In his 1941 social history classic “The Mind of the South,” journalist W.J. Cash concluded the tome with a burn for those below the Mason-Dixon Line. As he saw it, the so-called New South was still simmering in its Old South vices: — among others, “violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas.” For Cash, the Southern mind-set was held hostage by a “savage ideal” — one that was immovable when it came to bona fide change.
In Tracy Thompson’s “The New Mind of the South” — her 21st-century view of Cash’s endeavor to take the temperature of the region — she also treks through the states of the Old Confederacy in an attempt to figure out where Southerners stand in the present. In her able blend of reportage, travelogue, and memoir, she discovers a region that’s anything but homogeneous. “Southerners like to portray the South as a region that’s resistant to change,” Thompson writes, “but the only tradition here is of change that comes quickly and with stunning force.”