It is economics that's behind why northerners (generally) eat cornbread w/ sugar in the batter and southerners (generally) don't.
In the South, cornbread was eaten as a bread with your meal and you used it to sop up juices. Cornbread was used for basic sanwiches and as a base to pour your beans & ham hocks or other stewed dishes on (crumbled on greenbeans etc) You do not want sweetened cornbread for this - I can tell you sweet cornbread will spoil a dish of pinto beans instantly - ugh.
White bread was called 'lightbread' and most people couldn't afford much of it in the depressed South; flour was far more costly than cornmeal.
Biscuits on Sunday and rolls for Sunday dinner might use up the weekly budget for wheat flour. Of course those days are long gone now, thank God!
I have a lot of Northern-type friends and they insist on sugar in cornbread. But then they aren't accustomed to eat the cornnbread mixed w/ their main meal. They eat it as muffins, a sweet cake, plain or with butter.
I like sweet corn muffins just fine, but they are not the utilitarian Cornbread that is indespensible in Southern dining, to be used as a sop and an accompanyment to your main dishes.
I have dicussed this w/ people from all over, and most have an opinion. I'm curious what Chowhounders will answer with regard to this.
Thanks : )