phrase "southern way of life" in any use other than for white supremacy?

carole w. troxler's picture

I am looking for any usage of this phrase that does NOT imply white supremacy (if it exists). I don't mean references to "southern" attributes that derive from white supremacy. In particular, does anyone know of pre-1850 usage of "southern way of life" that was not a prop for slavery or white supremacy? I became aware of it in the 1960s as code for segregation/white supremacy, but I need to know of any prior and DIFFERENT uses. Thanks.

Though it does not match your question perfectly, I am working my way through a memoir now that has some interesting conceptions of the "Southern way of life." It was written by R.S. Tharin, a one time law partner of William L. Yancey, and a self-described "Alabama refugee." According to Tharin, he was run out of Montgomery in 1861 for his support of the Alabama Constitution which outlined a strict loyalty to the union, amongst other things. He found refuge in Cincinnati, Ohio surrounded by Abolitionists one of whom told him he ought to be beaten for his lack of sympathy for that cause.

During the course of his discussion of "the damn radicals" in the North, and the rich planters in the south who care only for "King Cotton" and nothing for their fellow southerners, there is a great deal of discussion about "southerness," southern living, and southern rights (which does not, include the right to secede for Tharin) that may help inform your research. You can find the entire book online at Google books. The full title is "Arbitrary Arrests in the South or Scenes from the Experience of an Alabama Unionist." It was published in 1863 by John Bradburn in New York. Harvard has an original copy. I hope this is useful for you.
Susannah Deily-Swearingen
University of New Hampshire

If you look at Southern ephemera, often found at gift shops and tourist shops, but it shows up lots of places, you'll see this sort of thing. There's a Southern cooking restaurant here in Augusta, Ga., that has a little wooden plaque at the cash register that talks about the Southern way of life involving friends, family, sweet tea, etc.

My ancestors emigrated to Brazil after the WBS, from 1866 to 1901. Having met a number of old-timers, I never heard anu mention to the "Southern Way of Life". They were obviously strongly discriminatory, hated Lincoln (my grandmother, who was a school teacher, never mentioned his name in her household, using "that man"), but there was no mention to the Southern Way of Life. I suppose that if there were any mention to the expression, especially relating to food or dishes, we would have heard it. I must point out that their English remained pretty unchanged for generations, free of any type of slang. For instance, they used the term garage with the British accent, and with the French accent that is widespread in the USA.

Are you aware of Google ngrams? Using books, it provides a graphic way to visualize the rise of use of the phrase "a southern way of life" starting from essentially nothing in 1927 (after a blip in the early 1810s which I can't figure out the source of) to a peak in the 1960s.  From there, you could use the specific time limitations to search Google Books to see how the phrase is used. (ngrams also let you track changes in the use of more than one phrase over time.) picks up just one usage before 1860 (which turns out not to actually occur in the article itself), with the next round starting in 1884. Google books picks up two 19th century uses of the phrase. (A third is in a much later textbook, but somebody coded it as published in 1865.) Chronicling America (Library of Congress) picks up two references in the 19th century. Gale's 19th century newspapers picks up another couple of references.There are likely other digitized newspapers that could be searched.

You could play around with different ways of phrasing it ("a southerner's way of life"?) to try to pick up related phrases.


Are you familiar with the scholarly responses to "The Mind of the South" by the journalist W.J.Cash? There are some really wonderful essays in these two following books that can help address your question, I think, really well.

W.J. Cash and the Minds of the South. Paul Escott, ed. (LSU Press, 1992)


The Mind of the South: Fifty Years Later. Charles W. Eagles, ed. (UP Miss, 1992)

I would suggest that "Southern way of life" was used as a euphemism for segregation, rather than white supremacy, as white supremacy has always been a national phenomenon in the United States, not a specifically Southern one.


Jim Crutchfield
Long Island City, NY

Thanks for the pertinent reminder.