No lie, the average Yankee knows about as much about the South as a hog knows about the Lord's plan for salvation.
-- William Price Fox
Let's get it straight up front: these are a thousand and one things everyone should know about the South, not the thousand and one, OK? We were just getting started when we had to quit. And they're our thousand and one. If you don't like our list, make your own.
But, seriously, we had a hard time choosing. What you've got here are 1001 paragraphs dealing with subjects we think are important, or interesting, or even both. Many are things you've probably heard of but don't exactly know. We haven't mentioned some things we assume everybody does know, and, frankly, some things we left out because they're boring.
Maybe we didn't leave out everything boring (we have to live with our consciences), but this doesn't pretend to be a reference book or a comprehensive overview. There are plenty of both, and we've drawn freely on them, but this is our own idiosyncratic catalog of Southern people, places, and -- well, "things" that we wish everybody knew, but suspect they don't.
The people may be overrepresented. A third or so of these items are about them, and a good many more are about groups or organizations. Even some of the places and things are excuses to talk about people. But it is Southern people, after all, who've made the South the South -- that is, something more than just the southeastern United States. And there'd be even more people in here if we knew who invented pork barbecue and the shimmy.
This format inevitably suggests that we think our 1001 things are of roughly equal importance. All we can do is deny it (while recognizing that equal billing for Robert E. Lee, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Moon Pie should offend just about everybody). We haven't even been consistent from chapter to chapter. When it comes to sports and music we've treated only the really major -- original or world-class -- figures. For religion and business we've mostly gone with the colorful or odd. For Confederate statesmen and soldiers and Southern literary folk, it's a mixture: some are important, some just amusing. Surely everybody knows that there have been notable Southern musicians, writers, athletes, soldiers -- even entrepreneurs -- so we've just given a few representative or peculiar or truly great examples. But many people don't know that there are Southern artists worth knowing, so there we dug deeper. Perhaps we should have done the same for areas like education, science, and medicine -- but see our next book, 1001 MORE Things Everyone Should Know about the South.
In general, we've focused on things that make the South different from the rest of America. After all, the American South is a complex modern society, just a little bit less complicated than the nation as a whole, and we needed a principle of selection. But we violated that rule whenever it seemed like a good idea, examining how the South is not different, when that's surprising or insufficently appreciated.
Our "things" may be too historical for some tastes, but our own view is the Southern one (see 475) that (as Faulkner wrote, famously) "The past is never dead. It's not even past." So many "Southern things" are rooted in the region's history, so much of that history colors the present, that half the time we don't know which is which. We've tried to strike a balance, to include a good deal of history without turning this into a book about Southern history. But, although we start with Spanish Florida (82) and Captain John Smith (442), we tend to believe that the South didn't really become The South until the sectional crisis of the 1830s, so we haven't said much about the earlier period.
At the same time, we've also gone easy on the current scene. Maybe Southerners like R.E.M. and the B-52s should be in our music chapter, for instance, but, then again, maybe they'll go the way of earlier groups like John Fred and His Playboy Band ("Judy in Disguise") and the Swingin' Medallions ("Double Shot of My Baby's Love"). Time will tell. Meanwhile, we'll stick with Bessie Smith (589) and Johnny Mercer (604).
As for our definition of "the South" -- well, that's partly what chapter 1 is about. We've included the easy ones: the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. Also Louisiana, although it complicates our discussion of everything from food to religion. Virginia for historical reasons, if nothing else. And the rest of the former Confederacy: the states of Texas and Florida and the territory of Oklahoma. (In many ways they don't look Southern these days and in some ways they never did, and putting them in made our job a lot harder, but damned if we'll let them go without a fight.) Kentucky's in here, too. A state known for fast horses, bourbon whiskey, and fried chicken just can't be left out of the South. Besides, it had a star in the Confederate flag, even if that was mostly wishful thinking. Missouri had a star, too, but that's more of a stretch. We've treated the Show-Me State the same way we've handled Maryland and West Virginia: it's Southern when it suits us and not when it doesn't -- which is, in fact, pretty much the way the citizens of those states seem to feel about it.
And who's a Southerner? Well, Southern birth and residence will usually do it, as far as we're concerned. But it would be perverse to exclude Southerners who made careers in the North: that's often where the careers were, especially in the arts, and show business, and sports. We're inclined to claim folks who spent their formative years in Dixie (certainly if they ever spoke of themselves as Southerners), but we've generally omitted those who left at an early age, like Nat "King" Cole (b. Montgomery but raised in Chicago) or Jim Henson (b. Leland, Mississippi, but raised in D.C.). On the other hand, we've included many from elsewhere who made their lives in the South and contributed to it.
Finally, there's one Northern characteristic that we have to mention. Faulkner's character Gavin Stevens talks about Yankees' "volitionless, almost helpless capacity and eagerness to believe anything about the South not even provided it be derogatory but merely bizarre enough and strange enough." If you run across any blatant falsehoods in this book, consider the possibility that we put them in on purpose, to test that proposition.