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Southern Regions

ISSUE:  Autumn 1936

The South Looks at Its Past. By Benjamin Burks Kendrick and Alex Matthews Arnett. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. $2.00. Southern Regions of the United States. By Howard W. Odum. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. $4.00.

The South today is being subjected to no little amount of regional study, though the different students are far apart in their conceptions of regionalism or even of the South. The spirit of inquiry into social problems in this part of the nation is reflected in the results of research issuing from Southern university centers. The social history and trends of this region are discussed in two works which were recently prepared under the sponsorship of the Social Science Research Council and its Southern Regional Committee, with aid from the General Education Board.

Benjamin B. Kendrick and Alex M. Arnett’s readable little volume, “The South Looks at Its Past,” is a sort of historical preface to Howard W. Odum’s more formidable tome, “Southern Regions of the United States.” The former two historians attempt to appraise the traditions and the realities of the old South, the effect of the Civil War on the South, and the South’s subsequent striving to follow the national pattern. They are critical but sympathetic toward the civilization of the old South, find certain faults in the new South, and suggest a regional “revival of agrarian culture and its reintegration in the national pattern.” With their call for regional leadership of thought and industry there can be no quarrel, but they might be reminded of the limitations of regional self-determination in the nation and in the world.

Professor Odum, with recognized aid from other scholars, has put together the most comprehensive volume of facts, figures, and comments ever published on the South. He utilized more than seven hundred indices and six hundred maps, charts, and tables in attempting a realistic picturiza-tion of the Southern regions. His work is an exhaustive inventory rather than a systematic analysis or a pointed synthesis. It is a catalogue of items or elements of wealth and poverty, of culture and backwardness, of promise and problems, of statesmanship and demagoguery, of education and ignorance, It is a story of the march and lag of time in Dixie. It is an eloquent reference book which no student of the South can skip as a whole but which most will skip in part.

Mr. Odum revels in descriptive comparisons, both interregional and intra-regional. Incidentally he shows how there are regions and regions, with overlappings and variations, according to standards or purposes of measurement, and according to the authorities or agencies concerned. Different governmental departments or branches make different geographical administrative divisions of the United States, and it is thus necessary to assume a flexibility and relativity in regional study or activity. By many economic and educational indices, it becomes clear that the South is really the Southeast, and that it is at a distinct statistical disadvantage in comparison with the Southwest, the other regions, and the United States as a whole. This South, a land of poverty, unscientific agriculture, and low-type industrial processing, has been a net exporter of population on a large scale and at a terrible cost. If there is a central or recurring theme in this Odum study, it is that the South has a potential abundance of resources, physical and human, in combination with a deficient economy and technology. This spread between potentiality and actuality means a shortage of income and a constant drag out of the colonial South. It calls for a reconstruction, a regional program adjusted to the national and the international pictures. It calls for regional planning, and the last of the eleven chapters bears the title, “Towards Regional Planning.” This chapter as well as the whole work constitutes more of a plea than a program for planning, presenting no blueprint but emphasizing “the urgency of the situation.” It is well to have this wonderful array of facts and suggestions, but the chart for regional action remains to be worked out. It is important to have a “composite picture,” but it is important to have more than such a picture, if there is to be a regional reconstruction. It is important to have a manifesto of regional-national co-operation, rising above a rigid sectionalism and sectional clashes, but it is also important to indicate a few definite lines for this co-operation.

It might be in order to ask for more inventories of qualities of resources “long with the quantitative inventories which crowd the book. Much is said, for instance, about the climate of the South, the heavy rainfall and the opportunity for abundant growth of crops. But little is said about the comparative value of this climate, or of the Southern climates, as influences on human beings, on human qualities. There are quantitative comparisons between Southern iron ores or Southern literary products and those of other regions. Is the qualitative comparison as favorable to the South? Is the spread between potentiality and reality greater or less for the South than for the rest of the country? To what extent is the South to blame for its ills, which are set forth by Mr. Odum? To what extent can the South remedy its ills?

“Southern Regions” embodies and follows an extensive amount of research. It raises many questions and leaves many answers to the future. It represents the assembling of a vast amount of social and economic raw material, with one or two stages of intellectual processing added to this raw material. It opens the way for further intellectual finishing.


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