Keeping the South alive, one story at a time

Jeri Rowe
Staff Columnist

It’s time we take back our "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

At least that’s what Clint Johnson thinks.

He’s a North Carolina writer, a man from Ashe County, who has written 10 books on the Civil War, including one about the white-bearded military man a young George Patton thought was God.

That’s Robert E. Lee, y’all.

Click here to listen to Johnson read the introduction of his book.

Johnson has now penned his 11th. And you can bet his new book will make the politically correct meaner than a foul-tempered gamecock, spurred and ready to fight.

You see, Johnson is tired. Hate groups have hijacked the Confederate battle flag and the PC police have stamped out everything from the song "Dixie” (which, Johnson says, a black woman wrote) to Disney’s 1946 movie, "Song of the South.”

So, Johnson wants to save our Southern tradition with his book, "The Politically Correct Guide to The South (And Why It Will Rise Again).”

It’s an entertaining book, and he’ll talk about it tonight at Barnes & Noble in Greensboro’s Friendly Center. I expect he’ll read a bit and share a few stories that, in the book, are funnier than Jeff Foxworthy on a good night.

Who knew that Cary, that uppity city east of us, is called the "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees” or that humorist Mark Twain once said: "It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took: we know it because she repented.”

Or that, in 1987 when Pittsburgh’s US Air bought Piedmont Airlines in Winston-Salem, the chairman said, "Warm Southern hospitality is going to be replaced with cool Northern efficiency.”

Well, we all know that "efficiency” drove Piedmont Airlines into bankruptcy.

Johnson pokes some good-natured jabs at Northerners. But his book is far from a cliched, anti-Yankee screed.

It’s pro-South and gives props to a region struggling to keep its incredibly quirky identity. Johnson also points out what makes the South distinct: its rebelliousness, its long history of military service, and its deep-seated reverence for history and place.

And of course, the Confederate jasmine. It’s some kind of sweet.

As expected, Johnson pushes hard to keep the Confederate flag flying. To him, it boils down to what I’ve seen on bumper stickers and vanity plates everywhere in my hometown of Charleston, S.C.: Heritage Not Hate.

Quite honestly, that argument could soon be gone with the wind — sorry, had to — because Johnson knows he’s fighting a losing battle in keeping the psyche of the South alive.

He sees it firsthand. He’s spent 31 years as a Confederate soldier re-enactor and, recently, a few teenagers joined the regiment.

He asked them to recruit their friends.

No, the teenagers said. Their friends don’t care. They’re too busy watching video games.

"There’s, what, 70 million Confederate descendents in the South and not that many are complaining that the South should never die,” said Johnson, 54. "There will always be people who respect the South, but people are too busy leading their own lives to worry about history.

"I’m just a guy who’s stuck loving history, and there’s not a whole lot of us around.”

He’ll keep at it, though. He’ll write his Civil War books, clear his 19th-century cemetery behind his one-acre lot and think about his fourth-grade teacher, Miss Frances Pooser.

She introduced him to history and the Civil War. She also introduced him to the fragrant star-shaped white flower known as the Confederate jasmine.

"Do you smell that?”

He did. Still does. Even today.

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