DECATUR, Ga. — It was Friday afternoon at Kimball House, a casually elegant bistro set in a 19th-century railroad depot where the bartenders wield Herbsaint, rye and peach honey. Chuck Reece, 56, editor in chief of the website The Bitter Southerner, was at the bar, poring over the day’s raw oyster menu and using a little pencil to circle all the items of Southern provenance.
Then Mr. Reece recounted his website’s origin story, one he suffuses with a dash of the providential. It was originally going to be a breezy celebration of Southern cocktail culture, he said, until he and his friends hit on that curious name. “Bitter Southerner” suggested a more ambitious mission. “We basically spent a year trying to figure out what that name was telling us to do,” he said.
And this, in essence, is what they heard: “Cross out the ‘i’ and add an ‘e’,” Mr. Reece said. “Bitter” would become “better.” This website was going to try to fix the South.
From the outside, the American South of 2017 may seem stuck in a one-note loop of grim historical disputation, with fights over the Confederate flag and monuments interrupted only by meteorological disaster. But Mr. Reece’s online magazine is engaged in a broader re-examination of Southern identity that is playing out in a clutch of ambitious regional publications, some of them provocatively named — Garden & Gun, Scalawag — and all describing a multifaceted, multiracial future that seems to have already arrived, right alongside the incessant re-litigating of the past.