A Southerner Rediscovers the South

Davis, Jonathan. History Over Chatanooga. A Southerner Discovers the South.The McMillian Company. 1938

Jonathan Davis’s book “A Southerner Discovers the South” contains a chapter titled ‘History Over Chattanooga’ that follows the author and his friend Joe on

a journey to Tennessee. Pages 81-88 are centers on the pursuit of the gaining perspective of the land- the South– he has heard such tall tales about. The main problem in this chapter is a fabled argument that occurred between two members of the Southern Policy Committee of Tennessee, in 1937.

Tate and Amberson were both college educated, professional, working men; however, there was one thing separated them: heritage. Tate was from Clarke County, Kentucky, while Amberson was from Pennsylvania. Amberson, whose father was landlord at an apple orchard, was no more than a carpet-bagger in Tate’s eyes. Thus, Tate sought to exploit this weakness, using this information to inspire fear of possibility the Yankee rival might be spreading communist ideals through the committee. Unfortunately, Davis’s perspective is jeopardized since Amberson- along with a few other witnesses- was the only person account of the story he receives between the two men, thereby limiting the scope of the argument. The argument mainly being a dispute over caution of “outsiders” coming south, and whether it was right for Tate to use false accusations of communist affiliation to pin fearful people against him.

Yet, from Davis’s view, Amberson was able to come out even, if not ahead, after the verbal attack at the Commitee meeting. Amberson told a story about Tate’s trip to a Southern Policy Committee meeting in Arkansas, where there were rumors afloat of communist infiltration in the group. Tate had recently traveled over the boarder to interview these members, nevertheless his partner on the mission, Rorty, became carried away causing a stir and their eventual escape back to Tennessee. These facts spoiled Tate’s argument, allowing Amberson to publicly question Tate’s infallibility in front of his peers.

Though the story seemed disorganized and unnecessarily vague on my first read, the second time I recognized a deep commonality: fear. The fear of not being accepted, or worse, not being able to survive the South. Amberson sought to influence the Committee because he believed tenant farmers should be able to unionize to achieve better pay/ living conditions. Conversely, Tate feared Amberson was making attempts to infringe on their livelihood by instilling ideas of communism, robbing them of the Agrarian “opportunity” provided under a capitalist system. Unfortunately, Davis feels their mindset will directly affect the slow progress of the region and the common thought-or fear- of Us v. Them in the South.