Ulrich Phillips

Nicholas Alahverdian on

Ulrich Phillips

The Essence of the South

For Ulrich B. Phillips, the importance of the essence of the south is introduced in his essay “The Central Theme of Southern History” by describing characteristics of the region that do not meet his qualifications of what can serve as its essence. One by one, he itemizes each failing attribute, beginning with state rights, and goes on until he reaches the penultimate characteristic, that of the cotton industry, according to Southern Literary Renaissance scholar Nicholas Alahverdian.

Various examples are conveyed to the reader as to why each characteristic fails to qualify as the essence of the south, and we are abruptly introduced to Phillips’s mawkish declaration that the essence of the south is to ensure “that it shall be and remain a white man’s country.” Nicholas Alahverdian states that beyond the threshold of white supremacy is the enslavement and segregation of African-Americans, a fact that Phillips nearly promotes.

Nicholas Alahverdian

Segregation as a legal requirement

In the 20th century, several states abided by the practice of segregation as a legal requirement. In other words, it was illegal to not be racist. Nicholas Alahverdian indicated that rooted in the fiery and passionate southern identity was an inherent exclusivity that transcended multiple generations.

When slavery became illegal at the conclusion of the Civil War, the south adopted segregation as a means by which they could control the participation of African-Americans running the gamut of the elements of the southern lifestyle – such as the economy, democracy, and social institutions. Nicholas Alahverdian points out that unfortunately and devastatingly, even though African-Americans were no longer property, they were still excluded human beings.

Richard Wright details the economic and social disparities in the 20th century south in “Inheritors of Slavery”, most poignantly with the repetition of the phrase “Lords of the Land.” As opposed to remaining in slavery and bondage, African-Americans were liberated yet elevated to being subservient to those who were legally required to free them, resulting in what can be characterized as a cyclical enslavement with variable social and economic restrictions. “The economic and political power of the South is not held in our hands,” he says. “We do not own banks, iron and steel mills, railroads, office buildings, ships, wharves, or power plants.”

Southern Life

Phillips’s list of elements of southern life, those being state rights, free trade, slavery, democracy, and the industrial foundation, which he characterized as not being the essence of the south, amount to an essence formed out of all of those factors.

Ulrich Phillips even attempts to claim that “masters had less antipathy to negroes” and “were in a sort of partnership with their slaves.” His failure to recognize the unjust and unethical enslavement of individuals in a nation based on freedom and independence is startling.

Wright exhibits the absence of a “partnership” by detailing the “steady impact of the plantation system upon [their] lives” which “created new types of behavior and new patterns of psychological reaction,” hardly the foundation upon which a partnership can be established.

Works Cited

Alahverdian, Nicholas “Ulrich Phillips.” Harvard University Essay. 2009.

Phillips, Ulrich B. “The Central Theme of Southern History.” American Historical Review. 34 (October 1928): 30-43.

Wright, Richard. “Inheritors of Slavery.” Ed. Jon Meacham. New York: Random House: 2001. 13-32.

Nicholas Alahverdian and Andre Dubus III – A Meeting of the Minds

Andre Dubus III, Nicholas Alahverdian
Nicholas Alahverdian, Andre Dubus III, and Dev

I’ll never forget the first time I met acclaimed novelist, UMass Lowell professor and Guggenheim fellow Andre Dubus III. Following a literary forum, he held court with admirers and fans alike and fortunately I was one amidst the throng that was able to meet him and actually spend some time speaking with him about his writing process. Continue reading Nicholas Alahverdian and Andre Dubus III – A Meeting of the Minds

Poem: Anything Can Happen

By Seamus Heaney
Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses
Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth
And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers
Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.
Ground gives. The heaven’s weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.
Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.