- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

FRANKLIN, Tenn. - For Dot Fleming, “Southern Living” isn’t just the name of a magazine; it’s a way of life. Relaxing on the veranda of a refurbished Victorian home turned tearoom, Mrs. Fleming nibbled coconut pie and extolled the virtues of life in the South.

“It’s just an easier, more relaxed lifestyle, with friendly people, home-cooking and big families,” said the 55-year-old Mrs. Fleming, whose family has lived in this town since the early 1900s.

A new Vanderbilt University study found that the number of people like Mrs. Fleming, who are fiercely proud to be called Southerners, is being noticeably diluted by newcomers to the region and those who just plain reject the label.

From 1991 to 2001, the number of people living in the South who identified themselves as “Southerners” declined 7.4 percent, from about 78 percent to 70 percent.

The study found that only Republicans, political conservatives and the wealthy bucked this trend, keeping the same percentage of self-described Southerners.

“As with other parts of the country, continuing urbanization and immigration have had an impact on the South,” said sociology professor Larry Griffin, who headed the study.

The researchers analyzed data from 19 polls conducted by the University of North Carolina from 1991 to 2001 that asked respondents if they considered themselves Southerners. The findings will be included in the fall edition of Southern Cultures, the journal of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South.

The polls surveyed 17,600 persons in 13 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The decline spanned all races and ethnic and age groups, researchers said. But Republicans held steady at about 74 percent, political conservatives at 78 percent and the rich at 69 percent.

“Though the South has changed [over the decade], those three groups still see themselves as in the South or of the South,” Mr. Griffin said. “For persons of color, the poor, for political liberals or Democrats, it may be an image they reject.”

David Fraley, historian for Franklin’s Carter House, a national historic landmark used as a federal command post during the Civil War, believes an overblown emphasis on political correctness has led to the decline in self-described Southerners.

“It’s revisionist history. Folks in university settings are bent on revising history to make it more pleasing in the present,” said Mr. Fraley.

As for Mrs. Fleming, she said she understands why conservatives continue to classify themselves as Southerners: “In general, when you’re conservative, you don’t like change.”

Elouise North, a 79-year-old gift-shop manager at Carter House, describes herself as both a Southerner and a conservative.

“It’s a way of life,” she said. “You don’t rush things too much here. In my generation, you weren’t rude. You had manners. You said ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘No, ma’am.’”

Mrs. North, a Tennessee native, she says she’s seen so many new people move here that “it’s no wonder” the number of self-described Southerners has dropped.

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