The Sweet Tea Line Moves Further South

The Washington Post just ran an article this week about how there is only one place of business in D.C. with the word ‘Dixie’ in the name.  It goes on to talk about a further shift South in ‘Southernness’ and thus, the ‘Sweet Tea Line’:

(I’m interspersing some pics I’ve taken of businesses with the name Dixie in this post.  Clicking on any of them will take you to their Flickr page.)

Dixie Hardware Company, Crowley LA

“The cultural Mason-Dixon line is just moving farther and farther south as more people from other parts of the country move in,” said H. Gibbs Knotts, a professor at Western Carolina University who, with a colleague, conducted a survey of Dixie-named businesses as a way to measure the shifting frontiers of the South. …”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.

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 was the capital of the Confederacy.

Dixie Theatre, Haleyville AL

“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.

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.

Motel Heart of Dixie, Dadeville AL

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 in Washington.”

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 Southern 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 the company’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.

Dixie Freeze, South Pittsburg TN

Av, who was born and raised in Alabama but went to the University of Virginia for college (as did both his parents), is not going to like hearing that the school he loves, Mr. Jefferson’s school, isn’t really in a state that’s so Southern anymore.  But I think he was already realizing that.

One of the most interesting things about the article was the graphic content that the Washington Post put online. After doing their scoring, the researchers put states in three categories, “Southern to the Core”, “Pretty Darn Southern”, and “Sorta Southern”.

Southern to the Core: Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Last weekend at Pie Lab, Shugie drank his tea out of a Mason jar.  Can’t get any more Southern than that!

Av and Shugie at Pie Lab

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