“Kevin the Carpetbagger”

I always get a kick out of the people who find my blogging to be offensive based on the fact that I am not native to the South.  A couple of days ago I noticed a comment on another blog, which referred to me as “Kevin the Carpetbagger”.  Of course, I am not offended by the label because it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the region as well as a simple mind.  In his discussion of the economic, social, and cultural differences between the northern and southern sections of the states in the Deep South, Marc Egnal quotes John Calhoun:

Our State was first settled on the coast by emigrants principally from England, but with no inconsiderable intermixture of Huguenots from France.  The portion of the State along the falls of the rivers and back to the mountains had a very different origin and settlement.  Its settlement commenced long after, at a period, but little anterior to the war of the Revolution, and consisted principally of emigrants who followed the course of the mountains, from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia & North Carolina.  They had very little connection, or intercourse for a long time with the old settlement on the coast.

Such a view stands in sharp contrast with the static and monolithic view of the South that continues to hold sway for so many.  Unfortunately, these are the very same people who claim to defend the heritage of the South against what they perceive to be outside influence.  But what exactly are they defending?  Even Calhoun understood that the boundaries of the Southern states were porous and that diversity ruled when he penned these thoughts in 1846.  How many white Southerners today would have been deemed “carpetbaggers” by earlier generations?  Who, if anyone, has a monopoly on Southern identity?  How does one even go about demarcating such a boundary?  All of us who live in “the South” can trace our family histories back to a carpetbagger.  I am proud to join the long list of carpetbaggers who moved to the South at various points in the past.  We have a rich heritage indeed.

6 thoughts on ““Kevin the Carpetbagger”

  1. Jarret Ruminski

    Great post. I am reminded of two excellent books: Jonathan Daniel Wells’ “The Origins of the Southern Middle Class,” and Michael O’Brien’s mammonth intellectual history of the Old South “Conjectures of Order.” Both books do an excellent job of revealing just how dynamic, interregional, and, dare I say, “Northern-like” the Old South often was. This isn’t to say the Old South wasn’t “different” or without its own culture, but new scholarship is showing more and more that the South was, after all, part of the United States!

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  2. Sherree

    Kevin,

    It has struck me that what you have created with this blog is a piece of living history. As I read in different posts on the blog of the moment of mea culpa that many Southerners reached when they realized that the history they had been taught was flawed, and they subsequently put their Confederate flags away for good, I thought that perhaps my history was not the same because I am not a man. There were no Confederate flags. There was no talk of Robert E. Lee. No Southern crosses on graves. No dreaming of battles I wished I had been in. Then, I thought that I was imposing a modern perspective on the past, so I went to the black community in my area that has been such an integral part of my family for so many generations and asked my mother’s best friend if my mother was a racist. My mother’s friend laughed at me and thought I was joking. When she saw that I wasn’t , she got real serious and asked me who I had been talking to. I had been talking to people on this blog. Playing footloose with the past is a dangerous business. President Obama included a quote in his inaugural address that said it is time to put away childish things. Indeed, it is. I am asking everyone who reads this blog and is a member of the academic community to question your theories and not repeat the mistakes of the past. In debunking the mythology of the Lost Cause, please do not create a mythology of your own. From what I have read of Professor Blight’s Race and Reunion, it is the seminal study that has made true sense out of what really happened and the enormous tragedy that ensued, and that is still not resolved. I thank you all for your work. It could not be more critical to our future. In assessing the Union Army, please do remember that the army left too soon and left not only the black men and women who stayed in the South to fend for themselves, but the white Southerners who defended the newly freed slaves, too. Now I want to know who the bushwhackers were that attacked my family. Were they Union or Confederate, and did it even matter by that time? Thank you Kevin for staying on this. The Lost Cause theory of history cannot prevail this time, nor can a theory that is too much in response to the Lost Cause Theory. The truth is outside of it all. The truth has to win this time. It must.

    Sherree the Scalawag

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  3. Kevin Levin Post author

    Sherree, — Thanks as always. At some point you may want to read Blight’s book, but keep in mind that it is one interpretations of the process of remembering the war. My students are thoroughly enjoying it.

    Woodrow, — I am whatever you want me to be.

    Jarrett, — Thanks for the suggestions. I am not familiar with the Wells study, but O’Brien’s is a must read. That idea of the South as part of the United States is crucial to understanding the diversity of the region. Much of the Upper South was closely tied to northern commercial interests by the 1850s as were the port cities in the Lower South. Of course, this should not prevent scholars from exploring the cultural/social/political differences between the regions, but it should prevent us from making unwarranted conclusions.

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  4. Sherree

    Thanks, Kevin. Will do.

    It is not a matter of not wanting to read the Blight book , or other books you have discussed as well; it is a matter of having only a local public library to work with at this time, and a poor local public library at that, coupled with limited funds for purchasing books. What I mean is that from the parts of the Blight book that I have been able to read on the Internet, it seems to me that he nailed it. There is much to be considered when considering the ramifications of what it means to live a false history (if we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it comes to mind) But worst of all to me, is the fact that the over 3,000 lynchings that occurred in this nation, due in large part to the conscious promotion of a false history, might have been avoided had it been otherwise. You know my story (as do your readers who may have suffered through my rather long comments, lol) I, and many others, saw up close the history we are discussing. The black community integrated my family into their community, is the only way I can put it, and that is damn sure different than the other way around. There is nothing for me past the unnecessary suffering that men and women I have known and loved all of my life endured. Really, there is not. That is what sent me back to my community ready to do whatever is necessary to change this, and that is what keeps me reading your blog. I want to know what happened, so that it doesn’t happen again. Thank you. Thank you all.

    Jarett,

    Thank you for the books you mention. I will definitely pursue them.

    Have a good day everyone. Sherree

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  5. Woodrowfan

    Woodrow, — I am whatever you want me to be. Kevin, no sweat. My Kentucky Grandmother once got mad and called me “a damn Yankee.” I wanted to say “you’re damned right I am!” but I held my tongue.

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