Originally created 04/24/04

Expert expounds on 'Southern'



EDGEFIELD - Intertwined with the quaintness and charm of the Home of Ten Governors is the history of bloody duels and gory fights that took place in the Old Edgefield District - a paradox that typifies Southern culture.

"This place had a reputation for being violent, and it was only the 18th century," said Roy Vandegrift III, a Southern historian and author. "They would have rough-and-tumble fights where the men could bite off another man's ears or gouge his eyes out."

Smack dab in the middle of the Palmetto State's Peach Belt, in the town known for its pottery and politics, Mr. Vandegrift explored the essence of Southernness at the 2004 Landmark Conference, a meeting of historical societies from around the state.

The attitudes, faith, food and even words that are often referred to as Southern were brought over the Atlantic Ocean by groups of settlers who were already warring among themselves. The harshness of life is reflected in the lean, serious faces that stare back from photographs of those who built towns such as Edgefield, Mr. Vandegrift said.

"This country was settled by four different groups of Englishmen who had been battling each other for seven centuries. And they didn't like each other much when they got here," Mr. Vandegrift said.

But the heart of Southernness isn't always the stereotypical redneck - a term coined in 1830 for Presbyterians in North Carolina who wore red scarves around their necks after joining the faith.

The notion of the hillbilly and the backward Southerner, identified by the sugary drawl or up-holler twang, has been shaped by vaudeville and popular culture, said Dr. Dan T. Carter, a history professor at the University of South Carolina.

"I've lived in Italy, and Northern Italians make exactly the same kind of generalizations about Southern Italians and Sicilians who have a distinct accent," Dr. Carter said.

He said too often when people talk about "Southerners," they are unconsciously referring to white Southerners.

"Above all, the distinctive biracial history, which is often tragic, lies at the heart of the creation of the region's uniqueness," Dr. Carter said.

Jannie Harriot, the chairwoman of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, said the group is working to get historical markers at locations where black schools were.

"We want all of our histories to be remembered," Mrs. Harriot said. "We also want to preserve as many of these sites as possible before the history is lost."

While Southerners can still be a bit defensive when their honor is threatened, it is their warmth and hospitality that people remember the most about the South.

"In general, it is a place where you can strike up a conversation with someone you don't know or feel welcomed into a stranger's home," Dr. Carter said. "I don't know whether this will survive the onslaught of modernism, but I wish it would."

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395.

or karen.ethridge@augustachronicle.com.

SOUTHERN SPEAK

These words were recognized before the Revolutionary War as "Scots-Irish speech:"

Bumfuzzled: Confused

Scoot: Slide

Skift: A dusting of snow

Lettin’ on: Pretending

Brickle: Brittle

Source: Roy Vandegrift III, historian and lecturer