An Undead and Omnipresent Past: a Selection of Southern-History-and-Culture-Briefs

A Mélange of Briefs of ‘Dixie’ & Culture & History


In a life of texts, so many different stories have come and gone that the variety can only lead to a swirl of half-remembered recognition and hopeful affirmation: that wasn’t so bad now, was it?  In the scheme of things, my inclination has always been to ‘go deep.’

Not only do my proclivities cause me to want really to grapple with a story and explain what the fuck happened and why, in something like thorough fashion, but I also basically insist that—lacking readers willing to go in-depth and writers willing to provide such probing narratives—understanding will remain a credulous fantasy under the most favorable circumstances.  My critics, bless their hearts, have long caviled, “You couldn’t write anything coherent and useful and short if you tried.”

This has always been wrong, but only when I’ve gotten paid or discerned other opportunities in scribbling briefs have I been able to justify the greater effort and more paltry results that attend keeping things diminutive.  Examiner is an exploitative trap, in my humble opinion, but, as is so often the case, I gave the site the benefit of the doubt for a month or so.

The end result was that I created fifteen or twenty four-hundred-word historical notes that in some way touched on my location at that time in Atlanta.  Voila!  Here are eight of those items; the others will follow in due time.

These little essays deal with issues of culture and media and color and more.  They are gems.  Anyone who would like to come to grips with the world that we inhabit—a place in which the conundrums of the South play an outsized role—might easily make a poorer choice than to examine these pieces from the Examiner.

In any case, they proffer something akin to ideation and insight and argument.  I recommend them without reservation: that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


An Initial Sally

Immigrant ‘Invaders’ in the Days of Our Great, Great Grandparents

 Reposted from

Trail of Tears sign Georgia Bar Journal cover
Trail of Tears sign Georgia Bar Journal cover

These days, along I-20 from Atlanta to Birmingham, State Troopers seek out ‘illegal immigrants,’ trying to catch and eject them from ‘America.’ Eighteen decades ago, along substantially the same route, the leaders of Georgia—who had recently inaugurated the country’s first ‘Gold Rush’ in Dahlonega–and Alabama—who were readying river valley properties for slaves to work–were preparing to throw out local native inhabitants so that the conquering European immigrants could do whatever they liked. Those who like ironic history will love today’s story.rect3336In mid October in Alabama, the local Choctaw Indians were finishing preparations for the first Indian Removals, approved by the U.S. Congress in May, 1830.Nitikechi, the Choctaw leader, was to call the forced relocation “a trail of tears and death.”rect3336Famed French commentator de-Tocqueville wrote his mother about this situation. “Americans of the United States,,,, reasonable and unprejudiced, and great philanthropists to boot, have taken it into their heads, as did the Spaniards, that God had given them the new world and its inhabitants in full ownership.” He described “an air of ruin and destruction” as the U.S., ‘reasonable’ in its processes, carried out this “final and irrevocable” eviction of Alabama’s rightful owners, including a 110 year old woman, starving to death, surrounded by grandchildren. “To leave one’s country at that age to seek one’s fortune in a foreign land, what misery!”rect3336In Georgia, meanwhile, across the Northern reaches of present day metro-Atlanta and stretching into other jurisdictions, authorities were preparing to dismantleCherokee settlements. The Legislature, having made communicating with Cherokees a crime, was planning to divvy up these properties among eager Whites when missionary Samuel Worcester, whom the gendarmes had chased into Tennessee the previous Summer, returned to bury his deceased daughter.
rect3336Catching Worcester in Gwinnett County again, these ‘police’ arrested him and brought him to trial in September, 1831. He was en route to Milledgeville in mid-October, where a judge had sentenced him to spend “four years at hard labor” for the offense of talking to the legal owners of Georgia.rect3336This travesty of justice resulted in one of America’s most famous Supreme Court cases, Worcester v. Georgia, that both ordered the preacher freed and demanded that the Peach State respect Indian property. President Andrew Jackson defied the High Court, however, and led his crew of U.S. immigrants on their merry way, throwing out the original inhabitants from throughout the South.rect3336

A More Contemporary, & Mediated, Moment

Every Day in History Is Important and Interesting–‘Hippy’ Media in Atlanta

Reposted from

"Great Speckled Bird" Banner
“Great Speckled Bird” Banner

Thirty four years ago this month in Atlanta, a young alternative media Phoenix breathed its last. The Great Speckled Bird (GSB) was just shy of nine years old. It distributed over four hundred editions, becoming weekly within six months of opening, chronicling an unexpected ‘New South’—a Dixie that promoted parity for women, legal drugs, free love, racial equality, peaceful foreign relations, gay rights, and a 100% “PARTY!” attitude that guaranteed loyalty among its core audiences.rect3336Many mottoes fit this ‘freak flag’ of ‘60’s-era ‘Peachtree’ cultural rebellion. But the publication’s clearly emerge from this poster, prominent in GSB’s wandering office. “If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be and what would I do?”rect3336That partying and naughtiness would appeal to teens and footloose adults would amaze no one. But the paper grew out of a 1967 antiwar newsletterpublished at Emory. GSB’s army of volunteers and occasional paid employees often ‘crashed’ in common quarters with SCLC and SDS staff; MLK’s chauffer, recruited from Oberlin, supposedly ‘tripped the light fantastic’ with GSB aficionados. This coterie of comrades believed in parties and purpose.rect3336Such transcendental rebelliousness could hardly enthrall Georgia’s political powers. “Hassles” beset GSB from the outset. Threats of litigation for ‘obscenity’ were common; the Post Office vowed to impede shipment; police and other ‘toughs’ harassed the street-level sales force on which the paper depended.rect3336Worst of all were the intimations of physical abuse. A firebombing in 1972 culminated this atmosphere of tension and intimidation. Despite evidence suggesting involvement of identifiable sources, the police never filed charges against anyone.rect3336Nevertheless, GSB persisted. This was during a time, as well, when infamous FBI “COINTELPRO” efforts infiltrated and subverted radical efforts, leading them astray and destroying them. Again, however, GSB weathered these storms, along with other progressive media icons, like Radio Free Georgia.rect3336So why did GSB expire in October, 1976? Students everywhere should study this question, if they hope either to understand how the past creates the present, or to bring about a future different from the present.rect3336Manufacturing Consent, a classic investigation of media and power, would be a good place to begin such investigation. Also, students could look into the vast written record, and create new oral histories, about this fascinating media phenom that died just over three decades ago.rect3336

Culture, Sport, Color, & Crashing Gates of Prohibited Contact

History Is Important and Interesting: An Atlanta ‘Sweet Science’ Moment

Reposted from

jack Johnson's Wives and Women Friends PBS Teacher's Guide
jack Johnson’s Wives and Women Friends PBS Teacher’s Guide

From his Atlanta compound, Evander Holyfield testifies to profound religious faith. Similar spiritual intensity erupts during training sessions, legendary in their ferocity. This focused fury surges most obviously in the boxing ring, where he has out-thought, out-trained, and out-boxed opponents.rect3336Twenty years ago, this scientist of the boxing ring pummeled “Buster” Brown into submission in Nevada during two and a half brief rounds. In the decades since, Holyfield banked $150 million, went through a bitter divorce, and lost his 109 room Peachtree City mansion to foreclosure.rect3336The “sweet science” pits highly honed hitting experts against each other, in an ancient fighting-art that emerged in its ‘modern’ form in 1681, when a British Duke showcased his butler’s battling his butcher. More than any other, this ‘sport,’ in which working class ‘blokes’ wail away at each other for prizes, illustrates both the spectacle and the social conflict, or competition, that the society surrounding boxing promotes.rect3336This process is a huge business, in which people pay either $50 to watch African Americans annihilate each other on television, or $5,000 to watch the same event ‘ringside.’ For many decades now too, almost all ‘heavyweight’ title bouts have matched one big Black man against another.rect3336This was not always so, however. For decades, the front lines of ‘racist’ conflict paralleled boxing. The play and movie, “The Great White Hope,” and the documentary film and history, Unforgivable Blackness, for example, accurately portray the travails of “flash-n***er” Jack Johnson, whom both government and business hounded after he started whipping White men, marrying White women, and generally carrying on like a free agent in ‘Jim Crow’ America.rect3336Joyce Carol Oates, legendary chronicler of boxing’s glorious contradictions, notes in her book review that “ostensibly passionate socialist” Jack London decried the beating that Johnson delivered to his outclassed opponent in 1908. “London was disturbed not so much by the new champion’s victory as by the evident glee with which he had imposed his will upon the hapless white man: ‘A golden smile tells the story, and that golden smile was Johnson’s.’”rect3336A crushing right cross twenty years ago sent one big Black fighter to the mat. The story of that Vegas contest, the tale of the ‘sport’ that put two giants there as antagonists, the surrounding threads of faith and money and social history invite students to examine a character like Evander Holyfield deeply enough to understand themselves better.


Grassroots Engagement & the Necessity of Political Rebellion

Every Day in History Is Important, Interesting: Don West & Highlander Center

Reposted from

Young Don West on a Motorcycle Northern Illinois University, Book Cover
Young Don West on a Motorcycle Northern Illinois University, Book Cover

Seventy-eight years ago, Don West, Myles Horton, and James Dombrowski had just embarked on the odyssey of the Highlander Folk School(HFS), which has played a key behind-the-scenes role in supporting civil rights, labor rights, women’s rights, and environmental justice in the South since 1932. Of course, students now almost never hear about HFS, even though it still operates in a Smoky Mountain, New Market, Tennessee home.rect3336
Least heralded of HFS’s founding trio, Don West’s North Georgia youth included lessons in Radical Republican anti-bigotry at his grandfather’s knee. He attended Berry College in Rome, a wild collegiate saga involving Ford family money and all manner of radical Reds.rect3336
When West fulminated a mass rally against the campus screening of “Birth of a Nation,” which included false and bigoted depiction of African American rapine as justification for the KKK, Berry expelled him. He went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he led a protest “against campus paternalism,” which also culminated in his expulsion, though his fellow students succeeded in gaining his reinstatement. Upon graduating, he enrolled at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School in 1929. rect3336
James J. Lorence writes about this period of matriculation. “As a student West visited Danish folk schools inspired by N.F.S. Grundtvig, who advocated curricula based on tradition and cultural heritage.” Because this visionary Dane “believed in the wisdom of the ordinary people above the educated and elite, and thought that it was the ordinary people who were capable of enlightenment,” the schools that he facilitated, like HFS, have fostered social transformation toward justice, equity, inclusion, and democracy.rect3336
West identified with this when he encountered this North European model, in the process also solidifying his intention to work with Myles Horton. West only remained on board at HFS for a year, however.rect3336
He came back to Georgia, where he promoted locally-based and student-centered education in Hall County during WWII. Later, teaching at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, he faced constant denunciation for his ‘communist sympathies’ from the Atlanta Constitution’s famous editor, Ralph McGill. rect3336
These attacks drove him from Georgia, but he and his wife eventually founded the Appalachian South Folklife Center in Pipestem, West Virginia. It still carries on West’s work, validating community values and encouraging a critical view of the way society works. Though students may never have heard of Don West, just such fascinating characters are readily accessible, proffering invaluable lessons about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Rebellion’s Seeds & the Possible Growth of Social Transformation

Every Day in History Is Interesting & Important: ‘Loving Your Enemies’

Reposting from

MLK Red-Baiting Billboard Highlander Center
MLK Red-Baiting Billboard Highlander Center

Fifty-three years ago, MLK was sick; he went to Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist to preach anyway. He felt a critical need to deliver his November, 1957 message. Most commentators on this famous sermon focus on King’s ‘love-your-enemies’ prescription. But MLK’s purpose in preaching-while-sick was more pointed than moral generality. His was a profoundly political hallelujah.

He contended that Americans failed to honor democracy. “(W)e have often taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. …(W)e have often … trampled over individuals and races with the iron feet of oppression. … (T)hrough our Western powers we have perpetuated colonialism and imperialism.”

One of the ‘enemies’ that he warned against hating here was Russia. One source for such insistence was the Highlander Center, where Rosa Parks studied just before she made her historic 12/1/1955 decision to break an unjust law and go to prison in Montgomery.

In fact, on Labor Day, 1957, MLK delivered an important speech to celebrate Highlander Folk School’s(HFS) founding. There, a supposed ‘freelance photographer,’ Ed Friend, spied on events for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Georgia’s White-Supremacist governor, Marvin Griffin.

One thorough annalist has pointed out, “Th(is) attack upon HFS was part of a larger effort to discredit and demonize anyone connected to the civil rights movement — in particular to … prominent national civil rights organizations.“

Photographer-spy Friend’s pictures showed-up in bigoted, ‘patriotic’ mass-mailings, calling King Communist. The ‘grain-of-truth’ in this assertion was the support that socialists had long offered civil-rights. Red-baiting campaigns-against-King soon went national, with billboards plastered around the South, bearing the caption, “MLK at Communist Training School.”

Lifelong social-justice-proponent, Anne Braden, sent MLK a 1959 letter cautioning him that Ed Friend had just testified in hearings to close HFS. Friend lied, “The greatest objection I had was that one… Negro preacher… there said that white people should be murdered to force the Federal Government to support integration…–that was Martin Luther King.“

MLK addressed this moronic assertion when he sermonized in Atlanta, closing by noting the historical tendency for some to be oppressors and some oppressed. He continued that neither violent uprising nor passive acquiescence was appropriate response to tyranny.

However, “there is another way. … to organize mass non-violent resistance based on the principle of love. …(T)his is the only way as … . we look out across the years and across the generations… .Love is the only way.”

Another Witness for Equality & Proponent of Justice

Every Day in History Is Interesting and Important: Arson Against Honesty

Reposted from

Lillian Smith in the 1960's University of Georgia Libraries
Lillian Smith in the 1960’s University of Georgia Libraries

Fifty-five years ago, at her Georgia Mountain domicile North of Atlanta, Lillian Smith returned home to discover that two youngsters had torched her house. These miscreants, far from acting at random, were punishing the brilliant Ms. Smith, who had lived among them for almost forty years.

Her ‘crime’ was simple: she communicated graphic evidence of bigotry and hatred that ruled much White Southern life. She refused to allow such detestation to overcome her humanity; in literary output, speech, and relationships, she articulated humankind’s oneness, writing MLK in 1956, “My warmest greetings to you…your congregation and… your people who are my people, too; for we are all one big human family. I pray that we shall soon in the South begin to act like one.”

Her life-story—helping parents operate a mountain-inn; running a Clayton girl’s camp and school; publishing daring denunciations of White supremacy long before such stances were fashionable, yields dozens of heroic narratives. People now most remember her books—novels like Strange Fruit–about a White man’s love affair with a Black woman–that Boston banned but that made her financially independent; psychological-autobiographical meanderings like Killers of the Dream, containing direct experiences and observations of hateful prejudice and its twisted contortion of human potential.

After the attack on her home, she began what she considered her most important statement explicating bigotry’s destruction of life and hope. One Hourreveals a deeply-layered, rich Southern slice of life, in which scornful presumption and unstoppable chauvinism induce violent tragedy. Interestingly, the plot revolves around false accusations of child molestation against a scientist, whose work undermines the superstitions to which people often cling in spite of such belief’s toxicity.

Smith’s life-work–persistent effort to foster social justice and clear psycho-social understanding–have made her a posthumous hero. Georgia Women of Achievement has, because she combined brilliance and courage, made Smith one of sixty-six inductees. Moreover, some literary or scholarly savant who advocates social equality and decries xenophobia’s insidious desolation, annually receives the Lillian Smith award, one of the highest human rights honors in existence.

Students, meanwhile, can, with Lillian Smith’s bright light, illuminate themselves and their world, a world where, as she noted with pathos in Killers of the Dream, quite often, “The human heart dares not stay away too long from that which hurt it most. There is a return journey to anguish that few of us are released from making.”


Fiction’s Truths in Service to Transformative Justice

Maya Angelou’s Literature As Historical Evidence

Reposted from

Ms. Angelou as a young writer University of Arkansas Libraries
Ms. Angelou as a young writer University of Arkansas Libraries

I can assure readers–in 1990, I was clueless that Evander Holyfield was bashing ‘Buster’ Brown’s face. Holyfield’s Atlanta presence, and his philanthropic reputation, I knew, but the fight scene discomfited me.
However, my son a week from birth, Thomas Raabe’s bibliophilism was familiar, quandaries of “choosing between eating and reading.” I kept a journal, religiously. My 10/26/1990 entry mentions a trek to Peachtree’s Oxford books, now disappeared in the relentless trend toward monopoly.rect3336Delighted, I found the new Paris Review, where Maya Angelou proffered an interview profound and subtle about texts, language, history, and courage. This dialog entered the historical record just as she was completing the dramatic portion of a musical collaboration, “King,” about Atlanta’s martyr to justice and peace. Also unbeknownst to me, her poetry volume, I Shall Not Be Moved, had just come off the presses.rect3336Such congruencies—interviews, plays, chapbooks—are mere historical blips; however, such conjunctions present opportunities for topical reflections.rect3336In her long P.R. talk with George Plimpton, for example, ingenious Maya asked readers to consider important ideas. She indicated that Thomas Wolfe erred in asserting that one “can’t go home again,” suggesting instead that no one truly leaves ‘home’ behind, childhood’s legacy sun’s inescapable shadow. rect3336She recalled her first Arkansas return, coproducing TV with Bill Moyers. Despite their joint “clout,” as soon as they departed her native village’s security, she insisted that they stop, so that she could switch vehicles and ride with the other Black folk. Remembered ‘country’ warnings, “dragons, fears, the grotesques of childhood always must be confronted at childhood’s door. Any other place is esoteric and has nothing to do with the great fear that is laid upon one as a child.”rect3336She mentions Nathaniel Hawthorne’s point: “’Easy reading is damn hard writing,’” while acknowledging her own autobiographical brutalization—the extrajudicial execution of her rapist, when she was seven, made her a “’volunteer mute.’…I thought my speech had killed him.”rect3336“Following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass”—a truthful first person narrative—she seeks out the tangible intersection of tragedy and possibility in the combination of opposition and commonality that all people share. Listeners must hear:rect3336

Momma, is Master going to sell you…tomorrow?
Unless you keep walking more
and talking less.
…Unless you match my heart and words,
saying with me,
I shall not be moved.

History’s portal is ubiquitous; our attention and subsequent survival are choices.

Fighting Fascism With the Love of the Lovings

All History Is Important and Interesting: Color and Sexuality in America’s Past

Reposted from

The Lovings, a Loving Couple Getty Images
The Lovings, a Loving Couple Getty Images

For the South, William Faulkner said, “(T)he past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” One hundred thirty nine years ago Clarke County, Alabama proved Faulkner apt for Tony Pace and Mary Cox.

This pair apparently cohabited as loving wife and husband. Unfortunately for them, Alabama and most U.S. States proscribed Black/White marriages, outlawing miscegenation completely.

Thus, they faced charges of “Living Together in a State of Adultery or Fornication.” The penalty, were ‘wrongdoers’ both White or both Black, was a $100 fine or six months in jail; if the accused were differently colored, however, consequences ranged from two up to fifteen years in the penitentiary.

These defendants, upon conviction, received the minimum sentence; both appealed. A sympathetic White barrister took Pace’s appellate case pro bono and argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish continuity of relationship–legally part of the fornication charge. Cox’s lawyer contended that she should be released on a technical point.

Alabama’s high court affirmed both convictions, and John Tompkins paid all fees and undertook to appeal Pace’s imprisonment to the U.S. Supreme Court. He believed, even though recent opinions had retracted much of the Fourteenth Amendment’s proscription of unequal legal treatment, that he could convince Chief Justice Stephen Field and thereby free Tony Pace.

Alas, such was not to be: the Court’s holding unanimously agreed: Pace must complete his sentence. Though 140-years seems relatively distant from hateful attitudes, such misanthropy as Pace v. Alabama remained the law throughout the South until another couple, this time Virginian, faced prison because they dared to marry.

Tell the Court I love my wife,” Richard Loving instructed his lawyer. In 1967, the Supreme Court finally overturned this vestige of vicious color prejudice. Open-minded people cheered the result.

Commonly, such bigoted views seem merely useless ‘mistaken ideas.’ However, historians disagree; harsh, inhuman laws, going against “What Comes Naturally,” serve critical ideological and political ends. Julie Novkov, for example, leaves students with sage words to consider when they examine seemingly ‘mistaken’ past wrongdoing.

“The struggle against miscegenation was… a struggle to establish and maintain whiteness as a(n easily identifiable), separate, and impermeable racial category. … A black man with a white wife, (or vice versa), not only had the potential to produce racially ambiguous children but also undermined white supremacy, and thus whiteness itself, by openly melding black and white into the most fundamental unit of society, the family.”


Each of these tiny slices could expand into massive documents.  But, even as ‘chico’ as they are, they proffer readers with a place to start, diligently linked with other materials, about interludes in the life of the South that every literate citizen should comprehend in at least a minimal way.

As above, so below: that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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