The Myth of the Old South

Southern historian C. Vann Woodward claimed that the South was never more victorious than in the moment of its defeat in the Civil War. He referred to the remarkably successful effort on the part of white southerners to transform their military defeat into a cultural victory. They romanticized the Old South and slavery, they condemned Reconstruction, and they celebrated the return to white supremacy. This "Lost Cause" ideology spread through organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the Daughters of the Confederacy, through the construction of monuments and museums, and through autobiographies. This exercise in collective memory was a powerful force in southern experience before World War II, as the autobiographies of J. Motte Alston, William Alexander Percy, and Virginia Durr reveal. Though Durr's autobiography also shows how events during the Great Depression and World War II began to shake that view of the southern past.