Historian Tom Hanchett has heard so many stereotypes about the South that he wasnt surprised when a woman from a major media company exclaimed after learning he lived in North Carolina:
Oh, the South! Its awful.
If youre from here, you may know how hard Charlotte worked to re-create itself as a progressive New South city.
But Hanchettof the Levine Museum of the New South said not everyone realizes that.
Half of Americas vision of the South is police dogs and fire hoses, a place of poverty and racism, he said.
In Charlotte, weve owned that history. And in the spirit of reinvention, which is the spirit of the New South, we are going to do something about it.
And if youre not from here?
People expect plantations. But if youre looking for Rhett Butler, you wont find him.
This region did not have the huge plantations of the lower South. Most people owned smaller plots of land with fewer slaves.
Still, historian Dan Morrill of UNC Charlotte estimates that slaves made up 40 percent of Mecklenburg County in 1860 (6,800 of 17,000).
But actually, I did find Rhett Butler here and Scarlett and Aunt Pitty Pat, even ole Johnny Reb in a most unlikely place.
Out South Tryon Street, off Sandy Porter Road, is a subdivision named Taragate. Next door is Twelve Oaks.
If you read Gone With the Wind or saw the movie, you might recognize the names.
Tara was Scarlett OHaras plantation. Twelve Oaks belonged to Ashley Wilkes family.
Streets in the subdivisions owe their names to the novel, from Scarlet Circle to Pitty Pat Court to Johnny Reb Lane.
Tomorrow is another day
I learned about the subdivisions on UNC Charlotte professor Karen Coxs website, southinpopculture.com. We wondered what possessed developers to market them that way in the 1970s.
Remember the racial turbulence? Charlotte entered the 70s with violence in its schools. The office of a civil rights attorney was firebombed.
But as times and sentiments changed, Charlotte became known as the city that made integration work. By 1983, the city (then 25 percent African-American) elected Harvey Gantt its first black mayor.
Taragate and Twelve Oaks, which originally attracted white families, are now multiethnic. I talked with several residents, and only one woman recognized the significance of the names.
With apologies to Rhett Butler, frankly, they dont give a damn.
Database reporter Gavin Off contributed.