removing the log in our own eyes before we go worrying about the splinters that afflict our neighbors.


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