Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Monthly Archives: April 2011

June 7 & Housing Notes

It seems almost certain now that I will leave for  Montgomery on or before June 7th.  My goal is to be there, at the latest, by June 12.  This will leave me a week to find a place to live if I do not have one before I go.  I might have to travel there in late May to apartment/house hunt.  The housing market, such as it is, suggests that I have time to research and explore Monty before purchasing a home.   I will, therefore, not buy at this time though I was sorely tempted.


More on the Confederacy and All That

Jamie Malanowski  reflects on his Civil War Centennial.   This is the money section of the essay:

But 50 years later, as we enter the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, we must realize that for those of us who care about history and this particular event, work still remains to be done. There remains a basic ignorance about the Civil War, an ignorance that fosters myths and fabrications, and deforms our understanding of ourselves.

For example, when asked about the cause of the war, far too many people will say that there were many reasons. Slavery was one; states rights, tariffs and northern aggression were others. This is sad, because when you read the words spoken by the leaders of the rebellion, when you read their secession ordinances, there is only one reason: slavery — the preservation of slavery, the extension of slavery, the expansion of slavery.

Six hundred thousand Americans did not die for anything as nebulous as states rights or tariffs. They died because slaveholders wanted to preserve their human property and expand their slaveholding empire, and they were willing to demolish the union and bring tragedy to nearly every family in this land in order to protect their right to own human beings.

To this I want to add that my reading of Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative both supports Malanowski’s conclusion but does so in a fascinating and less straightforward way.  The correspondence between Southern officers, soldiers and politicians reveal the extent to which states rights and sovereignty motivated the South.  They were fighting for their nation — their way of life that was inextricably linked to a vision of society that legitimated slavery. Yes, slavery was the main cause of the war.  Without it there would have been no war.  But once the war started, states rights and sovereignty stoked it.  This vision of national struggle helps us to understand the tenacity of the Southern effort, their willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice in treasure and lives.  The war became something far bigger than slavery, which remained at its very core.

In the North, the impetus for war was to preserve the Union.  It then expanded to end slavery and, later, to preserve the model for republican rule for the entire world.  This scope needed to expand to keep fueling the effort and Lincoln new it.  He recast the war accordingly, though preserving the Union remained its core objective.  The meaning of the war had to expand for the South if it was going to rise to Lincoln’s challenge.  Southern leaders came to understand that Lincoln had maneuvered them at every turn into fighting to the bitter end.   They could not hope to extract the sacrifices from the Southern population simply by peddling White supremacy, as embodied in arguments about property rights.  The only way to preserve its social and economic system was to establish independence.

What is interesting about the communiques and letters cited in Foote is that it was not a sell job by the part of generals and politicians.  They were not simply shills for the plantation aristocracy, as some would have it.  It is clear, at least it is to me, that these men believed that they were fighting tyranny.  They believed that they were fighting a revolution for independence, for their peculiar form of liberty and, yes, for republicanism albeit one that would lock in White supremacy at its core.

The Confederacy and All That (I have a lot to learn).

It certainly is the case that many Southerners still love the Confederacy.   For a quick summary and some data, check here.  The upshot of the data is this:

In the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners. […] When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union.

I have friends that believe that sympathy towards the confederacy is akin to having sympathy for Stalin.  Knowing what I know about the Civil War, which I admit is not much by a historian’s standard, I cannot agree with this extreme reaction.  I don’t believe it’s fair and, frankly, cruel in some respects.

The thing is this: I do not know why I think what I think.  I recognize all of the evils of slavery and the horrors of plantation economies.  But I am also sensitive to the fact that there was a way of life in Dixie, a national — now regional — sentiment, that cannot be reduced entirely to slavery.

My sense is that demographics, a changing political economy, and technological change will shrink this to an ever smaller fraction of the South in the generations ahead.  The data in the article cited above, however, suggests that it is alive and well.  I am bracing myself to interact with it, to try to understand it.  I have a lot to learn.

301 North Panama Street, Montgomery AL 36107

Below is a pic of 301 North Panama Street, whose details may be examined here on

There seem to be two neighborhoods in Monty, both affordable, that I like.  I am targeting homes  in the highly affordable Capitol Heights area, including 301 North Panama St.  These range between 90 and 110K.  In the nicer neighborhood, Old Cloverdale/Cloverdale-Idlewild, they range between 140 and 170K.  Mortgages are about $500 versus $800, give or take.  My back of the envelope calculations suggest that the opportunity costs of living in the nicer neighborhoods are too high given other needs and wants such as a fuel efficient vehicle, lifestyle preferences, and other investments.

It’s really hard not to buy when the market is as crappy as it is, so I’ve decided I’m going to buy and buy soon (next 6 months) if — and only if — I find something I’m willing to hang on to for the medium run (5-10 years).  I will be in Monty at least three years, which will give me a chance to pay down a fair amount of the mortgage.  If I buy a new place or leave Monty then renting the home won’t be much of a financial burden and might even yield a little revenue stream and some capital gains down the road.  If I stay, the mortgage will be dirt cheap, particularly if rates are still low in 3 years and I refinance into a new 30 year with a smaller loan.   Or I can just sell it.

There seem to be handful of homes in Capitol Heights that work.  Several have been on the market for months and prices have fallen somewhat since November, when I first started peeking at prices.  Here are the other two promising homes Capitol Heights:

319 North Panama Street, Montgomery AL 36107

2015 Yancey Avenue, Montgomery AL 36107

This is 301 North Panama Street, Montgomery AL 36107:

A Neat Old Map

Shelby Foote

Shelby Foote is my favorite Southern author.  Heck, he might be my favorite American author.  See him interviewed at his home here.  The first half hour is definitely worth watching.  He speaks of writing and his favorite authors, including Proust and Shakespeare.  He wrote about 500 words a day when writing the Civil War, A Narrative (2,968-page, 1.2 million-word history).

Slightly Off Topic

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been wrestling with Deep South in a series of essays and reflections on life during the Civil War.  I’ll get to linking to some of those essays another time.  For now, this made my day yesterday.  He followed it up with this gem.

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