Sunday, June 28, 2015

My Southern Heritage

This is Audrey. She is my daughter's closest friend. She was raised less than a mile from my house. More importantly, her family farmed the land around where she was raised for several generations. That land is between the land that my grand fathers farmed.

Her father and I shared the same values--work hard--teach your children to work hard,drive an old truck, take care of your hounds and take care of your family, get married and stay that way, get in the woods every chance you get--look out for little ones who might not have others there to look out for them, when vexed simply ask yourself what is the right thing to do and then go do it-realize that you are here for a purpose and get that purpose done, and never, ever give anyone the slightest excuse to question your integrity.

Her father was older than me. I am white and he was black but we shared the same southern heritage. It is those values that are my Southern heritage. Her father's funeral was at Emmanuel Baptist Church, about three miles from Bethany United Methodist Church,where my mother's funeral was.

Most, though not all, of the attendees at his funeral were black. Most, though not all, of the attendees at my mother's funeral were white. Both churches are small and beautiful. Some of the same songs were done at both funerals. The same themes of service to others were preached at both funerals. One of his floral arrangements was in the shape of a hound--just like at the funeral of Daddy's first cousin, James Albert.

Seeing how alike we are in death drives home that we are more alike in life than we often imagine.

My southern heritage gives me wonderful foods like cracklins, collards, and an old hen baked in rice. My southern heritage allows me to appreciate the beauty of the look of a bluetick coon hound and the sound of a pack of beagles. My southern heritage has blended the tongues of Elizabethan England and Africa to produce a dialect that flows like a tidewater marsh, easy, relaxed, steady, yet filled with power. My southern heritage keeps me from having to pronounce words using the often shrill cacophony of northerners who pronounce not only the letter "g" at the end of a word, but even worse, the letter "r" when it is not in the first syllable of a word!

Perhaps most significantly to me, my southern heritage gives me access to music with meaning, ancient songs, honed and polished by slight changes created by many generations of co-composers who changed a word here and a word there to make the song always fit the moment. My southern heritage allow me to appreciate black gospel music, blues, bluegrass, and ancient European ballads. My southern heritage gives me the ability to appreciate Levon Helm, Furry Lewis, The Carter Family, Jimmie Rogers and Ray Charles.

My southern heritage teaches me that, yes, "Some Glad morning, when this life is over, I will fly away," but in the meantime my southern heritage keeps me well away from Copperhead Road.

My southern heritage is not a war nor is it  cause the cause of that war. But my Southern Inheritance is. My Southern Inheritance of slavery and war is an inheritance of unspeakable evil.

There is nothing in my Southern Inheritance that I admire. My southern heritage brings us together. My Southern Inheritance continues to divide this nation. 

There is nothing in my southern heritage that I would give up. My southern heritage is best symbolized by a musical instrument brought over from Africa--a bania--a gourd and a skin that sang and danced-celebrated and mourned, laughed and cried as no instrument of Europe ever had. It was an instrument that took hold all over the south among blacks and whites, among mountaineers and those on the flatlands, from Baltimore to Brownsville-a bania-banjer-banjo.

If I were to design a flag to represent my Southern heritage it would look a lot like this:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So well said. Thanks Steve! -- Liz Marshall