By KIM SEVERSON
(The New York Times) ATLANTA — One August night, two men walked into a popular restaurant attached to this city’s fanciest shopping mall. They sat at the bar, ordered drinks and pondered the menu. Two women stood behind them.
A bartender asked if they would mind offering their seats to the ladies. Yes, they would mind. Very much.
Angry words came next, then a federal court date and a claim for more than $3 million in damages.
The men, a former professional basketball player and a lawyer, also happen to be black. The women are white. The men’s lawyers argued that the Tavern at Phipps used a policy wrapped in chivalry as a cloak for discriminatory racial practices.
After a week’s worth of testimony in September, a jury decided in favor of the bar.
Certainly, the owners conceded, filling the bar with women offers an economic advantage because it attracts more men. But in the South, they said, giving up a seat to a lady is also part of a culture of civility.
At least, it used to be. The Tavern at Phipps case, and a growing portfolio of examples of personal and political behavior that belies a traditional code of gentility, have scholars of Southern culture and Southerners themselves wondering if civility in the South is dead, or at least wounded.
“Manners are one of many things that are central to a Southerner’s identity, but they are not primary anymore. Things have eroded,” said Charles Reagan Wilson, a professor of history and Southern culture at the University of Mississippi...