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Kith and Kin: The Enduring Ethic of the South

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So, what I have to say is gonna be, I think, somewhat maybe tedious.  I’ve tried to boil down stuff I’ve been working on for years, many chapters of a book project, and sometimes when you boil things down, it’s not like distilling rose petals. You don’t get the fine essence, what you get is thin gruel. So, I’m gonna check my time to make sure I don’t bore you to tears. All right. You’ve all had the experience: “What do you do for a living?” the Northerner inevitably asks someone he’s just met. The Southerner just as inevitably responds with a question: “Where are you from?” or if the two are very old-fashioned Southerners: “Where do your people bury?” which was Andrew Lytle’s great question. We’ve all heard something like this comparison a thousand times, it’s a commonplace of Southern regionalist conversation. Friends of the North, when they hear this commonplace, must wonder if there is any truth in it, or even if it is true, if there’s any deeper significance. Is it just a cultural tic as Vanderbilt professor Paul Kurtz (a transplanted Iowan, by the way), refers to Southern traditions such as saying “y’all” or eating mustard greens, or is it a surface indication of a divide that is more ethical than cultural and perhaps more spiritual than it is ethical? We get an early hint of what this means from the very young Eliza Lucas in 1742. Everybody knows who Eliza Lucas is in this room. If not then, well, you shouldn’t be here. Eliza was the daughter of a British officer stationed in the Caribbean and she’s managing her daddy’s plantation over west of the Ashley [River]. Eliza had been begging her father to let her siblings join her in South Carolina and she was lamenting the condition of a brother who had been given up by his doctor: “Our good friend, Mrs. Boddicott expresses the most tender concern for him. What then must those feel, who are related to him by blood as well as friendship?” 

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