Southern sine qua non

Vrouw has posted about having “morphed” into a Southerner, and what she appreciates about it.

Having been born in the really, really deep part of the Deep South (Birmingham, Alabama), and having lived all of my life in the South (with a brief 1.5 sojourn to South Florida, which is not, culturally speaking, the South), I’ve taken some time to reflect on what I appreciate about my cultural heritage.  So here goes.

  • The music of the voices.  I’m talking about Southern accents.  Not “a Southern accent”:  there’s no such thing as one solitary Southern accent.  They are many, and they are varied.  A Piedmont accent is vastly different from a Tidewater accent, although they may occur in the same state (for example, in Virginia).  Someone from Decatur, Alabama, sounds nothing like someone from Montgomery.  (For one thing, the person from Decatur will probably pronounce the “t” in Montgomery, while the Montgomery native never will.)  I’m not a big fan of mispronunciation, but having a Southern accent does not mean one has to mispronounce words.   In Laurel, Mississippi, for example, many people pronounce the word “or” as if it were the word “are.” That gets on my nerves.  So does “thoo” for “through” or “o-vair” for “over there”.  Southern accents lend a musical quality to speech:  mispronunciations just get in the way of communication.  If you have a Southern accent,  don’t try to lose it:  lose the mispronunciations but keep the accent.
  • The food.  As I’ve pointed out on here before, I’m talking about traditional, home-cooked Southern fare here.   Vienna sausages from a can may be very common throughout the South, but it is a deviation from the tradition:  it does not define Southern cuisine.   I love the regional debates in the South over food.  For example, white corn meal or yellow?  In Texas, they say yellow.  Most other places in the South, it’s white.  (But Texas is so big, it’s had a lot of influence.)  And you can just about start a fist fight when you start talking about mayonnaise brands.  (But, let’s face it, Duke’s is the best!).   Southerners have a sweet tooth.  The South is the land of banana pudding (see an earlier post), bread pudding, and pecan pie.  It’s the birthplace of Moon Pies, Little Debbie snack cakes, the Goo Goo Cluster, and Lance snacks.  It’s also the home of sweet tea.  (For this reason, I don’t consider much of Texas to be the South, because you can’t get sweet tea in most of the state.)
  • Progress.  When I mentioned Birmingham, Alabama, many of you no doubt got mental images of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Bull Connor, and Kelly Ingram Park.  Yes, we’ve had more than our share of shame in the past.  But, for the most part, we worked through it.  The most racist people I’ve ever dealt with were not from the South, but were transplants from other places where there was not a significant minority population.  They had no skills from which to draw for relating to people of other races, because they had never done so.  I’m not saying there’s no such thing as racism any more in the South or that we don’t still have a long way to go, but we’ve dealt with things that many other parts of the country have not, and we are better for it.


Back in 1947, Phil Harris recorded a song called “That’s What I Like About the South” that catalogued some of his favorite things about the region.  Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  • Real football.  This may come as surprise to many of you who know me and read this, since I’ve never been a really big football fan, but SEC football is in the air in the South.  I probably know at least 150 Alabama-Auburn jokes.  Last year, when Buster and I went to the Independence Bowl, we went decked out in our Gamecocks regalia, because they are an SEC team.  Imagine my horror at finding that most of the locals were rooting for Missouri!  Treason!  In the South, we take care of our own.
  • Vanilla Moon Pies microwaved for exactly eight seconds.  And if you’ve got an RC to go with that Moon Pie, bring it on.
  • Krystals, just the way they serve them (mustard, pickle, and sautéed onions).
  • While we’re on the subject of hamburgers:  Milo’s.
  • Trailer commercials.  Some of the truly worst, and therefore most entertaining, commercials in the world are from mobile home salesmen.  (“Clark’s Mobile Homes!  We do it for a livin’, not a killin’!”)
  • Alabama Public Television.  They were the very first public television network in the country, way back in the 1950s.  Every other state’s public television network is modeled after Alabama’s.  And APT always had some good stuff on, even when they weren’t having pledge week.  Georgia and South Carolina have great public television networks too, putting much of the rest of the country to shame.
  • Literature.  From Flannery O’Connor and James Faulkner to more recent favorites such as Fannie Flagg, T.R. Pearson, and Vicki Covington, Southern authors have a unique voice.  (The Vicki Covington link is to Lemuria bookstore, one of my favorite places in the South.)
  • The Sacred Harp.
  • Actual pulled pork sandwiches. 
  • Rich’s.  Shopping at Rich’s.  Working at Rich’s.  Does anyone else besides me really, really miss Rich’s?  (The link has a picture of the Pink Pig at the original downtown Atlanta location!)
  • Bama Jelly glasses and Bama Peanut Butter mugs.
  • Duke’s Mayonnaise.
  • White Lily flour and White Lily corn meal.
  • Manners.  Even if you grew up in a two-room shack in the South, your Mama taught you to put your napkin in your lap and which fork to use when.  In the South, you’re brought up to say “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” to people older than yourself.  You’re taught to be polite.  The rest of the country could learn a few things about politeness and decorum from Southerners.
  • Traditions.  Two-year-old boys don’t wear miniature business suits (unless it’s Halloween):  they wear button-on suits with short pants.  People wear their “Sunday best” to church, to weddings, and to funerals.  (People in the South did not start wearing black to funerals until they saw people in the movies doing it.  Theologically speaking, the way they did it before was better–dress like it’s Easter!  It’s all about the resurrection, after all.)
  • Eating Tomatoes, Yellow Squash, and Purple Hulled Peas fresh from the garden in the summer.
  • Sweet Tea.  Luzianne, please.  And not too sweet:  less is more.
  • Icebox Cake
  • Chicken Supreme and Roulage at Cobb Lane
  • Moravian Sugar Cake at Winkler’s Bakery
  • Crab Cakes at Poogan’s Porch!
  • Having someone offer you a “col’ drink” on a hot day.

Anyone with items for the list?  Mark?  Cancerman?  Anyone?  Anyone?


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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29 Responses to Southern sine qua non

  1. Sara (the original, not the lurker) says:

    we’ve dealt with things that many other parts of the country have not, and we are better for it.

    this might be a bit heavy, but in light of Monday having been MLK day and all, i thought i’d share a really fascinating, and also sad, tidbit of information i just learned from the blog Orcinus.

    Apparently the reason most northerners don’t have the multiracial sensibility that many southerners do (not to say we’re not still racist) is that most small northern and midwestern towns and suburbs had a whites-only residential policy. freed black slaves DID move there after the Civil War, and were kicked out by riots and lynchings around the turn of the century. and blacks were kept out by those same violent means until the 60’s and 70’s. so most northerners didn’t grow up around people of color by their ancestors’ choice, not by geographic coincedince.

    interesting fact to mull over when one encounters the surprising racism of the supposedly color blind north.

  2. RevJATB says:

    Thanks, Sara. That is really sad. But it does reinforce something I’ve wondered about for a long time, and to which I alluded in the above post.

    And “lurker” Sara, you, too, can feel free to post. Same goes for all you other lurkers out there, and you know who you are.

  3. Kat says:

    Gosh, it was nice to read this. You mentioned so many things that I’m in total agreement with. From the music of Southern accents to Alabama Public Television. From Cobb Lane to Rich’s. And yes, I miss Rich’s, too. It’s been a tradition in my family since I was born (in Atlanta). I was so happy it moved to Birmingham, but now I really miss it.



  4. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    Ja, well, speaking of fist fights: where do they make the best barbecue?

  5. MoDrig3 says:

    Food: little white peas (I grew up shelling them and eating them, but have never found them anywhere but southeast Alabama) and Mom’s corn-meal muffins (which can only be made with Adams corn meal ground in the town of Midland City). When you grow up in Dothan, the good stuff is hard to find elsewhere.

    Barbecue: MY favorite is the vinegar-based pulled pork that we encountered in Wilkes County, NC. I’ve never had any better. Sauce? Who needs it?

  6. Cancerman says:

    First off let me say I’m shocked, shocked about the football comment. I feel I hardly know you now.

    Yes Rich’s was a wonderful place until Macy’s/Federated bought it. Now it is just another horrible retailer.

    One thing you didn’t bring out was the music. Having grown up in Macon, Ga, the south’s influence on music from Little Richard, Lena Horne, James Brown to REM, the B-52’s etc is inescapable.

    I’ve never lived for any lenght of time outside of the deep south and always feel a bit of a stranger in other places. I will say that while race relations aren’t necessarily good here, at least we have a relationship. In many places,ie Indiana, it was against the law for an African American to stay overnight in the state. Even on a day trip they had to register with the sherrif. This was actual state law in the 1800’s.

    Speaking of football, it was Bear Bryant’s declaration that he could no longer win national championships without black players that really integrated the south.

    I miss Bama jelly jar glasses.

  7. RevJATB says:

    Mo, you’re from Dothan and you named no peanut-based items! Jimmy Carter notwithstanding, we know that the best peanuts come not from Georgia, but from Dothan. (Similarly, the best peaches, IMO, come from Chilton County, Alabama. But I’m perhaps a little biased since I have grandparents on both sides who came from Chilton County.)

    Barbecue, Vrouw? Depends on what kind. I like a barbecued beef brisket like they do them in Texas, but in Texas beef is the ONLY kind of barbecue. For ribs, I do like the Memphis-style dry rub. For pulled pork, I agree with Morris that the NC-style, vinegar-based kind is probably the tastiest. And he’s right about this too: if the meat is properly cooked, it needs very little, if any, sauce. (“Barbecue” does not mean “meat cooked in or with barbecue sauce”. It means meat cooked, with hardwood smoke, at a low temperature, for a very, very long time.)

    I like coleslaw or, even better, spicy chow-chow on a pulled pork sandwich.

    As for little white peas, Morris, I tried Googling that and came up with everything from conch peas to cream peas. Not sure what they are since I don’t think I’ve had those. If you can find something online with a picture, maybe you can identify them and let us all know.

    I remember my mom having an electric pea sheller. You hooked it up to a hand mixer. They advertised them on the Country Boy Eddie Show on Channel 6 in Birmingham. (The show that gave Tammy Wynette her start.)

  8. RevJATB says:

    Cancerman, you are right: I was very remiss in not mentioning the music. In addition to those you mentioned, one might also mention:

    Emmylou Harris (a graduate of Woodlawn High School in Birmingham), Nell Carter (also from Birmingham), Leontyne Price (from Laurel, Mississippi), Indigo Girls (Atlanta–Emily Saliers’ dad is on the faculty at Emory’s Candler School of Theology), and others too numerous to mention.

  9. Cancerman says:

    I will have to admit I like the food too. Although I will say that the traditional high fat low fiber diet may have contributed to me becomining cancerman. (Kind of like Peter Parker and the radioactive spider.)

  10. Cancerman says:

    I just noticed, all the musicians I mentioned, other than the B’s either came from Macon, have members from Macon, or got their start in Macon. By the way, Little Richard played at a fraternity party my Dad organized.

  11. Sara (the lurker) says:

    I’d like to address the north vs south racism discussion. Having been born and raised in the north, and having lived in both urban and rural areas, I definitely agree that most racism up here stems from a distinct lack of experience with other cultures/races. Of course, I think that is true of any kind of bigotry, but in the north, it plays out that rural areas are overwhelmingly white. I didn’t know about the “sunset towns” and I don’t know how this plays out in the final discussion, but I do know that our rural and even suburban areas are overwhelmingly white. I grew up in a town less than 10 miles outside of Boston(another discussion), and there was one black person in my high school who actually lived in the town.
    I think you are onto something when you say that the south has actually been dealing with racism, while the north has just rested on its (unearned) laurels. Since we never overtly displayed our racism, most northerners seem to think they are indeed more enlightened. Really, racism and any other bigotry seems to stem from a lack of interaction with the other group. Here, if you’re white and don’t live in Dorchester or Mattapan, you likely will not have much quality interaction with the other group. How is it in the south?

  12. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    Thanks for taking this conversation above & beyond its humble beginning.
    The B-52’s have strayed from Athens to NY, most of them, & become PETA-types (not very GA); but they still put on a fun show!
    Here is a Pimento Cheese recipe for you, Mark:
    ~from Father Tom (Our godchild’s Grandpa)

    “Here’s the basic recipe to start”

    1 lb extra sharp cheddar cheese
    chopped or diced pimentos
    1-2 cloves garlic chopped (I use minced garlic out of the jar)
    Mayo (Hellman’s preferred)
    And either: lemon juice, wine vinegar, or Tabasco (I like lemon juice with a little Vermouth)

    “Pretty easy.

  13. Sara (the original) says:

    having been born & raised in the south, and now having lived in the northeast for going on 8 years now, my opinion on the matter is this.

    i think everybody’s about equally racist, it just manifests differently in the north than in the south.

    the south kind of shocks me (and really appalls northern friends who’ve come to visit) in the way that people are just completely open about their own racism. my stepfather tells extremely off-color jokes at the dinner table. my brothers will complain if there are black people walking on the shoulder of the backroads we drive down. i’ve been told, point blank, that if i want to keep everyone happy, i probably shouldn’t marry a black guy. that said, i doubt any of them would openly hurt a person because of their race.

    but in the north, the taboo is more on words than on action. some people won’t even say the word “black” or “african-american” in reference to another person. you do not acknowledge that there is any difference, let alone (god forbid) accidentally letting something un-PC slip.

    i also find up north that ethnicity is much more important than race, and intra-racial conflicts between people of different ethnicities are generally a much bigger deal than black vs. white or whatever. for instance my Brooklyn neighborhood is predominantly black, but it’s split between african-americans, caribbean-americans, and recent west african immigrants. the tensions run much higher between those groups than between the blacks as a group and the whites. in my college there was extreme divisiveness between people who call themselves “Ashkenazi” jews (which really means jews from germany and eastern europe whose ancestors immigrated here during the 19th and early 20th centuries) and “Bukhari” and “Uzbeki” jews (who are as far as i can tell ethnically identical, they’re just more recent immigrants from more isolated parts of the former soviet union). that kind of thing is far more important, in New York at least, than whether you are white or black or asian. though i’m not sure how it translates to the rest of the more Whitewashed north. i definitely know my share of midwesterners who’d never seen a black person in real life until they were teenagers.

  14. Sara (the original) says:

    wow, that was a long comment.

    oh, and boiled peanuts. the fact that you cannot even get the green peanuts up here to make them yourself is just immoral, in my opinion.

    also, good seafood. good barbecue is surprisingly making an appearance, though.

  15. Ruthie says:

    georgian FLANNERY O’CONNOR was my neighbor in ’59 in Milledgeville. She wrote MANNERS, but she was snobby, ugly and rude to me, just because my boy Freddy peed in her cabbage. She went to Sacred Heart Catholic, where some women called me “hussy.”

  16. Brad B says:

    – Plantation homes
    – A general sense that faith has an impact on life and culture, and that it is respected.
    – Festivals for just about anything celebrated in itty-bitty municipalities – for Watermelon, Peaches, Pralines, Poke Salad, Jazz, Chicken – for Antique Tractors and Parts!
    – Just the fact that there’s a geographical allegiance still in the Western hemisphere. There’s a place still called “home.”

  17. Brad B says:

    Oh, and charming downtowns, main streets, and courthouse squares (for the most part – I grew up in Lafayette and Houma, LA, and looking at pictorial histories, both cities demolished gorgeous, character-filled courthouses and replaced them with ugly modern Soviet-bloc-looking edifices).

  18. RevJATB says:

    Brad, I heart poke salat!

    The Poke Salat Festival is held in Arab, Alabama each year. Here’s the web site:

  19. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    I guess you know y’all have done flung a cravin’ on me. I’ll bring you some pimento cheese tomorrow, dv.

  20. RevJATB says:

    Yum! You gonna bring a mess o’ little white peas too? Or maybe some poke salat?

  21. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    My friend T wonders, “what about Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house, southern hospitality, cheerwine, Sally Lunn bread, and a general laid back, easy going attitude?”

    I know I’ve seen cheerwine here in the past. That “Sunday dinner at Grandma’s” reminds me of Ang. and Barn sitting on Aint Bee’s porch after Sunday dinner…

  22. RevJATB says:

    I was extremely remiss in not putting Cheerwine on the list.

    My mom used to make Sally Lunn bread, but I have never thought of that as a Southern thing. Maybe it is though: I’ve never thought about that.

    I would file Southern hospitality under the “manners” category above. It’s just plain impolite not to be hospitable!

  23. What American accent do you have? Your Result: The South That’s a Southern accent you’ve got there. You may love it, you may hate it, you may swear you don’t have it, but whatever the case, we can hear it.The Midland The Inland North The West The Northeast Philadelphia Boston North Central What American accent do you have?Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

  24. Sara (the original) says:

    i got “the midland” which made me extremely sad. though i’m blaming it on the confusion caused by 6 years in NYC: all my “ah”s are starting to sound like “aw”s. sometimes i even catch myself saying things like “cawfee” and “tawk”. i think i’m having the reverse problem to vrouw — i’m turning into a yankee! oy gevalt! oh, now i’m really a yankee — i said “oy gevalt!”

  25. RevJATB says:

    Don’t worry, Sara, I scored as “Midland” too, which is kind of laughable if you’ve ever heard me talk. But on a similar quiz once I scored as “78% Dixie”, which is probably more like it.

    And I also have been known to say “Oy.” Very rarely “Oy gevalt,” but frequently “Oy.”

  26. TimmyRalph says:

    You’re makin’ me hate England!
    Sacred Harp!
    What about the Southern Harmony and Musical Companion?

  27. RevJATB says:

    Welcome Tim! And thanks for de-lurkifying yourself.

    It would be the farthest thing from the mind of an Anglophile like myself to make anyone hate England! Perish the thought!

    Yes, the Southern Harmony is great too. My grandmother sang from the Christian Harmony, which was similar, except it used all seven syllables (do, re, mi, etc.) instead of just fa-so-la.

    I also have a copy of the Missouri Harmony right here on my shelf, which has some great tunes in it too.

    Talk to us more, Tim!

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