Story and Photos by David Nichol
FORREST CITY – A love of home brought him back to Forrest City. A love of history made him an author.
“I spent many an hour here,” says Stuart Towns, sitting in the Forrest City Library. “I could check out three books. I’d check them out, take them home, then bring them back and check out three more. It’s a great place.”
Towns grew up in Forrest City, and is a 1957 graduate of Forrest City High School. He was also inducted into the Forrest City Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005 as a track star, particularly in distance running. But this story is about his book.
Towns, 72, hasn’t always lived in Forrest City.
“I took off,” he says. “I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas and went to graduate school the University of Florida, got my Ph.D. in 1972.”
He then spent more than 30 years teaching at colleges – most of them at the University of West Florida and also at Appalachia State in North Carolina. At both schools he was chairman of the Communications Department.
“I retired June 20 and moved back here July 1,” says Towns. “I moved back to my mom’s and dad’s house, and I love being back home.”
Last week he presented a signed copy of a book he has written, “Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of a Lost Cause.” It covers the years after the Civil War and how they have affected the South. Some southerners might not be happy with some of the things the book has to say.
“The book is about the lasting effects of the Civil War,” says Towns. “What it looks at is a bunch of speeches. I was a historian of speeches more than anything else. And I looked at a bunch of speeches that were made across the South after the Civil War, for about 30 years, that sort of developed a rationale for the South fighting the war and why they lost and that sort of thing.”
He believes the mindset of those speeches can still be found today.
“You still see the remnants of it, the same philosophy and outlook,” says Towns. “During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, you saw remnants of it. And even today, there are battle reenactments and celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, going on all over the South. You can still see the effects, 150 years after the start.”
He adds, “They’re trying to convince themselves that they were right. A lot of people argue today that the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about state’s rights.”
However, he says he also has speeches given before and during the war which give a different picture.
“I’ve got, literally, hundreds of speeches in which people – from Jefferson Davis down to city councilmen and mayors of little old towns – saying, ‘We’ve got to preserve our way of life, our slavery. Our economy is based on it, our way of life is based on it, we have to protect it at all costs.’”
What really made him decide to write the book was the familiarity of themes between the period immediatly after the war and what happened in the 20th century.
“I was working on another book, an anthology of Southern speeches,” he says, “and I got to realizing that some of the speeches I was reading from the Civil Rights era, were saying the same kind of thing that some speeches were saying in the 1880s and 1890s. Ross Barnett, George Wallace and Orval Faubus were all using the same arguments, the same philosophies, the same ‘lost cause’ outlook to defend segregation in the 1950s and 60s.
“And I said, gee whiz, this is a story! I really want to get after that. I went from that and did some more in-depth research and wrote a book about it.”
The book was published by the University of Alabama Press in January.
Towns also plans on giving a presentation and having a book signing at the library in April.