Public Address in the Twentieth-Century South: The Evolution of a Region (1999)

W. Stuart Towns,  Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881.

This anthology provides the only collection of speeches by southerners on the major themes that have shaped the history and culture of the South in the 20th century.  Selections illustrate the evolution of the South from a defensive region, as defined by Towns’ earlier anthology of 19th century speeches, burdened by poverty and segregation, to a region that became known by the 1970s and 80s as the “Sun Belt.”

The 20th century South started like the 19th had ended—the region was still defensive and paranoid about its place in American life, was poverty-stricken, and was numbed by the the system of segregated life which was hardening the relationships between white and black.  Changes began to  come to the region, however, as alternative voices began to be heard calling for humane change, and by mid-century these voices began to shape the Civil Rights Movement.  By the 1970s it was possible for a southern white politician to run for office and win his state’s highest office without waving a flag of racial hatred and preaching a gospel of segregation now, segregation forever.  A genuine New South had arrived.

An introduction and biographical sketches of each speaker set the stage and enable the reader to see the context of each speech.

These first two volumes were selected for  the “Outstanding Contribution to Communication Scholarship” award by the American Communication Association in 2000.

Comments from Book Reviewers:

A reviewer of Public Address in the Twentieth-Century South in the Florida Historical Quarterly observed that this collection of speeches traces “the transition of the Old South to the New South.”

“A collection of political speeches may not have obvious appeal, but this anthology is worth exploring further.  W. Stuart Towns uses this collection of orations to trace the transition of the Old South to the New South.”   — The Florida Historical Quarterly  Vol. 78, No. 3, Winter 2000

Regarding the first two anthologies, a reviewer commented:

“Towns has obviously drawn on an extensive knowledge of Southern oratory and presents in the two volumes a number of extraordinarily interesting speeches some of which have been little known. . .These books make a significant contribution to our understanding of public address and are worthy of careful study.”  — The Review of Communication, I (2001), 159-164.

The Southern Quarterly summed up the first two volumes as

“. . .well organized, well written, and represent an important resource for students of rhetoric, history, the South, and the development of American culture.”

William D. Harpine, Professor of Communication at University of Akron, in  Review of Communication, Vol. 1 (2001)  Reviewing both of these first two volumes:

“In these two volumes. . . W. Stuart Towns has brought to bear a richness of insight into public address in the southern United States. . . . [Towns’ story] starts with the South as a paranoid, backward region founded on agriculture and slavery, continues to the traumas of war, then to the unrepentant era of Reconstruction, and on to the increasingly bitter conflicts between the segregationists and the advocates of civil rights, and ends with the South as a unified, progressive region that has overcome its strife and now focuses its energies on economic and social progress.  The speeches are artfully arranged to further the flow of this implied narrative. . . . Along the way, a reader such as this reviewer, who grew up in the South, gains a richer and broader understanding of the attitudes and culture of the region. . . . Towns repeatedly draws on an obviously rich understanding of Southern public address to provide a unifying thread of argument through the entire two-volume series.  These books display the kind of insight that can only result from years of patient study. . . . Towns has obviously drawn on an extensive knowledge of Southern oratory and presents in the two volumes a number of extraordinarily interesting speeches, some of which had been little known. . . . These books make a significant contribution to our understanding of public address and are worthy of careful study.”

Table of Contents:

  • Chapter One:  Introduction
  • Chapter Two:  The Progressive South:  White Southerners Seek to Build a New Community  (Speeches by Rebecca Latimer Felton, Willis D. Weatherford, Jessie Daniel Ames, and Mark F. Ethridge)
  • Chapter Three:  The Southern Demagogues:  Voices for the Masses  (Speeches by Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Huey P. Long, Theodore G.Bilbo, and Eugene Talmadge)
  • Chapter Four:  The Civil Rights Movement in the South:  “If Not NowWhen!”  (Speeches by Daisy Bates, Marion S. Barry, Jr., Diane Nash Bevel, Benjamin E. Mays, Wyatt Tee Walker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and James L. Farmer)
  • Chapter Five:  White Supremacy and Massive Resistance:  Last Stand of the Dinosaurs. (Speeches by:James O. Eastland, Orval E. Faubus, Ross R. Barnett, and George C. Wallace)
  • Chapter Six:  Taking a Stand for Justice:  White Southerners Who Battled for Racial Change  (Speeches by Lillian Smith, Ralph McGill, LeRoy Collins, Charles Morgan, Jr., and James McBride Dabbs)
  • Chapter Seven:  New Southern Leadership: An Authentic New South (Speeches by  Governors James E. “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., John C. West, James E. Holshouser, Jr., Reubin O’D. Askew, and U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan)
  • Index

An excellent resource for courses in black studies, southern history, the civil rights movement, and southern and American rhetoric and public address history and criticism.