Calling Texas Part of "The South" Is Still a Big Stretch

Over time Texas developed a reputation for the iconic things we’re known for today — more The Alamo than Gone With the Wind.
Over time Texas developed a reputation for the iconic things we’re known for today — more The Alamo than Gone With the Wind. Photo by Tim (Timothy) Pearce via Flickr
Several years ago, I wrote an article about about whether or not Texas is really a part of The South. I don't believe it is, for reasons I'll describe here. That article got a lot of attention from people who had strong opinions on both sides of the issue, which echoed what I'd discovered in numerous online forums where the topic was, and still is, hotly debated.

To some folks, the Civil War settled things. Texas was, and always will be, part of The South and closely aligned with other Southern states, because it fought for the Confederacy. I would never make any attempt to deny our involvement in the sad attempt at preserving slavery, so if that's the only measure by which our “Southern-ness” is determined, then I guess there's no question. I'd still argue that modern-day Texas is too different from most of the South to belong to it, and doesn't fit neatly into any one cultural box.

A couple of notes:

I'm not trying to disrespect any of the Southern states, nor the people living in them. I've traveled extensively through all of them and enjoyed the culture, food, and hospitality they have to offer. I simply don't think Texas is enough like them to be in the same group. That said, I'm not necessarily saying that all of those states are completely homogeneous, but they do seem to have enough cultural similarities to be grouped together.

If there's a controversy over whether Mississippi or Georgia are Southern, I've never heard of it. The fact that this debate exists in regard to Texas is telling, in my opinion.

Also, I'm not trying to separate Texas from the South based on some snobby rejection of rednecks, or a belief that Southern people all fit a ridiculous and unfortunate stereotype. Having toured North America many times, I can reliably report that the types of folks some jerks derisively dismiss as “rednecks” inhabit every state and region in the country. I try not to generalize and judge people for living differently than me anyway. It's not good for the soul.

So back to the question of Texas as a Southern state. Shortly after my article appeared, Texas Monthly published a great piece on the subject, with a well-delivered opinion that was counter to mine. That article explained that culturally, much of Texas was very Southern, and that few would have argued it wasn't until the early 20th century. But by then, some influential people decided that “Dixie” was a tainted brand, and that Texas would be better off stepping away from the considerable baggage that being part of a failed uprising to preserve slavery had left with The South.

In the Texas Monthly article, Dr. Gregg Cantrell, Texas History chair at Texas Christian University, member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and past president of the Texas State Historical Association, said:

“And so what do you do? You play up the frontier, you play up the Texas Revolution and the Alamo, you play up the (in reality not-very-glorious) ten years of the Texas Republic, and then you talk about the Indian Wars and the cattle drives, all culminating in Spindletop and the discovery of oil,” he says. “All of these things made Texas seem like anything but a Southern state.”

What followed was basically a PR campaign to re-brand the state, not as part of the defeated and depressing South, but as part of the West…part of something else.

Whether rooted in historical accuracy or not, this whitewashing was effective, and over time Texas developed a reputation for the iconic things we’re known for today — more The Alamo than Gone With the Wind. But regardless of why Texas redirected its image-building, it's significant that it did so. It might largely be the cowboy equivalent of dressing up in a costume for Ren Faire, but it also served as a conscious breaking away from the rest of the Southern states, and over time those cultural differences grew in scope.

click to enlarge Part of Texas's successful campaign to rebrand the state. - PHOTO BY GLYNLOWE.COM VIA FLICKR
Part of Texas's successful campaign to rebrand the state.
We didn't completely leave behind all connections to the South, and our status as a Confederate state with all that connotates isn't something we can simply pretend didn't happen, but the century or so of myth-building, and stepping away from a shared heritage the Southern states continued to embrace, is significant.

Over time a steady influx of people from many other countries and cultures further diluted the Southern influence so much, that it's only immediately obvious in certain parts of the state, primarily the eastern portion. Modern Texas is a crossroads of cultural influences; if you look for the South you can find it, but it has to compete with so many other influences that it's really not accurate to claim the state's primary identity is Southern.

I'm not bashing the South, but to me the real test is traveling through it, and realizing how alien most of it feels. This debate will probably continue, because it's based on how different people identify themselves, which is always a personal and emotional issue, but I'll continue to believe that this state is unique in its modern form, and will probably continue to set itself apart from the rest of this country.
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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.