For as long as I've been alive the old Confederacy has been a land without closure, where history keeps coming at you day after day, year after year, decade after decade, as if the past were the present, too, and the future forever. Cities grew and populations changed in the South, but the Civil War lurked somehow in the shadow of mirror-sided skyscrapers; the holocaust of slavery and the sweet-bitter victories of the civil-rights movement lingered deep in the minds of people on both sides of the color line. Yes there was change, progress, prosperity, and a lot of it. Southerners put their faith in money and jobs and God Almighty to get them to a better place and better times--and for a lot of them, white and black, those times came. The South got to be a more complicated place, where rich and poor--which is pretty much all there was before World War II--gave way to a broad-spectrum bourgeoisie with big-time aspirations. But as air conditioning conquered the lethargy-inducing climate and Northerners by the millions abandoned the rust belt for the sun belt, the past wasn't forgotten or forgiven so much as put aside while people got on with their lives and their business.
Now this part of the country, where I have my deepest roots, feels raw again, its political emotions more exposed than they've been in decades. George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama have unsettled the South: the first with a reckless war and a weakened economy, the second with the color of his skin, the foreignness of his name, the lofty liberalism of his language. Suddenly the palliative prosperity that salved old, deep wounds no longer seems adequate to the task.