Southern Pride in a Time of Terror

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I’m a child of the American South.  I’m the Witch of this Southern place, this place , this one here in Virginia, close-by the shores of Spout Run and the Potomac River.  I’m a woman whose spiritual life consists mainly of being in relationship with my Southern landbase.  And there’s a lot about the South that makes me proud.

I’m proud of our cooking, a melange, as Michael Twitty notes, of African, European, Island, and Native traditions.  Chef Twitty has called our cuisine a family affair and sometimes one full of family fights.  Give me ham biscuits, a mint julep, Old Bay, crawfish étouffée, fried catfish, my Aunt May’s hushpuppies, guava jelly, and a chess pie.

I’m proud of Southern writing, a genre not afraid to explore the shadows and the weird and to claim them, to claim them fully.

I’m proud of Southern gardens, Southern architecture, and Southern music.  Jazz, ya’ll.  Bluegrass.  Rock and roll.  Country.  Gospel.  Whatever’s on your iPod, a lot of it is likely Southern.  We’re a musical people and, even when poor, we have a harmonica, an old washbasin, a guitar.

I’m proud of Southern hospitality, the way we want to feed each other, pour each other a cooling drink on a hot day, sit visitors down on the porch to talk a spell.

I’m proud of our Southern Universities, from Morehouse, to UVA, to Virginia Tech, to Duke, to Howard, to Tulane.  You all think we’re either elite or stupid, but we’re mostly drunk on education.

I’m proud of our storytellers.  You haven’t heard a good story until you’ve heard an old tale told, slow and wandering, with a strong Southern accent.  And that’s another thing I’m proud of:  our accents.  Listening to Southerners talk is like listening to music, and there are so many different Southern dialects.

I’m proud of the South’s glowing tradition of poetry.  Go read Natasha Trethewey, Coleman Barks, Wendell Berry.  We’re a people besotted with language, desperately in love with words, out of our minds with the need to tell — and it shows.

I’m proud of our tradition of healing.  Many of America’s most modern and innovative medical centers are in the South.  And our ancient traditions of healing are alive and thriving.  We’re exposed to a lot of illness, hardship, biological attacks — Asian Tiger Mosquitoes, I am just saying —  and environmental degradation here in the South and we never stop looking for ways to help people feel better.  Here, have some of my fire cider, let me tie this bit of bacon fat on your splinter, let the doctors at the Center for Disease Control learn about what ails you.

I’m proud of our mountain people who’ve survived, for generations, in the harshest conditions, exploited and mostly ignored by the rest of society, and, yet, they still managed to preserve their music, folkways, magic, and courage.  I’m proud of our island people who’ve faced the stormy Atlantic, pulled a life from it, and still managed to weave beauty at every chance.  I’m proud of the people who live in our tiny towns:  hardware merchants, beauty parlor managers, truck farmers.

You want farmers?  We do still grow cotton, rice, and tobacco (the slavery triad), but we also grow soy beans, corn, tomatoes of every variety, squashes too numerous to count, okra, fish peppers, peaches, plums, figs, and, oh yes, paw paws.  We still grow paw paws.

I’m proud of our cities:  New Orleans which is a place of music and magic, Atlanta which is modern and bustling, and, on the border between Mason and Dixon, Washington, D.C., which John Kennedy lovingly called a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency.  I think we got the better part of both worlds.

I’m proud, too, of how far the South has come on the subject of race.  We have a long way to go, but we’ve come a long, long way, just in my lifetime.  And I want to point out that racism isn’t now, and has never been, just a Southern thing.  Go to Oregon, go to Missouri, go to Pennsylvania, go, hell, to Alaska.  The South, unlike all ya’ll,  has never had the luxury of pretending that we didn’t have to deal with racism.

Here’s what I’m not proud of.  I’m not proud that the South started the Civil War.  I’m not proud of slavery nor of the economy and way of life founded upon it.  I’m not proud of the men who declared war on the United States of America, neither the rich ones nor the poor ones they swindled into fighting for them so that the poor ones could, at least, consider themselves better than an African American.  All of those men were traitors and I’m glad that my country, America, defeated them.  I’m not proud of Jim Crow.  I’m not proud of segregation.  I’m 61 and IN MY LIVING MEMORY I can still recall going down South to see my momma’s relatives and stopping at gas stations that had “Colored Bathrooms” and “Colored Water Fountains,” and at segregated restaurants and hotels.   I’m not proud of the Confederate flag, the flag of defeated traitors.  I’m not proud of Confederate generals.

So I say, as a proud Southern woman, as a woman who loves the South:  Tear down the Confederate flags and pull down each and every statue of Confederate soldiers on public land.  After last weekend, they’re obviously a danger to public health and safety.  We don’t need them to remember our history; that’s what we’ve got schools and libraries and storytellers for.  And let’s tell our babies our whole history and tell it true, not pretend that it doesn’t have warts, and gaping wounds, and cool scabs.  I’ll gladly fly a flag with magnolias on it, or crawfish, or banjos, or palms.  And I’ll stop and admire statues of real Southern heroes and heras:  Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln (born in Kentucky), Rosa Parks, Patsy Cline, Zora Neale Hurston, Anne Richards, William Faulkner, Edgar Allen Poe . . . there’s a long list.

I guess what I’m trying to say to you, here, on my screen porch, under the ceiling fan, on a humid night in August when I can hear the cicadas and the crickets and the tree frogs, is that this, like everything else, isn’t binary.  It’s not either love the South and adopt the flag of losing traitors and admire men who fought for slavery or just admit that you don’t belong here.  I can love the South, love the people, love the landbase, accept the complicated history, AND not want to see that nasty flag or those evil men ever again.

I think I’m also trying to say to you, here, surrounded by magnolias, and oaks, and crepe myrtles, that there are nearly next to no places/cultures/peoples in the world who don’t have the kind of complicated history that we Southerners have.  A lot of all y’all are just further removed from it or are more able to ignore it.  Love your Celtic history?  I love mine, too, but the Celts came and pushed my Pictish ancestors off their land, enslaved them, and nearly drove them to extinction.  And then the Normans came and enslaved the Celts (but that hasn’t stopped me loving and studying French, French food, French fashion, French wine . . . .)  Proud of your African heritage?  You should be.  Africa is the birthplace of civilization, had proud cities while my ancestors were running naked on the moors, and has some of the most interesting languages and unique art on the planet.  Africans also kept and sold slaves.  Relate strongly to your Norse ancestors?  Me, too, but let’s admit up front some of us are pretty morose; ya’ll know it’s true, bless your hearts.  Love it that you come from a long line of New York City dwellers?  I can’t blame you.  New York has the best ballet, the best restaurants, the best libraries. . . .   Ya’ll gave us Donald Trump, though.

I think I’ve made my point.

Tear them down.  Build up better things.

I’m a Witch and a Witch takes responsibility.  I’m not playing binary games.

Picture found here.

 

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72 responses to “Southern Pride in a Time of Terror

  1. This is such a beautifully written piece that I am compelled to share it. The problem is I see no Facebook share button so I will not unless you give your permission. Thanks

  2. Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    These words are beautifully spoken. I vividly remember my first visit to the deep South. I was in Atlanta for a conference. I was shocked at how many Confederate monuments there were, and it made me — a white woman — feel very uncomfortable. I could only imagine how those monuments made people of color feel every day. Because those monuments were a deliberate reminder to people of color that they had best not step out of line.

    I can love New Orleans with all my heart (and I do) and still be glad that the Liberty Place monument (and many others) are now going into museums instead of standing on public streets.

  3. Poetic, honest, and true. Thanks for this writing.

  4. Right on! Beautifully written. As you know, I love “our” South, too, and we’ve spent many a day exploring it together.

  5. New Yorkers WARNED you idiots about Donald Trump & you wouldn’t listen.

  6. Beautiful! This old Yankee has been learning so much about the South in her adulthood, knew nothing as a child. Bless you.

  7. Soooo beautiful. I have no connection to the South and you kinda make we wish I did. I found out some of my northern relatives held slaves in Long Island in the Hempstead Colony. Uh-huh.

    • Lots of people are completely shocked when they discover there was slavery in New York State or that New York Harbor was a very import port for slave traders. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. The history books used in my catholic school in Whitestone sanitized much and left out even more.

  8. Beautiful ! I am in tears. I spent most of my life in northern California, but now live in the 7th ward, in New Orleans. I am listening to jazz on WWOZ, watching the sky lighten

  9. Oh I love this so much!

  10. I was all ready to sing, “Amen!” until I came to the reminder that Africans held slaves.

    This point is made over and over by those seeking to minimize and deny the harm of American slavery, and in this point in our history, when so many people (yes, North and South–the organizer of the Charlottesville rally came from Maine) are denying truths about our history of racism, it strikes a sour note.

    (Also, to be a historical nit-picker, it was neither an institution comparable to American chattel slavery for its harshness nor its permanent, inter-generational quality, nor was it entirely run by Africans. The African slavery and the slave trade was altered and worsened by colonialism and pressures as well as enticements from Europeans, and then as now, the enslavement of black Africans was often engaged in by Arabs, as in Somalia.)

    I would love to have shared this post. I would have sung the Halleluiah Chorus over this post… were it not for that one sour note, which risks giving aid and comfort to those who still believe racism ought to be part of the Southern values you rightly extoll.

    • Cat, You make some good points. Slavery has had many faces and forms throughout history. Ask the Greeks, Romans, the Celts. But it’s never pretty.

    • I have to agree. And the war would not have started if the North had just let the South secede from the North. It was legal. It was not treasonous. It was only made illegal after the war started. That’s why it was called The War of Norther Aggression. And it was over taxes and state rights.

  11. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting this into words and being. These feelings I’ve been having…beautiful ❤

  12. I was born in Virginia and am a proud Southerner. We are our history, to an extent, but we do not need to repeat it. Before Charlottesville (BC?), I believed our monuments should remain. I’m not sure why I felt that way because I deplore the “Rebel” flag (that’s what I was taught to call it) and think it should be against the law for anyone to fly it, wear it, paint it on a mailbox, or wear it on a ballcap. I guess it was because I love public art in any form. After Charlottesville, I changed my mind. I will always be a proud Southerner, for the reasons you shared and because my people are here. But if I could, I’d take a sledgehammer to every monument to that evil war. And I’d hold my head high after. Thank you for this glorious tribute to all we hold dear — and all we want to be gone with the wind of a thousand bulldozers.

  13. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Weeping. A thousands times YES. Thank you. Your words are beautiful.

  15. Thank you so much for this! I am always in this battle within myself and with outsiders who want to demonize southerners. It’s so hard to explain why I love my Georgia home in spite of the terrible history. There is so much that is good in the south – the stories, the food, the music, the universities, and the inherent kindness and good humor of most southerners, no matter what their background. You said it perfectly!

  16. I’m a Southern girl, too. Born, raised, and received my early education in Northern Virginia. You have exquisitely articulated my thought and feelings precisely here. Thank you!

  17. Oh so eloquently stated – Thank You! You expressed some sentiments I didn’t even know I had until I read them, as well as some sentiments that have been burning bridges with some of my friends and family. The art of southern story telling is alive and well – you just proved it.

  18. Wow. You are one amazing writer. Thank you from the very bottom of my Southern Appalachian now living in the Piedmont of North Carolina heart. I needed to read your words. Bless you.

  19. Beautiful. Thank you.

  20. Thank you, thank you. As a Southerner, from a long line of DAR and SAR members, as well as (Goddess help me!) sympathizers with the KKK, I know all too well how complicated and bittersweet a Southern heritage is. Strom Thurmond was a pall-bearer at my grandfather’s funeral, have mercy.

    So thank you, because your words touch me deeply, and like others writing to you, I needed someone to articulate them in your beautiful measure. Ås you always do. Bless you, darlin’.

  21. Thank you for your beautiful thoughts and lovely way of communicating what so many of us are feeling. My Mother’s people are from Tennessee. I grew up, like you, seeing things that were very confusing for a kid from New Mexico. I came back every summer from MacKenzie wondering why the South had such segregation, only to realize that we in NM also had our “evils perpetrated by people”. Much has changed, as you stated, in our life time (I am in my 60’s also) but not nearly enough.
    The shame of this past week’s horror must be shared by all of us and we must accept our role in now turning our sites to better for all, now. We cannot turn a blind eye to “those that would tear us down” any longer. Blessings, Oma Linda

  22. This is a beautiful post, absolutely beautiful. Deservedly, it is getting traction …I saw it on Facebook.

  23. Thank you for what you said. I too love lots about the South even though I spent lots of time other places. I grew a lot and spent many years in the SouthWest, mostly Texas. And I love many of the same things you do. I am in my 79th year and remember many of the things you do. And if we were neighbors we would still be friends. Life long. Anyway. Thanks for posting this and I am going to send this out to all my public posting. I think this writing is brilliant and very useful. Blessings, Gramma/Mama Shirley

  24. My momma was a Southern woman of many generations. She shared with me a love of the rich, complex beauty of where I come from, but she never flinched from its ugliness. This captures that same spirit and depth that people who don’t know never really will. I hope you don’t mind that I read your words in her voice.

    Thank you for sharing your truth, your vision, your South with us … in all its parts.

  25. Beautifully written. I also remember the segregated south. I grew up in Tennessee. I now live in Kentucky.

  26. Very real perspective – agreed its an ugly scab – lets let the souls of the confederacy finally rest in peace – so that we can live in peace.

  27. Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and, especially, for your stories. We’re a strong people and we can fix what ails us.

  28. Eloquent and piercingly honest…could not have said it better, myself. Thank you!

  29. You put it into words perfectly, succinctly, poetically and factually. Thank you. I have never understood why the monuments and flags were ever allowed. The South is a rich, deep, bright land, with so much more to offer than this dark part of its heritage. Let that story be told, but in places and by people that offer perspective.

  30. This is so beautifully written my family are Southerners, Tennessee and Mississippi (home of the magnolia). No one tells a story like a Southerner. What a wonderful way to spend time rather than losing yourself in TV or video games. Most of the history is worthwhile but not slavery.
    Thank you for writing this. Special.

  31. Swallowing my tears to this beautiful piece. Thank you from an educated Kentucky barefoot woman who still loves her grandpa’s cornbread and buttermilk and was raised on her grandma playing the banjo and the mandolin. A gentle southern woman who did it all from de-feathering the chickens to milking the cow to seeing on her treble sewing machine making me potato sack dresses in the midst of it all …she was Baptist and carried her rosary and didn’t hesitate to call out ‘ornery’ behavior😂 which she would certainly be doi for now❣️

  32. I like this immensely. As a friend, a fellow Southerner, said, “Your grandmomma’s sweet potato pie is heritage. That flag is just hate.” Gotta cut a corner off your Southern card, though, for misspelling “y’all”.

  33. How wonderful to have monuments to storytelling, the sound of cicadas, and moon light through the pines instead.

  34. As a born and bred GRIT from Mississippi, this piece struck a chord in my soul and brought tears to my eyes. I was there- in my Poppy’s church in the pine woods, smelling the magnolias in front of my grade school in Oxford, running behind the mosquito fogging truck, watching the kudzu take over the trees behind my Aunt Alice’s house, lying in bed listening to cicadas and crickets. I have struggled most of my adult life with how to balance my love for home with the reality of being anti-racist-a journey that started in August 1962 when the ugliness of racism burst into my 10 year old world in Oxford Mississippi. Your words brought me peace. Thank you.

  35. Rosemary Siipola

    You have completely put into beautiful words and phrases the thoughts I have been trying to put together. My stomach turns when I see a confederate flag. We have to move past this and let these ridiculous prejudices and beliefs go. Our country needs all of our energy, our hearts and our minds. Thank you.

  36. It’s y’all, not ya’ll.
    – a Texan

  37. I adore this. I, too, live by Spout Run and the Potomac. Thank you for your beautiful piece.

  38. Thank you so very much for this! As someone with Southern grandparents and numerous historical connections, I’ve always had great love for the South in so many ways, yet been unable to reconcile it with all the issues. This is fantastic and so beautifully written I teared up.

  39. Powerful words. Thank you for sharing your insight.

  40. I can’t tell you how much this beautiful essay means to me. I shared it on Facebook and introduced it thus: “She speaks for me. All y’all should listen.”

  41. This was a fantastic piece! Thank you so much for writing. I feel such resonance, because a couple years ago I returned (after more than 40 years’ intentional absence – living in the West and up North) to southern Missouri and a culture that feels extremely foreign to me and I’ve spent a good amount of time trying to understand the tug-of-war within me. You summed up much of my inner conflict so beautifully. I’m grateful. Blessings!

  42. Thank you for this piece. As a southern woman of many generations, I truly felt this essay. So much that I had to read it aloud. My accent of the Carolinas wrapped around it and it became so much more powerful. I heard the opinions that echo so deeply in my heart. I knew that you have dealt with the same ironies that embody being a woman of the south. I soon heard the Queen of all southern women reciting your essay. Even though she is fictional, Julia Sugarbaker came to life in my office as I read. So thank you again for giving us this piece, but thank you more for letting the others see what it is to be raised south of the Mason-Dixon.

  43. Fabulously said. Unfortunately slavery does seem to be in the DNA of the human, when the dominators are in power. The South is so full of mystery and musk, and her cities are so rich with corruption, spiritualism, and human stories. The old Confederate Story, made of legend, romance, patriotism, glory, striving and defeat, lives within the secret optimism and hope that “She shall rise again!” It ain’t going to happen. We are in a new global world now. The fusion at our borders, our fun, our foods, entertainment, costumes, songs, literature, art… has woven us all together at the borders. We really are all ONE because we enjoy sharing. No one can hate enough to demean a great TACO, or fry bread, biscuit, or noodle. Peace happens while humans share a good recipe or story.

  44. This is amazing. Thank you. This child of the South is currently writing her own piece about this issue, but my outpouring is now six pages long and nowhere near the endpoint. I’ve just got to get it all on paper first, then try to massage it into something succinct and reader-worthy.

  45. Unfortunately, that nasty flag and those evil men aren’t going away until they’re publicly shamed and driven from power.

    Until then, all the “nice” things about living in the South will be tainted and shamed by their racism, bigotry, and violence.

  46. I’m in awe, so beautifully written. I’m a Yankee from Pa. I moved to Florida in 1980, it has my soul. As I said I’m from a little town in PA where there are still so many racists, I visited there last September and it made me realize how bad it is there. When I lived there no black folks lived within miles because they knew better, most of them lived on N…ger Hill. No we didn’t have different water fountains or bath rooms there was no need.
    I escaped that town and it’s hard to go back even though I have family and a few friends that are still alive, I’m 73. I cry for equality, for all people, we need to come together in peace.
    Thank you for you.

  47. THIS is the kind of writing I’ve been wondering about. Whenever I see a confederate flag, I have a negative gut response. Living in Virginia (but not from the US), people will tell me: “Oh, its about Southern pride, it’s not about racism.” But when I ask what people are proud of, I never got a satisfactory response. Your essay reassures me that there is more to the South than its ugly history of slavery, racism, and deluded attempts at making the South “rise up again.” Thank you for taking the time to share the positive parts of Southern culture.

  48. Beautiful! I do agree with most, but I am unsure about some. What I am unsure of is the elimination of the Confederate flag and statues. Where does it end? Should we rename or eliminate points of interest, state parks, counties, public buildings, etc?
    It seems as though hate groups latch on to symbols and turn them into symbols of their hatred. Maybe we need laws against hate group parades??
    I was born and raised in the northeast, lived in the south for 16 years and now live out west. Even though I’ve seen a lot, I haven’t seen it all.

  49. I am a child of the south, too. Thank you for putting my heart into words.
    Tamera

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