Historians discuss Southern identities

Recently, a local Wilmington, North Carolina historian, Bernhard Thuersam, and I attended an unusual conference of scholars at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia—I say unusual because it’s rare these days for American academics to gather for discussions of Southern traditions, especially when these include: “moral, political, philosophical, religious and constitutional topics.” These quotes came in a “call for papers” from the Abbeville Institute (www.abbevilleinstitute.org). The twelfth annual Scholars Conference was held October 30 to November 2, 2014 appropriately, at a conservative, Christian university.

The Abbeville Institute, founded in 2002, with an embryonic conference at the University of Virginia, emerged from a perceived need to restore the positive aspects of Southern culture in modern college curricula, stated in its mission “to preserve and present what is true and valuable in the Southern tradition.” This “fellowship” of 170 scholars and associates sponsors academic conferences, programs for the public and summer schools for college students.

Institute founders encourage younger generation scholars who understand and appreciate Southern tradition to participate in study and presentations. Dr. Don Livingston, founder and current President of the Abbeville Institute, announced that: “Special consideration will be given to presentations by graduate students and young professors who would like to have a critical discussion of their work,” in his “call for papers” sent out last August. Several graduate students did present research papers at the conference.

The site of this year’s conference was impressive, but difficult to navigate. Liberty University is under major construction almost everywhere we went on campus. This institution has $1 billion cash reserves and will spend $.5 billion on campus improvements. It’s the largest nonprofit university in the U. S. and educates 13,000 resident and 90,000 online student bodies.

Dr. Carey Roberts, energetic chairman of the History Department, was an organization spark plug and moderator of the three-day conference attended by about 60 people and included nearly a dozen lectures.

These Southern gentlemen aren’t frightened or corrupted with popular Lincolnian history that Southern tradition is primarily the “story of racism and slavery.” They courageously counter efforts to purge Southern tradition and its achievers from American history; all too common even on Southern campuses. Attempts to speak honestly, and openly, about Southern heritage frequently brings charges of “racist” or “apologist for slavery and segregation.”

Yet, Southern identity has had “a vital long lasting bond” in America. M. E. Bradford, the late scholarly writer and strong defender of Southern tradition and political thought, called it “a way of being a certain kind of American”—you don’t have to be born into it to embrace it. Southern tradition predates the creation of the United States. Accomplished and revered Southerners dominated our early history. Many pioneers that fought for and settled Western America, including California, were from the South. Eleven of our first fifteen presidents came from Southern States.

For readers with open minds about the rich, vital and tragic legacy of the Southern States the Abbeville Institute website (shown above) will expand horizons in history, literature, philosophy, religion and politics based on our Constitution as seen from the Southern perspective.

For North Carolinians especially, a new website (www.circa1865.com), authored by historian Bernhard Thuersam will add much knowledge about events in this State after the War Between the States—unknown to most residents and probably shocking to many Northerners.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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