“Are you from Dixie? I say, from Dixie?
Where the fields of cotton beckon to me . . .”
—“Are You from Dixie?”
George L. Cobb-Jack Yellen/M. Witmark & Sons, ASCAP
(To hear this song performed by
Glenn Campbell, Jerry Reed
— and Tom Jones!
“If you’ve got to ask yourself
whether you’re from Dixie, then you ain’t!”
Any time the subject of the South and Southerners comes up, there is always the question, “Where is the South?” with the accompanying question “Who is a Southerner?”
In an attempt to answer these questions objectively, a statistical survey was taken and the reports were published in an academic periodical.
Following is that article that appeared originally as “Where is the South?” in Southern Cultures 5 (Summer 1999): p. 116, a publication of The Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina under the direction of John Shelton Reed, a noted Dixieologist who provided the article to me personally. (For more complete information about John Shelton Reed, see the note at the end of this survey.)
The article is presented here exactly as it originally appeared except that underlining has been replaced with italics and some of the longer paragraphs have been divided into shorter segments to fit the format of this blog.
Notice that Oklahoma was included in these surveys. But also notice the percentages of those Oklahoma residents who identified their communities as being in the South and themselves as being Southerners as compared with those Arkansans who identified their communities as being in the South and themselves as being Southerners. I think you will see that the statistics support my personal conclusion after living in Oklahoma for thirty-five years that Oklahoma is not as Southern as my native Arkansas. (This subject will be discussed further in future posts with emphasis on the difference between Okie and Arkie speech, for example.)
WHERE IS THE SOUTH?
The South has been defined by a great many characteristics, but one of the most interesting definitions is where people believe that they are in the South. A related definition is where the residents consider themselves to be southerners, although this is obviously affected by the presence of non-southern migrants.
Until recently we did not have the data to answer the question of where either of those conditions is met. Since 1992, however, 14 twice-yearly Southern Focus Polls conducted by the Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have asked respondents from the 11 former Confederate states, Kentucky, and Oklahoma “Just for the record, would you say that your community is in the South, or not?”
Starting with the third of the series, the same question was asked of smaller samples of respondents from West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Missouri (all except Missouri included in the Bureau of the Census’s “South”).
Respondents from the 13 southern states were also asked “Do you consider yourself a Southerner, or not?,” while starting with the second survey those from other states were asked “Do you consider yourself or anyone in your family a Southerner?,” and if so, whether they considered themselves to be Southerners.
The numbers below are based on pooled data from these surveys, which now give us big enough samples from individual states not only to characterize each state as a whole but also to say, for example, where in Texas the South ends. (A project is now underway to do just that.)
It is clear from these data that if the point is to isolate southerners for study or to compare them to other Americans the definition of the South employed by the Southern Focus Poll (and, incidentally, by the Gallup Organization) makes sense, while the Bureau of the Census definition does not. We already knew that, of course, but it’s good to be able to document it.
–John Shelton Reed
Percent who say they are Southerners
(percentage base in parentheses)
Mississippi 90 (432)
Louisiana 89 (606)
Alabama 88 (716)
Tennessee 84 (838)
South Carolina 82 (553)
Arkansas 81 (399)
Georgia 81 (1017)
North Carolina 80 (1290)
Kentucky 68 (584)
Texas 68 (2053)
Virginia 60 (1012)
Oklahoma 53 (410)
Florida 51 (1791)
West Virginia 25 (84)
Maryland 19 (192)
Missouri 15 (197)
New Mexico 13 (68)
Delaware 12 (25)
D.C. 12 (16)
Utah 11 (70)
Indiana 10 (208)
Illinois 9 (362)
Ohio 8 (396)
Arizona 7 (117)
Michigan 6 (336)
All others less than 6 percent.
Percent who say their community is in the South
(percentage base in parentheses)
Alabama 98 (717)
South Carolina 98 (553)
Louisiana 97 (606)
Mississippi 97 (431)
Georgia 97 (1017)
Tennessee 97 (838)
North Carolina 93 (1292)
Arkansas 92 (400)
Florida 90 (1792)
Texas 84 (2050)
Virginia 82 (1014)
Kentucky 79 (582)
Oklahoma 69 (411)
West Virginia 45 (82)
Maryland 40 (173)
Missouri 23 (177)
Delaware 14 (21)
D.C. 7 (15)
About John Shelton Reed,
I first met John Shelton Reed at a conference titled “Southern Fried Culture: A New Recipe, A New South, A New Conversation” held in Tulsa on March 1, 1996. John was one of the speakers at that conference in which he gave two presentations titled “What is Southern About the South?” and “Oklahoma: Southern State?”
Since that time John has been gracious enough to respond to my endless letters and emails about what he has termed “the Western South” (Oklahoma and Arkansas) and my writings about them. Over the years he has provided me some fascinating information about many aspects of the South (such as this survey), a subject in which he is an acknowledged and respected expert.
John and his wife Dale have written four books together, the most important being 1001 Things Everyone Should Know about the South and Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.
In addition John has written a dozen or more books by himself. He has just finished one called Dixie Bohemia, about New Orleans in the 1920s, which will be published next year by Louisiana State University Press. Currently he is working on one about Southern barbecue in general (not just North Carolina barbecue) for the University of North Carolina Press. (To view a list of John and Dale’s books on Amazon.com, from which this photo was taken, click here. For a full formal biography of John Shelton Reed, click here.)
John’s wife Dale was a piano teacher and copy editor for many years. They both grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, and dated in high school. They have two daughters, a musician and an artist, who live in Texas and California. Each of them has a daughter.