Sustaining Southern Identity: Douglas Southall Freeman and Memory in the Modern South, by Keith D. Dickson, won the prestigious Richard Slatten Award for Excellence in Biography from the Virginia Historical Society this month. The award aims to recognize distinguished contributions to Virginia biography.
The volume focuses on Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Douglas Southall Freeman, who, perhaps more than any other writer in the first half of the twentieth century, helped shape and sustain a collective identity for white southerners. A journalist, lecturer, radio broadcaster, and teacher of renown, Freeman wrote and spoke on themes related to southern memory throughout his life.
The book offers a masterful intellectual biography of Freeman as well as a comprehensive analysis of how twentieth-century southerners came to remember the Civil War, fashion their values and ideals, and identify themselves as citizens of the South. Dickson’s work underscores Freeman’s contributions to the enduring memory of Confederate courage and sacrifice in southern culture. The longtime editor of the Richmond News Leader, Freeman wrote several authoritative and extraordinarily influential multivolume historical narratives about both Confederate general Robert E. Lee and the high command of the Army of Northern Virginia. His contributions to the enduring southern memory framework—with its grand narrative of Confederate courage and sacrifice, and its attachment to symbols and rituals—still serve as a touchstone for the memory-truths that define a distinct identity in the South.
Dr. Dickson is a professor of military studies at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, a college within the National Defense University.