Literature and Music of the New South

Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris - Free at Loyal Books

Episode 23: Literature and Music in the New South

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

Following the Civil War, the US South gave birth to literary and musical traditions that influenced the entire world.

The earliest post-war literature depicted nostalgia around a lost way of life in which both Blacks and Whites were clear about the fixed role they played in society. Especially popular were books written from a Black perspective (by White authors). With the “mass-produced” culture (in the form of dime novels) that arose across the US during the 1880s and 1890s, this literature was just as popular in the North as the South. In fact “local color” fiction was one of the South’s major post-Civil War products. The best known books were Joel Chandler’s Uncle Remus stories first published in 1880. In them, an old slave (Uncle Remus) imparts knowledge to a small white boy through Brer Rabbit fables.

Southern feminist writers Kate Chopin and Ellen Glasgow also published during this period, to be rediscovered during the 1970s women’s liberation movement.

In 1906, Thomas Page published The Clansman, the basis of D W Griffith’s ground- breaking 2015 movie Birth of a Nation. The latter would inspire the 20th century rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.

Born in 1897, William Faulkner, one of the most celebrated authors of American literature, would come of age during the New South literary renaissance.

According to Ayers the new musical traditions (jazz, blues and country music) largely originated in churches. Much of of this new music was heavily influenced by African music, with its use of syncopation, call and response patterns, improvisation, falsetto and rough and slurred voice textures. The southern musical renaissance also benefited from the “mass production” frenzy that lowered the cost of sheet music and instruments (often costing as little as $1 apiece).

In 1897, ragtime became the first global musical phenomenon as former slave musician Scott Joplin incorporated Black church music and folk tunes into popular music.

New Orleans with its brass band-led funeral marches and diverse ethnic makeup was another important source of the new music. In general, new music incorporating significant improvisation was called “jazz,” whereas the moniker blues originated from slurred “blue notes,” played at a slightly different pitch from standard European music.

“Country music” was more a white phenomenon originating with northern “parlor” songs about themes of grief and loss overcome by love (of God). Many popular tunes derived from 18th century English hymns sung at revival meetings. The first country music was recorded in the 1920s.

Both Black and White musicians adapted some of this music as gospel quartets often performed as people waited their turn in barbershops.

Film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu Jamal

Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu Jamal

Directed by Stephen Vittoria (2012)

Film Review

This is a moving and beautifully made film about the journalistic career of Mumia Abu-Jamal, both before and after his 1981 incarceration. The film is narrated by a score of famous Black intellectuals, historians, writers, teachers, journalists, and activists. Prior to his arrest for the murder of Philadelphia cop Daniel Faulkner in 1981,* Mumia was a radio journalist for the NPR station at Temple University in Philadelphia. His interviews and news features were syndicated throughout the Delaware Valley. At the time of his arrest he was president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

Thanks to a trial plagued with legal irregularities, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

In 1992, after ten years on death row, a Pacifica** journalist organized for him to do regular Live from Death Row commentaries mainly focused on the immense sufferings of his fellow inmates (never on his own circumstances) under the barbaric US system of mass incarceration. He also used the broadcasts to draw public attention to the bomb the Philadelphia police (in collaboration with the FBI) dropped on the MOVE household in 1985 (see

The series was carried by Pacifica radio stations across the US and by Democracy Now shortly after its 1996 start-up.

Mumia’s Live from Death Row commentaries ended when state authorities banned all journalists from interviewing inmates in the Pennsylvania correctional system. The collected broadcasts were published as a book, Live from Death Row, in 1995.

After his radio broadcasts ended, Mumia worked on three more books:

  • Faith of our Fathers (2003) – about the history of African and African American spirituality
  • We Want Freedom (2008) – about the history of the Black Panther Party
  • Jailhouse Lawyers (2009) – about prisoners-turned-advocates who have learned to use the legal system to assist fellow inmates.

He also published an article in the Yale Law Journal in 1991 about the inhumane treatment of death row prisoners.

All of his publications required major research, which Mumia carried out without benefit of Internet access, and were were written out longhand.

Despite the ban on journalist interviews, scores of political science and African studies teachers arrange for Mumia to present to their classes via conference calls.

In 2006, the Free Mumia Movement went international, with mass protests demanding his release occurring in all major cities. The same year a St Denis, a suburb of Paris named a street after him. In 2007 Paris proclaimed him an honorary citizen.

In April 2011 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the death penalty, and the Philadelphia District Attorney agreed to accept a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Because of a surprise December 2019 ruling (based on new evidence), Mumia now has a real chance of winning a new trial (see Counterpunch).

*In 1999, Arnold Beverley confessed to the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner. He maintains the Mob hired him and a friend to kill Faulkner due to the latter’s efforts to root out police corruption. See

**Pacifica Foundation is an American non-profit organization which owns five independently operated, non-commercial, listener-supported radio station.