edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris; University of North Carolina Press; 1,634 pages.
Sometime in 1912, the story goes, William H. Campbell invented “the South’s favorite candy.” He mixed peanuts and marshmallow into melted caramel, dipped it in pure milk chocolate, and took the concoction home for his infant son to try. “Goo goo,” the child gurgled happily, and Goo Goo Clusters were born. You find things like that in The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture , and you also find excellent brief accounts of subjects ranging from Jacksonian democracy to Huey Long. There are essays on the speech of whites and blacks, the development of a political “Southern strategy,” how to make different kinds of gumbo, and the civil rights movement.
The book is divided into twentyfour sections, beginning with “Agriculture” and ending with “Women’s Life.” Each is introduced by an essay and is divided into entries that range in length from a few paragraphs to several pages. “Black Life,” for instance, contains entries on architecture, creolization, folklore, and migration, as well as on film images of blacks, literary portrayals of blacks, funerary customs, and land ownership. In “History and Manners” you can find a fine outline of Southern cultural history (written by Wilson, a professor of history at the University of Mississippi) and a disquisition on the significance of Moon Pies, Jack Daniel’s, and mint juleps.
The editors have included sections on the development of the good old boy and on agrarianism in literature, on stock-car racing and on debutantes. There isn’t much formal narrative history in this encyclopedia, but we already have the Encyclopedia of Southern History for that. What this book does, and does vividly, is begin to answer Faulkner’s call to “tell about the South. What it’s like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.”