Paul Greenberg

Dear Old Friend,

It was wholly a pleasure to hear your theory about where the South ends, probably because any theory about the South will get a conversation going around dinner tables, at barber shops, in graduate seminars on Southern history, and just about anywhere else in these talkative latitudes.

Your theory is that the South ends where the last monument to the Confederate soldier can be seen. This would mean that Bentonville, up in the far northwest corner of Arkansas, and known far and wide as the capital of Wal-Mart, qualifies as Southern. This might comes as a surprise, or even an unwarranted claim, to folks in Arkansas farther south, who think of the northwestern corner of the state as Midwestern. Or at least Oklahoman.

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If you think being considered Midwestern is a step up from Southern (and I am rather fond of Midwesterners myself with their open, friendly manner), then you're not a Southerner. If you think of it as a step down, then you're a Southerner no matter where you live. Or at least you're someone who prefers the distinctive to the bland.

I know where the South ends in Arkansas. Or begins, depending on which way you're traveling. It's at the Mammoth Orange diner in Redfield, Ark., colloquially known as the Big Orange. Check it out. You can have one of those big burgers while you're there. I wonder if they still serve Grapette sodas. An RC Cola and a Moon Pie might be too much to hope for in these all too advanced times.

The South ends at Redfield because Southernness is a function of mean elevation above sea level: the lower the altitude, the more black folks and black soil, the more traces of the plantation economy and culture, the more Southern. Which is why the Arkansas delta is more Southern than the Arkansas hills. Redfield is just before the hills begin, therefore it's on the uneven line of demarcation between North and South. Q.E.D.

I've often thought the Big Orange ought to put up one of those markers like they have out west to note the continental divide. Only this one would say: "Here the South Ends, May the Lord Be With You. (At Least as Far as Little Rock.)" On the other side, the marker would say: "Welcome to the South, Y'all." The welcome wouldn't be complete without that second-person plural. Not just geography and climate change when you enter Dixie, but the language.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.