Access

You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.

login

Log in to your personal account or through your institution.

From Azaleas to Zydeco

From Azaleas to Zydeco: My 4,600-Mile Journey through the South

Mark W. Nichols
Copyright Date: 2013
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1ffjqwb
Find more content in these subjects:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    From Azaleas to Zydeco
    Book Description:

    Inspired by a 1937 map and travelogue of a newspaperman's tour, author Mark W. Nichols embarked on his own long journey into the unique cities of the South. En route he met beekeepers, cheese makers, crawfish "bawlers," duck callers, and a licensed alligator hunter, as well as entrepreneurs and governors. His keen observations encompass the southern states from Virginia to Arkansas and points south, and he unpacks the unique qualities of every city he visits. "It's easy to say that getting to meet so many interesting and wonderful people was the best part of the journey--because it's true," Nichols writes. "I know there are friendly people everywhere, but southern friendliness is different." His story embraces a wealth of southern charm from local characters, folklore, and customs to food, music, and dancing. Besides being just plain fun to read, Nichols's account of his journey gives readers a true taste of the flavor of the evolving modern South.

    eISBN: 978-1-935106-66-1
    Subjects: Sociology, American Studies
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. 7-10)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. 11-13)
  4. Introduction (pp. 14-19)

    A few years ago, I visited a coffee shop in a small midwestern town. The shop’s owner leased space to a local entrepreneur who sold used books. The books sat on crude wooden shelves in no particular order. On one shelf I saw an old frayed volume, its tan cover bordered in faded green. The spine bore a title that intrigued me,A Southerner Discovers the South. The author, Jonathan Daniels, was unknown to me. Later I learned that Mr. Daniels was publisher of theRaleigh News and Observerbut had left his North Carolina home in the spring of...

  5. [Map] (pp. 20-21)
  6. The Third Battle of Manassas (pp. 22-26)

    Jonathan Daniels began his 4,600-mile Journey crossing the Potomac River from the District of Columbia into Virginia on what was then a new bridge. He stopped to talk with a retiree fishing off the bridge before going on to the Custis-Lee House at Arlington National Cemetery. He writes:

    You turn into the long Memorial Bridge. Look up, then, and see it on the hill. Arlington by any seeing must be the façade of the South. Grandly and sweetly and green the hill runs up to the great house from the river.

    The ornate, early twentieth-century bridge still carries traffic across...

  7. Polo Place (pp. 27-32)

    It’s hard to know precisely when you leave NoVa. Uncut grass lots and buildings needing a paint job dot the sides of the highway. Hand-painted signs nailed to trees advertise local tradesmen. There’s still a lot of traffic, but no longer urban. Things are beginning to look southern.

    South from Manassas, the roads have great names: the James Madison Highway, Zachary Taylor Highway, Old Plank Road. Localities now develop brand highways for marketing purposes. Virginia Highway 20 has been renamed Constitution Highway. I assumed the highway leads to mansions owned by the major figures in our Constitution’s creation: Montpelier, James...

  8. Travel Notes: What’s a Cavalier? (pp. 33-34)

    When the United States first became populated with white people, most of them came from Great Britain. Puritans went north to New England. The South, which at that time consisted only of Virginia, got Cavaliers. I’m not sure why these Englishmen migrated to different places, but it may have to do with the fact that they didn’t get along too well back in the motherland.

    Now I’m not great on my English history, but the Cavaliers were supporters of King Charles I, while the Puritans were not. I think that the Cavaliers didn’t mind making life miserable for the Puritans...

  9. RVa (pp. 35-38)

    Some thirty years ago, a Virginia author named Garrett Epps wroteThe Shad Treatment, a novel set in Richmond, the capital city of Virginia, introducing his reader to an aristocracy that ruled the city. The aristocracy dominated the rosters of two social clubs, the Country Club of Virginia and the Commonwealth Club. They owned weekend retreats on the Rappahannock River, their “Rivah houses,” which they grandly identify in a southern accent not really known outside the Tidewater area of Virginia.

    I am told that Mr. Epps’ accounting of Richmond society is largely accurate even today and that, though there have...

  10. All Come to Look for America (pp. 39-43)

    In 1780, the state of Virginia moved its capital from Williamsburg to Richmond. For the next century and a half, time passed Williamsburg by and it deteriorated. In February 1924, the rector of the local Williamsburg Episcopal Church attended a Phi Beta Kappa dinner in New York City. The rector met John D. Rockefeller Jr. there. The rector from that small southern town, Reverend W. A. R. Godwin, inquired whether Mr. Rockefeller might be interested in providing funds to build a Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall in Williamsburg. (Williamsburg is the home of the College of William and Mary, the...

  11. Travel Notes: What’s a Tar Heel? (pp. 44-46)

    North Carolina has a strange nickname—the Tar Heel State. What, exactly, is a Tar Heel? Medical condition? Maybe, but probably not. Is it one word or two? Generally, two. More importantly, why do these people go by that name?

    The derivation ofTar Heelis murky. It somehow originates from North Carolina’s primary export during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—naval stores. From before the American Revolution through the end of the Civil War, North Carolina sent more naval stores to its sister colonies and England than any other place. Pine trees were burned to produce tar and pitch,...

  12. Dobbies and Pout Houses (pp. 47-49)

    Warren County, North Carolina, sits near the Virginia border. Its county seat is Warrenton. Jonathan Daniels stopped here in 1937, supposedly to locate a poker game said to have been going on since the Civil War. Evidently, the city fathers played poker while letting progress pass them by. Downtown Warrenton consists mostly of a quaint little courthouse, an old hardware store which now houses a café, and the Warren County Restoration Center which ironically resides in a tumbledown, unrestored building.

    Just off the square, I saw a sign in the window of a hair salon advertising “Relaxer and a Dobbie—...

  13. The Research Triangle (pp. 50-55)

    Unlike most southern state capitals, Raleigh doesn’t draw its economic vitality from an expanding state government. Raleigh’s vibrancy comes from a bold experiment started some fifty-five years ago—the Research Triangle. In the early 1950s, Raleigh was designated one of the vertices in a triangle of research to be formed with Durham and Chapel Hill, specifically, the area’s educational institutions. The three universities were North Carolina State University in Raleigh, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Duke University in Durham. The state government and business leaders called on these three schools to act, in appropriate circumstances, as...

  14. Sustainability in Greensboro (pp. 56-62)

    Greensboro is the major city in the area that North Carolinians call the Triad, an area formed by the cities Winston-Salem, High Point, and Greensboro. (Remember, the name “triangle” was taken already.) The Triad has a population of 1.6 million people. The greenest hotel in America is located in Greensboro—but not because of the town’s name.

    The “green” in Greensboro honors General Nathanael Greene, the Quaker Revolutionary War hero. The Quaker influence in Greensboro doesn’t stop with its name. Largely because of its Quaker influence, Greensboro was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Some believe the whole Underground...

  15. Trains, Furniture, and Krispy Kreme (pp. 63-66)

    High Point, North Carolina, is part of the Triad, a bedroom community for the other two Triad towns, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Most of the people I met from High Point commute into Greensboro to work. But High Point is more than an appendage of Greensboro and Winston-Salem: It’s the Home Furnishing Capital of the World.

    High Point’s name comes from the fact that it was literally the highest point on the North Carolina Railroad line. The highest point on the line was the most convenient place to re-fuel trains during the nineteenth century, and soon a community formed around the...

  16. Towel Town No More (pp. 67-70)

    In 1906, James W. Cannon built a mill on his 600-acre cotton plantation. He also built a village beside the mill for the workers. At first, the village was called Cannon City, but the name was soon changed to Kannapolis. Some say the name is Greek for “city of looms.” Others say that J. W. wasn’t that fancy. He didn’t know any Greek and most likely just changed the spelling to avoid confusion with his other business enterprises.

    In time, Cannon’s mill town, located some thirty miles from Charlotte, grew to become the largest towel and sheet manufacturer in the...

  17. Sister City (pp. 71-74)

    When J. W. Cannon built his huge mill complex in Kannapolis, he lived just down the road in Concord, the county seat of Cabarrus County. While J. W. and his executives commuted to work in Kannapolis, the commuter road really only went one way. No one in Kannapolis worked in Concord. Kannapolians didn’t commute; they lived and worked at the Cannon complex.

    Since Jonathan Daniels’ visit in the 1930s, Charlotte has sprawled around both towns. Kannapolis and Concord are like siblings who share a common ancestor but took different directions in life. In Kannapolis, the mills are obliterated and huge...

  18. They Glue Lug Nuts on Wheels (pp. 75-82)

    Recently Charlotte has had two things going for it—banking and NASCAR. Banking is relatively new. In 1980, only one North Carolina bank was included in the top twenty-five banking companies in the United States, and that bank wasn’t headquartered in Charlotte. Twenty-five years later, Charlotte was the headquarters for two of the country’s largest banks, Bank of America and Wachovia. More than a regional force, Charlotte became a national banking center. It was no longer a way station between DC and Atlanta or anywhere else for that matter. It was a destination. At one time, one of every five...

  19. Ella May’s Ghost (pp. 83-88)

    Gastonia was the third former mill town on Jonathan Daniels’ Journey. Closer geographically to downtown Charlotte than Concord and Kannapolis, it’s been a part of the Charlotte metro area longer. That relationship hasn’t been so positive for Gastonia. Let’s put it this way, modern Gastonia could be a finalist in a contest for the Piedmont town with the most parking lot surface. In short, Gastonia has been bypassed.

    When Daniels passed through in the mid-1930s, Gastonia was famous for its labor unrest. In 1934, during what later became known as the General Strike of 1934, Gastonia’s main street was the...

  20. America’s First Civil War Battle (pp. 89-93)

    I left the city behind. Besides the traffic, one of the problems of spending a few days in a metropolitan area is how quickly you lose connection with the land. Charlotte is part of the Piedmont, but traveling around in the center of the city, you lose appreciation of the area’s natural beauty. Once you leave the city’s tall buildings and concrete, the natural beauty of the Piedmont reintroduces itself with rolling green hills and azure sky. Soon I exited the interstate at the Kings Mountain Military Park exit. This National Park memorializes the Revolutionary War battle fought here.

    About...

  21. Hub-Bub in the Hub City (pp. 94-98)

    Spartanburg, South Carolina, is edgy. Not at all what I thought I would find here in upstate South Carolina. Spartanburg lies a few miles from the intersection of Interstate 85 and Interstate 26 some seventy-five miles west of Charlotte and thirty-five miles from the North Carolina state line. Some of Spartanburg’s edginess may come from directional confusion. Generally, interstate highways ending in even numbers run east/west, while those with odd numbers go north/south. But going from Spartanburg west to Atlanta requires taking I-85. But if you want to go north to Asheville, North Carolina, or south to Charleston, South Carolina,...

  22. Downtown New South (pp. 99-103)

    Greenville, South Carolina, is a surprisingly large southern town with a stated population of 71,000. Apparently South Carolina has stringent laws concerning annexation, so a lot of development has occurred outside of Greenville proper. Greenville’s population figures don’t really reflect its metropolitan area or character. The metro area is estimated to be over 600,000. Neither of these population figures prepared me for the sight of downtown Greenville on a late winter Saturday night.

    So let me set it up. I was ten or twelve miles away from downtown Greenville a few minutes before 8:00 on an early spring Saturday evening....

  23. Jerusalem Artichokes and Robert Kennedy (pp. 104-107)

    The ambient temperature changes dramatically where the Carolina Piedmont gives way to the Appalachian Mountains. It is estimated that temperature changes three degrees for every thousand feet of elevation change. So Greenville, which sits at about a thousand feet above sea level, is much hotter and more humid than the mountain towns as close as forty miles away because the nearby mountain towns sit over 3,000 feet above sea level. In early spring, when it’s pleasantly warm in Greenville, the mountains are chilly. In July and August, when Greenville reaches 100 degrees with plenty of humidity, the dry, cooler mountain...

  24. The Mountains (pp. 108-111)

    Munching fried peanuts as I left Lester’s place, I looked at the straight, flat highway ahead of me. A few miles from Lester’s place, a dramatic rock outcropping known as Caesar’s Head came into clear view. Apparently this rock feature looked to early travelers like Julius Caesar’s profile protruding from the mountain, thus the name. Caesar’s Head marks the beginning of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and the Appalachian Mountains. As you head into the mountains, the road, the land, and the people change. No more straight roads for a while.

    I contemplated leaving the Piedmont portion of the Journey. Jonathan...

  25. Cashiers (pp. 112-116)

    It’s not a mountaintop, but a valley. It’s not an incorporated town, but a community. It’s not pronounced “Cashears” but “Cashurs.” Despite its strange name, Cashiers—along with its neighbor town, Highlands—caters to the high end of the mountain tourist trade.

    The name Cashiers is derived from a bull owned by South Carolina’s most famous citizen, General Wade Hampton. A Civil War hero at First Manassas, Hampton later became South Carolina’s governor and finally its senator. General Hampton owned most of the land in the valley. He also owned two bulls, Brutus and Cassius. Cassius ran away, got tangled...

  26. Franklin (pp. 117-120)

    The drive from Cashiers to Franklin is remarkable. It’s about ten miles from Cashiers to the next town, Highlands. During those ten miles, the altitude rises about 700 feet through a two-lane mountain road. From Highlands, it’s twenty miles, mostly downhill, to the town of Franklin, the county seat of Macon County, North Carolina. On this stretch, Highway 64 literally twists around the Cullasaja River Gorge. The North Carolina Highway Department conveniently constructed vehicle pull-off areas so drivers can leave the highway and let faster traffic pass or simply enjoy the waterfalls at the highway’s edge. This is hard mountain...

  27. The Smoky Mountains (pp. 121-126)

    The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is reputed to be within a day’s drive of sixty percent of the United States’ population. I don’t know if I believe this factoid: I guess the critical element would be how one defines a day’s drive. These people might be coming from St. Louis, Cleveland, and Washington DC, which I guess you can make in a day’s drive. But those cities sure seem a long way away.

    Proximity to the country’s population centers is the reason given for why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the...

  28. Good Old Rocky Top (pp. 127-133)

    To get from Gatlinburg to Knoxville, you pass Pigeon Forge, the home of Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood. Pigeon Forge’s tourist attractions seem to be on steroids, much larger and flashier than Gatlinburg’s, which seem downright old-fashioned in their trashiness. Forget about the quiet of High Hampton and the quaintness of Ron Haven’s Budget Inn. Pigeon Forge is all about flash, outlet malls, and four-lane highways. After Pigeon Forge, the mountains and mountain tourist industry are in the rearview mirror. It’s a return to the real world.

    Knoxville is Tennessee’s third-largest city and the capital of east Tennessee. Every time...

  29. Norris, the Planned Community (pp. 134-138)

    Remember Lester Galloway, the friendly, unshaven seller of honey bee brittle and fried peanuts? From his name, I knew he was a probably a “cracker”—that particular strain of upland South white people who emigrated from the Celtic areas of Great Britain and populated the mountainous backwoods of early America.

    As Grady McWhiney noted inCracker Culture, crackers migrated to east Tennessee and other areas of the Appalachians:

    Such a region was ideally suited for the clannish, herding, leisure-loving Celts, who relished whiskey, gambling and combat, and who despised hard work, anything English, most government, fences and any other restraints...

  30. Hard-bitten Land (pp. 139-145)

    Tennessee’s Copper Basin is only a few miles south of U.S. Highway 64. It’s not so much a basin as a broad valley lodged between a series of hills near the junction of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. The Copper Basin has two small towns, Ducktown—named after Chief Duck of the Cherokees—and Copperhill. It’s also home to one of the prettiest rivers I’ve seen. It’s such a beautiful river that it has been given two names. In Georgia, it’s the Toccoa River. When it crosses the state line into Tennessee, it becomes the Ocoee. A river so pretty...

  31. Chattanooga Rebound (pp. 146-151)

    I took Anita Ebersole’s advice about traveling from Ducktown to Chattanooga, even though it made no sense at the time. Anita sent me an e-mail saying:

    Ducktown is approximately 70 miles from Chattanooga. Due to the beautiful scenery which you will want to slow down to admire, it will take you about an hour and a half to two hours.

    Anita is an aide to Chattanooga’s mayor. I thought she was being very conservative about the travel time. With over half of the trip on four-lane highway, averaging thirty-five to forty miles an hour seemed awfully slow. But she was...

  32. A Civil Misunderstanding (pp. 152-154)

    Just up from the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, there are two bookstores: one bright and well lit, featuring new books by regional authors; the other dark, dusty, and severely over-crowded with shelves of old books and stuff overflowing onto the floor. The owner of the latter bookstore, a woman I later discovered was seventy-five years old, greeted me and asked if she could help. I declined her offer, saying that I just wanted to browse. The next customer, a young woman with a child, requested books for homeschoolers. The proprietress confirmed that she sold such books and added, “It’s your...

  33. Alabama Retail (pp. 155-160)

    Alabama is about thirty miles from Chattanooga. It’s not the nearest neighboring state to downtown Chattanooga—that would be Georgia. The route to Alabama takes you through northwest Georgia. Traveling through three states in thirty minutes is a record for the Journey.

    Jackson County is the corner of northeast Alabama. Scottsboro, a town of 15,000 people, is the county seat. Locals here are tired of being reminded of their claim to fame. Back in 1931, nine African-American youths were convicted and sentenced to death for raping two white women, fellow hobos, in a freight car running between Chattanooga and Memphis....

  34. Alabama Wholesale (pp. 161-167)

    Traveling across the top of Alabama, the first real city that appears is Huntsville. When Jonathan Daniels arrived during his Journey, Huntsville was a quiet little community that led the state in cotton production. Today it is well-populated: About 180,000 people live within the city limits and another 250,000 in the area.

    Cotton has taken a backseat to something more modern. Huntsville is “Rocket City.” For the past two generations, Huntsville has been a big cog in this country’s space program. Beginning with the arrival of Dr. Wernher von Braun, at the end of World War II and through the...

  35. Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway (pp. 168-171)

    If I were leaving Florence to catch a plane, I’d travel to Nashville the same way as Billy Reid does every couple of weeks. I’d start back the way I came: east on Alabama Highway 72, the famous Lee Highway, to Interstate 65, which I’d then take north to Nashville. It’s a distance of 150 miles and takes less than two and a half hours, if you’re lucky with Nashville traffic.

    Since I wasn’t catching a plane, I took roughly the same path Jonathan Daniels did: west toward the state of Mississippi and the Natchez Trace Parkway. Rather than fight...

  36. Nashville Hootenanny (pp. 172-180)

    Loveless’ Café sits just outside the Natchez Trace Parkway terminus. People who went to school in Nashville swear by Loveless’. To be honest, it looked like one of those chain country restaurants with rocking chairs out front, the ones you see on interstate exits. I later discovered that it had expanded recently—opening a live music venue. Locals say that, while not all the changes are for the better, Loveless’ Café is still a pretty good place to get what they call a “meat and three.”

    To be precise, the Natchez Trace Parkway doesn’t end in Nashville, but rather in...

  37. Mississippi Embayment (pp. 181-182)

    The rolling hills of middle Tennessee transition to flatland just east of Memphis. Welcome to the Delta. The Mississippi Embayment is the fancy name for the lower Mississippi Delta. According to University of Memphis professors Roy B. Van Arsdale and Randall Cox, this embayment formed about 95 million years ago when the earth’s crust warped upward from southeastern Missouri south to Louisiana and east from the present-day Tennessee River, and west to Little Rock, Arkansas, possibly rising two or three kilometers above sea level. Later, 24-to-85 million years ago, the area which had been lifted started going the other direction...

  38. Travel Notes: What’s a Julep? (pp. 183-185)

    Negotiating the 200 miles from Nashville to Memphis can create a thirst, and in the capital of the most southern place in America, what better way is there to quench a road thirst than with a mint julep? I came to know the mint julep on the Journey. Jonathan Daniels mentioned that he drank juleps during his travels and took great care to note the regional variations in this classic beverage. Solely to make the book more authentic, I did the same, though I did make a slight detour into Sazeracs while visiting New Orleans. But that’s a whole different...

  39. Day Trip to Arkansas (pp. 186-194)

    Leaving downtown Memphis, you immediately climb skyward toward the expanse of steel and cable crossing the Mississippi River into Arkansas. The bridge is high, the river wide. And every time I cross it, I think of the New Madrid fault, the seismic scar which runs from southern Illinois through southern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas. From December 1811 until February 1812, the region recorded four of the largest earthquakes in North American history. These earthquakes were so severe they rang church bells in Boston—and caused the mighty Mississippi to change its course. Whenever I’m on the bridge, I wonder what...

  40. The Delta in Mississippi (pp. 195-200)

    Graceland, home of Elvis Presley, is just a few miles from downtown Memphis. It’s reportedly the most visited house in the country, outside of the White House. The house is about 17,000 square feet, surprisingly modest compared to the mansions of modern music stars. It sits prominently on fourteen acres of land. Even those who aren’t fans of Elvis need to visit Graceland once. You might be surprised how Elvis’ music and story grow on you.

    Less than four miles south of Graceland is the Mississippi state line. Signs direct travelers to Tunica, the Las Vegas of the South. To...

  41. Cosmopolitan Helena (pp. 201-207)

    In the 1930s, Jonathan Daniels had a hard time getting to Helena from Sherard. It must have taken most of a day because there were few paved roads and no bridge across the Mississippi, only two ferryboats. Today it’s a short thirty-minute drive to Helena crossing the river by way of the bridge at Lula, Mississippi. Beside the bridge is a casino. Passing it on the highway, the casino appears to be a small one. By the looks of the parking lot, it must be popular with commercial truck drivers.

    The Mississippi River Bridge lands in Arkansas at about the...

  42. Duck Gumbo (pp. 208-215)

    Just past Crowley’s Ridge, the discriminating traveler notices subtle changes. The land doesn’t change—it’s still flat and open—but now there’s no cotton. It looks like those pictures of Vietnam: rice paddies with humped irrigation ditches snaking throughout the fields. You’re in the Grand Prairie.

    The prairie’s existence in Arkansas remains an enigma. The prairie has a thin layer of topsoil. Below that is a thick layer of clay, which is all but impenetrable to both water and roots. This clay substratum allowed only grasses and wildflowers to thrive on the Grand Prairie. Since the thin prairie soil was...

  43. Meeting the Governor (pp. 216-220)

    Though it has a large landmass, Arkansas is a small state. With a population of less than three million people, its citizens tend to know (or know about) one another. Some people contend that Bill Clinton met more than half the entire state’s population before getting his promotion to Washington.

    I have lived three blocks from the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion for almost thirty years and have met every one of its inhabitants during that time. They are my neighbors. The route I take to walk my dog follows the western edge of the mansion’s property. One spring day, I saw...

  44. Water, Water Everywhere (pp. 221-226)

    Hot Springs, Arkansas, a small city of about 35,000 people, is about as far west as this Journey goes. Williamsburg and the Atlantic coast are over 1,000 miles away. Indian country, the Oklahoma border, is less than 100 miles away. We’re in the center of America now. The U.S. Census Bureau places America’s population center in southwestern Missouri, a few hundred miles to the north of Hot Springs.

    Remember Concord, North Carolina, and its sister city Kannapolis, the small towns which are now suburbs of Charlotte? Both places had to restrict their growth because of the lack of water. Hot...

  45. I’m Only 75 (pp. 227-229)

    Lake Chicot, the largest oxbow lake in North America, is located in the southeastern corner of Arkansas just before you get to the Greenville Bridge which crosses the Mississippi River. An oxbow lake forms when a river bend gets separated from the river. In this case, Lake Chicot used to be a big bend in the Mississippi River, but around 600 years ago, the river cut a new channel. Now the former river bed is a lake almost three-quarters of a mile wide and twenty-two miles long. It’s huge. When you see it from a plane, Lake Chicot looks like...

  46. Nitta Yuma (pp. 230-233)

    The Delta can be seen as a collection of small dying villages as America consolidates into metropolitan areas. If you look at maps from the 1930s, there were a lot of small towns in the Mississippi Delta. Most of them are gone now. In the Mississippi Delta, each new major north-south road was built on higher ground farther from the river. Highway 1, the great river road, literally bumps up against the river’s levees at times. Some fifteen miles farther east, U.S. Highway 61 was built. Later still, Interstate 55 came and was built farther east still.

    As the major...

  47. A Coffee Shop in Vicksburg (pp. 234-238)

    The sudden appearance of hills reinforced the impression that I was no longer in the Delta. I hadn’t seen a hill or even a hillock since I left Hot Springs. Arriving in Vicksburg, I’d left the Delta behind.

    David Cohen, a twentieth-century writer from Greenville, Mississippi, has said the Delta starts at the steps of the Peabody Hotel and ends in Vicksburg. Vicksburg and Natchez, its neighbor to the south, are different from the Delta because they are river towns born to ship cotton, not grow it. The two towns seem to have a sibling-like attitude toward each other, a...

  48. Mississippi Praying (pp. 239-246)

    Like Little Rock, Jackson is a small, livable city of about 185,000 people. Jackson has sprawled to the north, and the metropolitan area is about two to three times that number. At the intersection of I-55 and I-520, shiny new multi-story buildings house old-line law firms, banks, and other white-collar enterprises. Ten miles north in Canton, a Nissan plant employs 4,000 people. Most Jackson-area commuters spend less than twenty-five minutes getting to work, and that’s only during the worst of the rush-hour traffic.

    Of all the southern states, Mississippi perhaps embodied racial hatred most. It was home to the “Mississippi...

  49. Wide Spot on Highway 28 (pp. 247-249)

    The modern route from Jackson to Natchez doesn’t go through Union Church, Mississippi, like it did in the 1930s. Interstate 55 passes thirty miles east and takes you twenty miles south of Union Church where it intersects with the new four-lane highway to Natchez. The old route, Mississippi State Highway 28, winds through the gently rolling hills and piney woods of rural Copiah County. Unlike the Delta, where I had seen no new construction, these piney woods have an occasional construction site and a few newly constructed brick houses, nothing large or showy, just basic three-bedroom, two-bath houses. There was...

  50. Not a Soul in Sight (pp. 250-250)

    In Tidewater Virginia, I traveled the Colonial Parkway. I passed near the Blue Ridge Parkway a couple of times while traveling through the mountains of western North Carolina. I spent a great afternoon traveling from Florence, Alabama, to Nashville, Tennessee, on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

    Now taking a slight detour into Natchez, I picked the Trace back up again. It was just as remote in Mississippi as I remembered it being in Tennessee. Not a soul in sight, and after ten miles of traveling, I hadn’t seen a car coming or going. While the cell phone companies have done a...

  51. The Rose Lady Comes to Camellia Land (pp. 251-253)

    Founded in 1716, Natchez is older than Vicksburg, which wasn’t settled by Europeans for another ninety-five years. Natchez is prettier, largely due to its treatment during the Civil War. Residents from both cities claim that Natchez surrendered after one shot. It’s a point of pride in Natchez. Only one Natchez house was destroyed during the Yankee occupation because the locals tried to get along with the invaders. The sole loss supposedly occurred because the homeowners offended a Yankee officer during a social event.

    The population of Natchez is around 18,000. It’s relatively remote—sixty-two miles from Interstate 20 and seventy...

  52. The Salon at Ravennaside (pp. 254-257)

    Salonis a French word meaning “large room,” but it also means a gathering of people to meet, discuss ideas, or watch artistic performances. Ravennaside is a 10,000-square-foot Colonial Revival house built in Natchez in 1902 on three acres of land. As I attended a formal luncheon at Ravennaside, the wordsalonkept coming to me. The first meaning was apparent given the mansion’s magnificent public rooms. The second meaning became apparent during the second or third course of the five-course lunch.

    I called my host in the morning to confirm the time for lunch. I told him I was...

  53. McDonald’s Comes to St. Francisville (pp. 258-262)

    Louisiana was the eighth state on the Journey. They call things by different names here. The local governmental unit known as a county in the other forty-nine states is a parish in Louisiana. Most people say it’s the French-Canadian influence. Except that the French-Canadians, known as Cajuns, settled the land on the west side of the Mississippi River, and this was still on the east side of the river. The parishes east of the river—the “Florida Parishes”—have a different history.

    The Florida Parishes began as part of West Florida, which was owned up until 1763 by the French,...

  54. Crossing the River by Ferryboat (pp. 263-265)

    St. Francisville is on high ground, and the Mississippi River is but a few miles away. Leaving St. Francisville, you immediately descend toward the river.

    After a couple of curves, the landing for the St. Francisville/New Roads ferryboat comes into view. This boat carries traffic from Louisiana Highway 10 across the Mississippi River. The ferry leaves on the hour and half hour during daylight hours seven days a week. I timed it perfectly. Cars just off the boat heading toward St. Francisville met me. Six cars headed west to get on the boat were lined up.

    The ferry ride is...

  55. Baton Rouge, Huey Long, and the Movie Industry (pp. 266-271)

    Baton Rouge lies on the east bank of the Mississippi River, so coming from New Roads, I crossed the river again. The river widens at every crossing. It’s now a monster.

    Baton Rouge got its name from a boundary line. The Indians marked the boundary between their hunting grounds on this bluff by stripping a red cypress tree of its bark. As the French explorers progressed up river, they noticed the tree and called the bluff “le baton rouge” or “the red stick.” The name stuck. Baton Rouge is the state capital. Its capitol building, at thirty-four stories, is the...

  56. On to Opelousas (pp. 272-276)

    Taking the Acadiana Trail due west from Baton Rouge, the next stop is Opelousas (pronounced “OPP a luses”). Opelousas is the capital of the Cajun Prairie and self-proclaimed world zydeco capital. Arriving at the city center of Opelousas late Friday afternoon, I asked the nice ladies at the tourist information center if there would be “any zydeco dancing around here this evening.” They laughed and gave me a simple sheet of paper listing local events.

    I took the paper and quickly scanned it. Having done my homework, I asked specifically about Richard’s (pronounced “Reechard’s) in nearby Lawtell. The tourist information...

  57. Travel Notes: What’s a Coon Ass? (pp. 277-277)

    A Cajun is defined as “a Louisianan who descends from French-speaking Acadians.” Cajun history begins with the Great Derangement, or as the Acadians say, “Le Grand Dérangement.” After the French and Indian War, the British expelled thousands of French Catholic settlers from the maritime provinces of eastern Canada and the coastal region of northern Maine, which was then known as Acadia. Many of these Frenchmen traveled the Mississippi River looking for a place to land. They resettled in the western regions of French Louisiana, alongside enslaved Africans, freed slaves from the Caribbean, and the native Coushatta Indians.Acadianswas shortened...

  58. Cajun vs. Coon Ass (pp. 278-279)

    Now against this backdrop—where I knew that it might be inappropriate to call a Cajun a coon ass—I asked Byron Zaunbrecher if he were Cajun. He said, “Hell no! I’m a coon ass and proud of it.” He did not seem to appreciate my question. Since I was his guest and he was much bigger than me, I let the matter drop. But I was still curious.

    As best I can tell from my research, the Zaunbrechers aren’t Cajun. They came to Louisiana in the 1880s with a group of immigrants from Germany. An ancestor, Nicholas Zaunbrecher, is...

  59. Zydeco Dancing (pp. 280-283)

    It’s nighttime and I’m in a strange town. I ask the clerk at my hotel about Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki Club. “You should’ve been here last week because Chris Ardoin played,” she said. “I’m not sure they will be open tonight if no one is playing.”

    She recommended a restaurant which was on the way to Slim’s. She advised that I’d have plenty of time to eat because things wouldn’t get cranking until at least 10 p.m. I questioned whether it was safe for a middle-aged white guy to hang out there. She smiled broadly and said, “Oh, it’ll be okay. Now...

  60. Boudin, Sugar Cane Farming, and More Crawfish (pp. 284-290)

    Just when you think America has become a homogenized collection of subdivisions and franchised retail operations radiating from interstate exits, just when it seems that the Journey is reduced to traveling from one McDonald’s location to another, glimpses of regional differences peek out. One example of regional identity occurs on I-59, outside of Opelousas, where a tire center advertises familiar national tire brands. Above the tire store sign looms a billboard advertising the local boudin and cracklin king.

    Now I’ll bet you can drive from New York to Florida to Michigan and not see a similar sign or find many...

  61. The Road to New Orleans (pp. 291-294)

    Before heading to New Orleans, I decided to swing by Avery Island. The island is home to approximately 2,000 people and is still entirely owned, I think, by the McIlhenny family. The island is one of five salt domes rising above the Gulf and is, quite literally, a mountain of salt surrounded by swamps and marshes. The salt is mined from a shaft 530 feet deep.

    It costs a dollar to get on the island—which only entitles you the opportunity to pay more money if you want to see how Tabasco sauce is made or, if you prefer, tour...

  62. Once the Levees Break (pp. 295-302)

    Let’s face it: New Orleans is a strange place. New Orleans reminds me of my crazy uncle, the husband of my dad’s twin sister. A dentist by profession, he moved his family to the Georgia barrier islands and opened an office. His office hours were arranged to fit his golf and party schedule. He didn’t mind working, but he wanted to have some fun along the way. New Orleans is like that.

    It’s appropriate that you can get a good cup of gumbo virtually anywhere here. Gumbo is a hearty soup which incorporates French, Spanish, Native American, Caribbean, and African-American...

  63. Mississippi Gulf Coast (pp. 303-308)

    Ten miles east of New Orleans, there is no city, just wild marshlands, a narrow strip of lowland with a road running through the middle of it. The Gulf of Mexico is on the right, Lake Pontchartrain on the left. No old buildings sit on this land; Katrina blew them away. New vacation houses, simple structures built on stilts covered with plastic siding, stick up out of the ground at regular intervals. The stilts rise a couple of stories before the living space commences.

    Soon I come to the Rigolets—French for trench—a small strait connecting the Gulf of...

  64. Travel Notes: Beauvoir (pp. 309-311)

    Beauvoir, the retirement home of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America, was built in 1852. Davis purchased Beauvoir some years after the Yankees charged him with treason but let him go without a trial. After his death, his wife sold the property to the Mississippi division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans on the condition that the property would be used as a home for Confederate veterans or as a memorial.

    Its architectural style is known as the “Louisiana raised cottage.” The house is elevated on massive ten-foot brick foundation piers that form an above-ground...

  65. Mobile (pp. 312-314)

    Sometimes you have to wonder whether it’s the town or you. Sometimes the wind is at your back; sometimes not. Sometimes things just seem to jibe; other times they don’t. I arrived in downtown Mobile late one morning without anything planned. None of the feelers I sent before coming had borne fruit. Without any appointments, I walked around downtown taking in the ambiance. Mobile has the same grittiness, but not the big-city feel, of New Orleans. Situated on a bay, it doesn’t have the views of the Gulf of Mexico like Bay St. Louis or Biloxi, but it sure has...

  66. Hank, Biscuits, and Green Roofs (pp. 315-324)

    Montgomery is the capital of the Black Belt, Alabama’s cotton-growing area. In his 1901 autobiographyUp from Slavery, Booker T. Washington wrote of the Black Belt:

    The term was first used to designate a part of the country which was distinguished by the colour of the soil. The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently, they were taken there in the largest numbers. Later and especially since the war, the term seems to be used wholly in a political...

  67. Forty Miles to Tuskegee (pp. 325-329)

    It’s only forty miles from Montgomery to Tuskegee, but the cultural distance is much greater—from the first capital of the Confederacy to a town nationally known as a center of African-American achievement. Tuskegee is home to Tuskegee University, perhaps the most influential private, historically black university in the country. Founded in 1881, the Tuskegee Institute’s first president was Booker T. Washington. Dr. Washington believed that if newly freed slaves were provided with skills, they would become self-sufficient in the rural South. Being self-sufficient would lead to their becoming productive members of their communities and to their acceptance by white...

  68. Fender Bender in Birmingham (pp. 330-333)

    Birmingham—pronounced “Buuminham” by the natives—is a major southern city. The metropolitan area contains almost one and a quarter million people. This constitutes almost twenty-five percent of Alabama’s total population. Even though the metropolitan area has grown, the city of Birmingham has not. Its population peaked at 340,000 people in 1960 and has fallen since. Today about 225,000 people inhabit the city while over a million people surround the city limits. In response to questions about Birmingham, one person replied, “There’s nothing left in downtown Birmingham except blacks, bankers, and lawyers.” Another comment along the same line was that...

  69. Travel Notes: Iced or Hot? Sweet or Un? (pp. 334-336)

    Quick now, what’s the quintessential southern drink? If you guessed anything other than tea, you lose. Tea is the second-most-popular beverage in the world, trailing water in worldwide consumption. But hot tea in the hot South isn’t all that popular a beverage. Around these parts, when you speak of tea, you mean iced tea. And not just iced tea because people argue whether iced tea can be anything other than sweet tea. In the South, it can’t. One southern writer put it rather graphically, “Unsweet tea is liquid kudzu, an unwelcome interloper fouling up the culinary landscape.” So when you...

  70. Metropolitan Atlanta (pp. 337-342)

    Atlanta and Birmingham are not far apart—less than 150 miles on I-20 from downtown to downtown. Other than the occasional Confederate bumper-stickered pickup truck you could be pretty much anywhere in America, one interstate exit after another with national chains advertising their products from large signs. There’s also lots of construction. Expanding the four-lane highway to six lanes to handle the increased traffic is a big job. Luckily, at the edge of the Birmingham metro area, I noticed a small sign for Milo’s. With a #2 Milo’s burger (onions and Milo’s secret sauce) and some iced tea (unsweetened), I...

  71. Traveling South Georgia (pp. 343-349)

    South Georgia is defined as anyplace south of metropolitan Atlanta. It’s about 250 miles from the center of Atlanta to the state line of Florida, and the state is about 250 miles wide. So it’s a large landmass. I’d never been to South Georgia and must admit to a certain prejudice. In 1975, I remember expressing surprise that my father, a Georgia native, was not supporting Jimmy Carter, his fellow Georgian, for president. My father, a good Southern Democrat, turned and intoned evenly, “Nothing good has ever come from South Georgia.” I quickly replied that the Allman Brothers Band came...

  72. Happy Animals. Good Cheese. (pp. 350-354)

    I took the back roads leaving Providence Canyon. Just before getting back on the highway, I saw a couple of quail hot-footing it along the road. Appropriate, since I was headed to Thomasville, the next stop on the map and the epicenter of Georgia bird hunting. Fifty or so plantations around Thomasville provide some of the best quail hunting in the United States. Since the end of the Civil War, wealthy industrialists have owned large tracts of land in South Georgia for hunting—and for just getting away from bitter northern winters.

    Bird hunting has become quite a gentleman’s sport....

  73. Tallahassee (pp. 355-359)

    I arrived in Tallahassee after a summer rainstorm. It’s a pretty city, with oak trees, Spanish moss, and rolling hills. At first, I thought the lack of activity downtown was due to the weather. I found other southern state capital cities—Jackson, Montgomery, Little Rock—pretty lively compared to the capital of the Union’s fifth-largest state on that July evening. Even Thomasville, Georgia, was perkier than downtown Tallahassee.

    But Tallahassee was quiet because its two main industries, government and education, were on vacation. The state legislature was not in session so there was not a lot of governing to do....

  74. Ybor City (pp. 360-363)

    Central Florida sure is a crowded place. The St. Petersburg–Tampa area, which covers only a portion of the western side of central Florida, has a population equal to the population of the entire state of Arkansas and only slightly less than the population of South Carolina.

    Originally a winter resort, the area boomed after World War II when air-conditioning became common. St. Pete still retains some of that resort theme because it’s smaller, less dense, and has the Don CeSar Hotel on the beach. With its watchtower and pink walls, and despite the condos which now flank it, “The Don”...

  75. Cracker from Kissimmee (pp. 364-367)

    Orlando is as far south as the Journey took me. Little Rock and Hot Springs are almost 1,000 miles away and the nation’s capital is over 900 miles to the north. There’s still plenty of Florida left below us. Miami is almost 300 miles farther south, and Key West is over 400 miles away. But those places are in South Florida. It’s different and not truly southern. It has been that way for years, as the governor of Florida explained to Jonathan Daniels during his trip in the ’30s:

    Why, North Florida and South Georgia are about the same, same...

  76. The First Coast (pp. 368-370)

    Branding—creating catchy names for places—can sometimes go too far. In Florida, branding has gotten out of hand. Due east of Orlando is the Space Coast, which has famous Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center, and rocket ship launchings. To the north is the two-county Fun Coast, which includes Daytona Beach. After the Fun Coast, the First Coast emerges. In the branding world, First Coast has two meanings: It establishes the area as the first place Europeans landed in America, and it recognizes the first beach coast that northerners hit when crossing into Florida.

    Florida has 399 miles of Atlantic...

  77. Stuck in South Georgia (pp. 371-377)

    Jacksonville is a major American city with tall buildings, a large university, and even an NFL football team. It also has all of the problems of a modern American city: sprawl, traffic, crime. Plus one problem that most metropolitan areas don’t have—nuisance alligators. Now I’m not suggesting that nuisance alligators are a huge problem—unless you’re caught in an alligator’s jaws.

    Florida began keeping data on alligator attacks in 1928. Their database contains 579 incidents. Since 2000, twelve people have been killed by these beasts. In 2006, alligators killed three people in a five-day period, and two more people...

  78. Savannah (pp. 378-384)

    After spending the day stuck in the sands of South Georgia and staying late with Jackie Carter, I arrived in Savannah very late and very hungry. I asked the desk clerk for a restaurant recommendation. She replied, “All the restaurants have closed their kitchens by now, but I bet you can find a bar down the street that will serve you something.” A real expectation-lowering response. I nodded and turned to Water Street, the street along the Savannah River. It doubles as the entertainment district of Savannah, a small city of 135,000 people.

    The bartender at the very first place...

  79. Travel Notes: Georgilina (pp. 385-387)

    The free magazines set out on most hotel room desks are a perk of modern travel. Savannah’s River Inn featured the current issue of theSavannah Magazine, which was celebrating twenty years of publication. The magazine had invited its readers to submit “20 Big Ideas for Our Future.” Big Idea #3 caught my eye: “Erase the South Carolina/Georgia state line and think in bioregional rather than political terms.”

    This idea makes sense geographically speaking because the eastern states of the South striate north to south. On the east coast, the coastal plains first appear, then the hill country, and as...

  80. Coastalitis (pp. 388-394)

    InA Southerner Discovers the South, Jonathan Daniels relates a conversation with a Savannah doctor who described the residents of the low country as “the most ignorant, pitiful, and poverty-stricken whites in Georgia….Many of them are scrawny humans hardly fit for oppression…[One] boy, sent to Savannah, had malaria, hookworm, pellagra and from malnutrition his thighbone had pierced his pelvis.” “Coastalitis,” the doctor continued, “is a terrible disease.”

    Coastalitis, as it was known is the 1930s, is gone now. Modern diets and improved healthcare have taken care of it. The termcoastilitiscan now have a new definition. Coastilitis describes the...

  81. Carolina Gold (pp. 395-397)

    Charleston would be a great place to end my ten-state Journey of the South. Confident and bustling, Charleston seems to be the dynamic city of the modern South. No doubt the arrival of the Boeing plant has given Charleston a boomtown atmosphere. Boeing’s decision to build its new Boeing 787 aircraft in North Charleston required a 600,000-square-foot factory and created an estimated 3,800 jobs for the area. This is no small thing.

    Charleston has echoes of a lot of places I had seen. Billy Reid from Florence, Alabama, has a shop on King Street. He has a lot of competition:...

  82. Flatland to Fall Line (pp. 398-403)

    Jonathan Daniels didn’t end his Journey of years ago in Charleston. He made the terminus Columbia, the last city Sherman destroyed during the Civil War.

    The drive from Charleston to Columbia takes about two hours. Leaving the low country, it’s a trip across the coastal plain of South Carolina into an area known as the midlands, the start of South Carolina’s hill country. In the colonial days of rice and indigo, the coastal plain was South Carolina’s wealth, but no longer. This area is poor and looks remarkably like the Mississippi Delta: small towns, based almost entirely on agriculture, which...

  83. Epilogue: June 2013 (pp. 404-405)

    Reviewing the manuscript brings back many great memories of touring the South. But I’m reminded that nothing stays the same. Some changes, like those to Mr. Jefferson’s University, Kings Mountain, and Andersonville, are slow and imperceptible. Some changes are dramatic. The Gulf Coast has endured another environmental disaster. Tornados have swept up across Mississippi and Alabama, inflicting significant damage. And in 2011 there was a great flood, but this time the Mississippi River levees held and the flood damage was not material.

    Other changes are more organic. It’s worth noting that the Cherokee’s gambling enterprises in western North Carolina are...

  84. Notes on Sources (pp. 406-408)
  85. Sources (pp. 409-432)
  86. Songs from the Journey (pp. 433-436)
  87. Index (pp. 437-445)
  88. About the Author (pp. 446-446)