A heritage of inferiority : public criticism and the American South
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Journalist W.J. Cash's "Savage Ideal," historian Sheldon Hackney's "siegementality," literary critic Fred Hobson's "rage to explain," and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Drum Major Instinct," all describe the same regional disorder: a deep and enduring Inferiority Complex that underlies the culture of the American South. The continual construction of southern white identity, particularly the maintenance of white cultural supremacy and conservative political domination, required strict allegiance to selfpromotional narratives of superiority. Such propaganda sensitized many white southerners to public criticism of their home region, criticism that became a staple of media rhetoric in the modern era and that unleashed a regional defensiveness capable of transforming moderate communities into reactionary forces. Applying psychologist Alfred Adler's original theory of the Inferiority Complex to specific groups of white southerners exposes this cultural dynamic. The first case study examines the impact of the 1925 Scopes Trial on the home community of Dayton, Tennessee, a moderately religious, southern town that was converted seemingly overnight to a fundamentalist haven, exemplified by William Jennings Bryan College which continues to promote creationism. The second study exposes the double transformation of southern writers, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Donald Davidson. Originally known as the Fugitives, they were rejected by northern intellectuals; such criticism catalyzed their metamorphosis first, from escapist poets to defenders of Agrarianism, and second, to creators of a new school of literary criticism, the New Criticism, that sought to strip literature of its historical context and regional distinctiveness. The final case deconstructs the Virginia campaign for Massive Resistance and Interposition organized in response to Brown v. Board of Education. Virginia's Gray Commission was expected to offer a reasonable plan for school desegregation that would serve as a model throughout the South. However, the news coverage of Civil Rights violations fueled white southern resistance, resulting in an extreme rebellion against moderation and the closing of public schools. In conclusion, the southern heritage of inferiority snowballed and intensified throughout the twentieth century, altering the literary, political, and religious landscape and remains relative to contemporary debates regarding evolution, the academic canon, and race relations in America.