Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My Southern Heritage

My great great great-grandfather, Allen Joseph Williams, lived in Jackson Tennessee until his death in 1858. His will mandates the hiring out of his slave Tom in order to pay for the education of his children. He owned several other slaves.

His wife, Lucy Jones Williams, was often forced to cook meals for Union soldiers in her home. They would knock on the door and demand service for free. She obliged, because to do so meant repercussions that were worse than the indignity of being forced to feed the invading enemy. Her children wrote that she served them good food, but that "she spit in everything."

His daughter, my great great-aunt, Martha Ann Williams was proposed to by a Union Army Captain with whom she had become good friends during the occupation of the Trans-Mississippi. When he was ordered to return to the North, he proposed to her and her tearful response to him, according to eyewitness family accounts was, "I'd rather marry a dog than a Damn Yankee." She would never marry.

On my father's side of the family, the slaves were treated as family. My great-grandfather remembered one day during his childhood when an old black man showed up at his grandmother's home. She immediately took him in and gave him a job, fed him, and he lived with them until he died five years or so later. He was the slave boy Tom who had left when he was freed by the North, but came back to his family when he was old and without anyone to call family. I cannot speak of the relationship between the slave owners on my mother's side of the family, but I do know that there was some affection. My grandmother used to always say, "Ouch Tom Clouch" when she hurt herself because she remembered an old former slave she knew named Tom Clouch as a child. I am not defending slavery and all its evils, but it is a part of my family's history. A part which I receive no benefit from today. Both sides of my family lost everything in the Great Depression. Any wealth accumulated by them off of the labor of slaves has not be retained by any descendants that I am directly related to.

My maternal great-great-great-grandfather, Ninevah Taylor Buckner, was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 25th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, Company K. I had many other Buckner relatives from North Carolina that fought on both sides of the war, mostly Conferdate.

This article prompted my writing this blog entry:

Growing up in what is now Acworth, Georgia, but used to be near Payne and Kelpen, Georgia, there were still entrenchments and craters from the Civil War as recently as 1990 on land near Galts Ferry. These trenches protected a ridge overlooking Wilson's Farm and the surrounding valley. Little doubt exists in my mind that these improvements were an anti-flanking position by the Confederate troops engaged in the nearby Battle of Allatoona Pass. Sometime in late 1990, the land was sold and bulldozed so some redneck could park a doublewide on top of my local heritage.

I have toured all of the Civil War Battlefields in Northwest Georgia. Kennesaw Mountain, New Hope Church, Pickett's Mill, Chickamauga, even the battle lines in the approaches to Atlanta. See to me and my family, these were not the desperate attempts of ignorant men to preserve slavery, these were the heroic attempts to thwart invaders sent to destroy our homes. It is with only a little tongue-in-cheek humor that we refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.

I do not believe that the Civil War was solely fought over the issue of slavery. I do believe that slavery would have died a natural death in 60-70 years due to international pressures and improving technologies. The discovery of oil and refining would have certainly ended the need for massive manual labor in the fields. The opinions over why the war was fought have shifted back and forth through the years. With the Civil Rights Movement the focus again turned to slavery because of the remaining injustices to blacks in this country 100 years after the War. Jim Crow laws and segregation were evils that needed to be ended. Focusing on the slavery issue as the main cause of the war lent gravitas to the reasons for ending segregation, the thought being, "We fought a war for this once, we can do it again."

Yet the war was an illegal war. The South had every right to secede. When they seized government property, Lincoln began raising an army against his own people, an impeachable offense according to the Constitution. His countered this argument that the army was only being used to re-control seized property. The South responded by sending a delegation to Washington to negotiate the purchase of ALL property taken by the CSA. When Lincoln refused, the CSA realized there would be no peace and prepared for invasion. General Stonewall Jackson ordered his troops to give no quarter to the invaders. The average Southerner owned no slaves. He was not conscripted (at first). He fought because to him, the idea of an invading army was impossible to withstand. He fought for this flag, the Stars and Bars: An observant reader will note the similarities between this flag and the redesigned Georgia State Flag. This is the flag of the Confederate States of America. The square flag that so many have come to know as the Confederate Flag or the Rebel Flag is actually the battle flag:
The Naval Standard is the most commonly used flag today, it is rectangular and looks like this. This flag is a symbol that signifies different things to different groups.

For many blacks it represents racism and hatred. For some whites, namely the asshat members of the KKK, it represents white power, "pure" race (whatever-the-hell-that-means), and mostly I imagine a potent symbol that pisses off those they wish to piss off (mainly anyone not white, Christian, and Southern). For some Southerners it represents our Southern heritage. I do not wish that the South had won. I do not wish that we still had slaves. I do not wish that Jim Crow laws still applied. I believe in equal civil rights for all people regardless innate unchangeable charateristics (race, age, ethnicity, sex, etc.) or faiths. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the display of any of the Confederate flags is evil (when done in honor of Southern heritage). I would be willing to counter-march against the KKK when they use the CSA battle flag as a symbol of their vile brand of hatred. The kids I knew growing up with confederate flags flying from their pickup trucks were not racist-baiters. They were good ole boys who flew it in honor of their ancestors and all they held dear.

Given the symbolism that the flag holds for many blacks in this country now, I will not make an overt display of the confederate flag, for to fly it nowadays means I am a confederate with hatemongers who attempt to use it for their own purposes. That confederacy of dunces will only pollute the flag's true meaning and denigrate the very heritage they claim to descend from but which they so little understand.

I would love to see a type of "taking it back" approach among black youths in this country where they began to wear it as a symbol of pride, much like the pink triangle in the homosexual community. Given that it's meaning now is "rebel" wearing it would be an awesome form of rebellion against those that work forces against them.

I do not know why the girl chose to wear the CSA flag to her prom. I can see why the officials denied her entry. I can see why she sued. I can see why the whole issue is pissing so many people off. The decrying and defense of symbols is symptomatic of a greater disease in our culture. The groups that agitate for and against, use the flag as the point of contention to mask what they are really saying. Blacks are fed up with latent racism and demanding a greater role in the nation that they too call home. Whites are fed up with taking the blame for the evils of generations now so remote that no one alive knew any of the actors of the evil deeds in the past. Culture Wars and the struggle for ownership of the past and history are inherent parts of the Postmodern Age. If Postmodernism teaches us anything, it's that historiographic metafiction is history.

Unless we all learn to get along and stop blaming each other for the ills of our society, we will never progress. I move that we stop looking to the past for someone to blame and start anew without blaming anyone. It is far too easy to look back on the past with today's morality and pass judgement on our ancestors. The past is a strange place. The future is an undiscovered country. Let's go there. Leave all our baggage behind.

In a haze
These days
I pull up to the stoplight
I can feel something's not right
I can feel someone blasting me
With hate and bass
Pushing dirty vibes my way
Because their great great great granddad
Was someone's great great great granddady's slave
It wasn't my idea
Never was my idea
I just drove to the store
For some Preparation H

--Ben Folds, "Rockin' the Suburbs"


Tyler said...

LOVE THIS BLOG MAC!!! Seriously, I wish I had the ability to describe my feelings the way you and Tim can. This is EXACTLY the way I feel about the race relations in America these days. Whenever I hear that song by Ben Folds, I get a little worked up.

Keep in mind, I'm not a Southerner, I grew up in the "country" and I was the only person at my High School that listened to Rap music exclusively (at one point in my life I had wished I was born black, but adopted by my parents so I'd get the best of both worlds).

I've since departed my ways of listening to rap music exclusively (in fact, I hardly ever do now), but I still have compassion for people in general, wheather white, black, asian, latino. I'm also aware that racism (as in hating another race for that sole purpose) exists, but it's on such a small scale now. Most of what people call racism is mostly just a cultural difference of opinion, or ignorance.

I wish everyone could see the movie Crash.

Thanks for the history on the family. I need to get down with my bad-self on my own family history. My mothers side is all Russian and German (my great-grandparents are from Russia), but I don't know much of my family history past 1900. You've inspired me.

paul said...

I would just like to say that as far as we know, the Dunns never owned slaves. Caroline claims that it was probably because the Dunns were too cheap to purchase their own slaves when they could just have 12 children just to do the work themselves. Quite a modest business plan for an early American family.

This does not say that none of my ancestors ever owned slaves. I'm rather certain that somewhere along the line somebody did. Almost all of my ancestors came to this country 150-300 years ago, you gotta figure the odds are quite high that one of them was a slave owner somewhere since they all migrated through the South (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina).

And I'm satisfied that if they did have slaves, they probably used a coupon.