Every once in a while a book is published which takes its place as critically significant and pivotal—which has an influence and reach far beyond other similar studies or writings—in how a culture and society see themselves, and how they see their past and also perhaps their future. For Southerners aware of their history and traditions or desirous of (re)discovering them, so it was in years past with Richard Weaver’s monumental study, The Southern Tradition at Bay (originally published in 1968). And before that the work of the Twelve Southern Regionalists, I’ll Take My Stand (1930), a book never out of print and still very influential today ninety years after its first publication. And one must add to these the various works and essays of the late Mel Bradford, perhaps the modern South’s most brilliant author and defender.
Just this past November 3, 2020—election day, ironically—the newly-revised third edition of James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy’s The South Was Right! was published. And that publication is a truly signal event. For it incorporates the insights and understanding of Southern history, specifically the justice and rightness of our ancestors in 1861-1865, and brings them forward to our own perilous times when it seems that everything Southern, everything we hold dear and we honor, the very living memory and inheritance of our ancestors…indeed, the very existence of Western Christian civilization on this continent, which found its most noble expression in the South of our ancestors…is under merciless, perhaps mortal assault.
Since The South Was Right! was first published in 1991 and then published in a second edition in 1994, much history—far too much of it terribly negative—has fitfully passed us by and oftentimes seems to overwhelm us. The South Was Right! in this new edition from Shotwell Publishing is like a powerful shield and buckler which can offer us indispensable support not only in the defense of our Confederate heritage and our Southern civilization, but also provide us with ample ammunition to go forward on the offensive, to begin the arduous, difficult, but still possible effort of regaining our history, our culture and our birthright.
The late Mel Bradford used the expression “remembering who we are” in several of his works. Indeed, his 1985 book of trenchant essays carries that title: Remembering Who We Are: Observations of A Southern Conservative. But for Bradford, as also for the Kennedy brothers, it is not just the imperative to awaken the memory and legacy of our ancestors and of their inheritance, but to fathom it in its fullness and to know that that inheritance, that culture, those beliefs and that faith are profoundly nourished by traditions and foundations that go back two millennia, that are real….And that despite their apparent eclipse by our contemporary society which despises them and seeks to abolish them, they still offer sustenance and illumination for us—if we let them.
Certainly, such a return to, as the pro-Southern poet Robert Lee Frost once wrote, “the truths we keep coming back and back to” (cf. “The Black Cottage”), is fraught with extreme risks and severe danger in our day and time. We are called racists and neo-Confederates, or “white supremacists” and worse if we defend our heroes of 1861-1865. Our reputations are besmirched; we are doxxed by vicious radicals; even our livelihoods are threatened.
Yet, in our heart-of-hearts we know with President Jefferson Davis, that “Truth crushed to earth is truth still and like a seed will rise again.”
The Kennedy brothers understand, they fathom this, and they have set upon the path of both defending “who we are” and reclaiming our real history and existence as a people from those who would destroy and eradicate them. Here, in this volume, is a veritable goldmine of vital factual information and history grounded in a foundation of truth and faith which we all should digest and know. For once armed and strong in the Faith we may go forward and do battle as our ancestors once did on the fields on Manassas and Chancellorsville.
We have only that choice—or, the ignominious and miserable disappearance from the annals of history. The Kennedys chart our course, and we should follow them.
This piece originally appeared at MyCorner on November 28, 2020.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.