Woo-wee! I do believe Doctor Ferris and Professor Morris (“The Water in Which You Swim,” July/August) are running the best scam in the Lower Mississippi since the Duke and the Dauphin worked those parts. But at least they’re homeboys, and they give new luster to the term professional Southerner . And they give new hope to misplaced compatriots: If you don’t get treated right in New York City or London, England, you can always come home and start up a center for the study of Southern culture and rake in Yankee dollars, yen, francs, and deutschemarks from strangers shopping for the kind of wisdom the Doctor’s 101-year-old grandmomma used to give away free. Well, my grandmomma only lived to be 99, but she was more original and always used to tell me that blood was thinner than turpentine. Which means that a respectable magazine like American Heritage ought to post a warning when it opens its pages to hucksters—even if they’re family.
The Integrated South the Doctor and the Professor are peddling is as phony as the Cavaliers of Dixie or Henry Grady’s New South. Racial separatism is rampant in the real South, and there’s less social integration now than there was under legal segregation. The Doctor is indulging in willful ignorance of Southern history, if not folklore, when he brags about his daughter “going to a school with not only black children but children from Chinese and Lebanese backgrounds.” When I went to public school in Columbia, South Carolina, in the 1940s, I had no Chinese schoolmates, but there were some Japanese and enough Lebanese to staff sixteen oriental-rug bazaars—not to mention Greeks, Portuguese, and Italians. And I’ll guarantee you there was more racial integration back then at a Wynonie Harris dance in Myrtle Beach than at any function at the Doctor’s academic theme park. Wynonie isn’t even mentioned in that humongous Encyclopedia of Southern Culture the Doctor edited.
Another thing my little old grandmomma used to say: Everybody’s got to make a living.