Dixie and D.C. re­gion drift far­ther and far­ther apart

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEVE HEN­DRIX

Dixie Liquor stands alone. The Ge­orge town shop, which has been cast­ing its neon glow across M Street NW for more than 50 years, is the only busi­ness in Washington and one of the few left in the re­gion with the word “Dixie” in its name.

And it’s not just the D-word. The re­gion’s South­ern ac­cent is also be­com­ing mea­sur­ably less pro­nounced, lin­guists say. The Con­fed­er­ate flag doesn’t fly much in these parts any­more. Korean bar­be­cue has taken its place along­side the South­ern pit-cooked va­ri­ety in many neigh­bor­hoods, and the “sweet tea line” that once stretched across Vir­ginia has got­ten blurry.

In all, ac­cord­ing to aca­demics and cul­tural ob­servers, the Washington area’s “South­ern­ness” has fallen into steep de­cline, part of a trend away from strongly held re­gional iden­ti­ties. Inthe 150th an­niver­sary year of the start of the Civil War, the re­gion at the heart of the con­flict has lit­tle left of its his­toric bond with Dixie.

“ The cul­tural Ma­son-Dixon line is just mov­ing far­ther and far­ther south as more peo­ple from other parts of the coun­try movein,” said H. Gibbs Knotts, a pro­fes­sor

at Western Carolina Uni­ver­sity who, with a col­league, con­ducted a sur­vey of Dixie-named busi­nesses as away to mea­sure the shift­ing fron­tiers of the South. (The Ma­son-Dixon line, which set the border be­tween Mary­land and Penn­syl­va­nia, was the sym­bolic di­vider be­tween North and South in the Civil War era.) “From what we’re find­ing, D.C. and Vir­ginia are not ap­pear­ing very South­ern at all these days,” Knotts said of the sur­vey, pub­lished last year.

The trend has been decades in the mak­ing, of course. But some ob­servers say the evo­lu­tion is nearly com­plete, in good part be­cause of the stepped-up mi­gra­tion of North­ern­ers and im­mi­grants into the Washington area.

“I do think we’ve reached a crit­i­cal mass of some kind— we’re not a real South­ern state any­more,” said for­mer Vir­ginia state sen­a­tor Rus­sell Potts, 71, a long­time law­maker from Loudoun County and an in­de­pen­dent gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date in 2005. “I hap­pen to be­lieve that south­ern Vir­ginia now ac­tu­ally starts down near Rich­mond. You can’t even say that Fredricks­burg is South­ern.”

That’s about right, said Sharon Ash, a Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia lin­guist and co-author of the 2005 At­las of North Amer­i­can English. A 1941 study placed the Washington area in the South for pro­nun­ci­a­tion pur­poses. But her at­las now draws that line about 45 miles north of Rich­mond, which wasthe cap­i­tal of the Con­fed­er­acy.

“We put Washington and the north­ern part of Vir­ginia in what we call the Mid­land, which also in­cludes Philadel­phia and Pitts­burgh,” Ash said. “Mi­gra­tion pat­terns are chang­ing things ev­ery­where.”

No clear bound­aries

With all due re­spect to 18th­cen­tury sur­vey­ors Charles Ma­son and Jeremiah Dixon, draw­ing hard lines around a cul­tural re­gion is al­ways an im­pre­cise ex­er­cise, said Harry Wat­son, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter of the Study of the Amer­i­can South at the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina, which last month pub­lished sev­eral pa­pers on the sub­ject. Pock­ets of South­ern­ness pop up far from the 11 states that made up the Con­fed­er­acy, Wat­son said, from the East­ern Shore ofMary­land to Bak­ers­field, Calif.

“We are never go­ing to get any hard and fast an­swers on ex­actly where the South is un­less, God for­bid, there’s an­other South­ern nation with for­ti­fied bor­ders,” Wat­son said.

But the fron­tiers of the core South are clearly shift­ing away from North­ern Vir­ginia and Washington, he said.

“ That whole area feels more metropoli­tan than it does South­ern,” said Wat­son, who is based in an­other evolv­ing corner of the South: Chapel Hill, N.C. “Down here, we make jokes about oc­cu­pied North­ern Vir­ginia.”

To north­bound In­ter­state 95 lovers of South­ern food, North­ern Vir­ginia used to mark the “sweet tea line,” be­yond which din­ers could no longer ex­pect to find the hyper-sug­ared ver­sion of the South’s na­tional bev­er­age.

A re­searcher, look­ing at where McDon­ald’s fran­chisees stopped of­fer­ing sweet tea, once mapped the line just north of Rich­mond. But the chain took sweet tea across the coun­try in 2008 and it is now avail­able na­tion­wide.

In his own at­tempt to quan­tify the shift­ing sands of re­gional iden­tity, Knotts and a col­league last year re­pro­duced a 1970s study that looked at what names busi­nesses choose for them­selves (they ex­cluded the wide­spread Winn-Dixie gro­cery stores so as not to skew the sam­ple). The “Dixie” that once proudly fig­ured on signs through­out the re­gion has largely re­ceded to a pocket of the old South in Alabama, Mis­sis­sippi and Louisiana.

“I would have been shocked to find much iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Dixie in places like North­ern Vir­ginia,” Knotts said. “And we didn’t.”

The Old Do­min­ion re­ceived a “D score” of 0.03, which means that three Dixie names were found for ev­ery 100 with the word “Amer­i­can.” Over­all, the study ranked Vir­ginia — along with Florida, Ok­la­homa and West Vir­ginia — as “Sorta South­ern,” the least South­ern of three cat­e­gories. Rich­mond saw its em­brace of Dixie busi­ness names cut in half since 1976, from 0.12 then to 0.05 last year.

In the District, the D score was never very high, Knotts said. The Ge­orge­town liquor store was the only Dixie busi­ness in town both in 1976 and to­day.

Whether Washington should be de­fined as a South­ern city has been a de­bate since the CivilWar, when it was the seat of the North­ern govern­ment but a hot­bed of rebel sym­pa­thy. In mod­ern times, the ques­tion has been more cul­tural than po­lit­i­cal. Washington’s split per­son­al­ity was for­ever sum­ma­rized by John F. Kennedy’s worst-of-both-worlds de­scrip­tion of it as a“city of South­ern ef­fi­ciency and North­ern charm.”

Dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives

As the hub of the nation’s govern­ment, Washington is al­ways home to thou­sands of new­com­ers, some of whom cling to their home­town iden­ti­ties. Those who ar­rive from the North of­ten see the area as South­ern, and those from the South feel a North­ern vibe.

But Greg Carr, who grew up in Nashville, sees South­ern mark­ers here. Carr, chair­man of Afro- Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Howard Uni­ver­sity, said he rec­og­nizes the fad­ing signs of the Old South in this re­gion.

“For black folks, this is still very much a South­ern city,” Carr said. “D.C. has very lit­tle in com­mon with a stereo­typ­i­cal North­ern city.”

Carr cited the pres­ence of an en­trenched black elite in Washington as a char­ac­ter­is­tic of South­ern cities, along the lines of At­lanta and Char­lotte. Its still-liv­ing his­tory of sharply seg­re­gated neigh­bor­hoods is an­other sign, as well as the paucity of white eth­nic neigh­bor­hoods, such as Ital­ian or Ir­ish sec­tions of Bal­ti­more, New York and Bos­ton.

“Even the ar­chi­tec­ture is more South­ern,” Carr said. “You have no con­crete canyons in­Wash­ing­ton.”

Even as black res­i­dents from other states and coun­tries move to Washington in greater num­bers, the cul­tural feel­ing of African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties re­mains South­ern, he said.

“Ana­cos­tia, that’s the South over there,” Carr said. “Folks with their shirts off wash­ing their cars, wav­ing at you as you pass by. That’s South­ern.”

And at least one ma­jor re­tailer still views Washington as a South-ern mar­ket. Al­though Safe­way has no stores in the deep South, the su­per­mar­ket chain says its clus­ter of stores be­tween Culpeper, Va., and Fred­er­ick, Md., posts the­com­pany’s biggest sales of such re­gional of­fer­ings as fried chicken, ham hocks and other “coun­try meats,” collard greens and sweet pota­toes, spokesman Greg TenEyck said.

Adri­enne Carter, 66, is a big buyer of such in­gre­di­ents. Along with her hus­band, Alvin, Carter owns the Hitch­ing Post, a soul food res­tau­rant on Up­shur Street NW. To her, Washington re­mains South­ern, but the feel­ing is fad­ing.

Al­though never as com­mon in Washington as in other South­ern cities, the num­ber of neigh­bor­hood places serv­ing fried chicken, fish, mac­a­roni and cheese, greens and other South­ern del­i­ca­cies has de­clined in re­cent decades.

“I re­mem­ber my fa­ther go­ing to places up and down Ninth and U” streets, Carter said. “Nowthey call that area Lit­tle Ethiopia.”

hen­drixs@wash­post.com

RICKY CARIOTI/THE WASHINGTON POST

Only one D.C. busi­ness still has “Dixie” in its name as “South­ern­ness” be­comes harder to find in theWash­ing­ton area.

RICKY CARIOTI/THE WASHINGTON POST

Con­fed­er­ate flags, flown or worn, are as­so­ci­ated with an affin­ity for the Old South, and they’ve nearly van­ished from the D.C. area.

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