To be sure, the past few years have been tough on Paula Deen, whose courtroom admission in 2013 of twanging the N-word years ago ignited hot debates over the extent to which racist thinking still thrives in the so-called New South.
If Ms. Deen could understand why non-Southerners were rallying against her, she probably never imagined getting the hit she has taken on her home turf. This spring, Uncle Bubba’s Seafood & Oyster House — Ms. Deen and her older brother Earl W. “Bubba” Heirs’ once-popular Savannah restaurant — was shuttered. It’s the same restaurant that triggered the sexual and racial harassment suit by an employee against Ms. Deen and her brother. (In June, Ms. Deen started her first post-scandal enterprise, a namesake retail store and a restaurant in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.)
Of course, these days, it’s hard not to wonder whether Paula Deen’s fall from grace, especially in Savannah, suggests that this stubborn old city is stepping into the modern age, or whether Ms. Deen is just a sacrificial lamb in a city happily stuck in its ways. Such questions extend all the way out to Tybee Island, where Ms. Deen owns and rents her vacation home named the Y’All Come Inn, a sunny, 2,000-square-foot beach house appointed with her home furnishing line and a kitchen that conjures "Steel Magnolias."
During segregation, blacks were prohibited from Tybee Island and vacationed instead some 20 miles northeast in South Carolina at Hilton Head Island, today an upscale resort. These days, though, the hottest restaurant on Tybee Island has a black co-owner: the North Beach Bar and Grill, a hip ocean side hangout tucked between the lighthouse and beach that specializes in Caribbean-fusion cuisine and was co-founded by George Spriggs, an African-American chef and restaurateur.