Welcome to the archives for NewsTalk, an IBJ blog published from November 2007 through December 2010.

Is Indiana northern or southern?

April 7, 2010

The new Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, is coming under fire for declaring April as Confederate History Month after two Democratic predecessors skipped similar declarations.

Detractors are aghast that McDonnell didn’t cite slavery in the proclamation and accuse him of pandering to his conservative base. McDonnell says the point is to study the Confederacy and play up the state’s history as a tourism draw. (Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy during Civil War years.)

Many Hoosiers would recoil at McDonnell’s move. Others, though, might not, and the reactions would likely differ depending on where in Indiana one fielded the reaction.

Bruce Bigelow, a historical geographer at Butler University who is writing a paper for an academic journal on cultural sub-regions of Indiana, says the southern third of the state is still heavily influenced by immigration from the South during the 1800s.

Voters largely rejected Lincoln in 1860 and still prefer Blue Dogs like Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill to more liberal Democrats, Bigelow notes. And with the exception of Bloomington and to some extent Evansville, it isn’t unheard of to see Confederate flags snapping in the wind or Confederate license plates.

“Southern Indiana is sort of an extension of Kentucky and Tennessee, culturally,” he says.

How does Bigelow define Southern culture? Not sympathetically. It’s politically and religiously conservative and anti-government. And, to the Vermont native, the Confederate flag represents “keeping blacks in their place.”

Central Indiana is a transition zone between southern Indiana hills and northern Indiana, he says, and the Indianapolis area is a region unto itself.

Bigelow, by the way, plans to identify a number of other pockets in his paper: Heavily Catholic South Bend, Quaker-leaning Richmond, Chicagoland, Amish and Mennonite northeast Indiana, and Fort Wayne are just a few.

The issue of the Confederate flag is complex and extends to lots of things besides slavery.

Surely you have thoughts. Please share.

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