The Evolution of the American South

Virginia Postrel: I carry a few sort of interesting, and in some ways unexpected things from my childhood. One is that I grew up in Greenville in the deep South in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And my parents, while they were not activists, they were supportive of the Civil Rights Movement at a time when that was an unusual position to take. And one thing that I learned from them I’ve realized in my adult life was how to be both a dissident, different, and also very mainstream at the same time, because they were very imbedded in their local community. They were not alienated from it. They were not weird in any way, but they had these very different views. And that’s something . . . In that particular case it was the Civil Rights Movement, and obviously growing up in the era, in that place, issues of race are issues that can . . . they don’t . . . they’re not at the center of my work, but they inform my background and who I am somewhat. But the real thing that I learned from them was about being different, but also mainstream as opposed to having to see yourself as sort of an alternative, or being alienated from the general culture. At the same time, growing up there and having the personality that I have, and being female, and being very sort of assertive and intellectual, I was very alienated from the local culture. And so I was very happy to leave, I have to say, with all due respect to the fine people in Greenville. And so that’s another thing. Another aspect is that it is the buckle of the Bible belt. My family is liberal but devout Christians. I come from . . . My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. I come from a very churchgoing background. I am not myself especially religious, and I also converted to Judaism in my early adult life. So I’m very different from that, but the fact that I grew up in that culture, that I really know the Bible, but I really know what it’s like to be a religious person who is an actual believer where it informs every aspect of their life, and to live in a culture where that’s normal is another thing that I carry with me into my life in this sort of public realm. And then finally, and the one that most directly informs my work, is that I lived in a poor place at a time that it was experiencing economic growth.

 

After World War II, the U.S. South was basically a rich third world country.

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