I am an old southern white man and I am proud to be southern. I am not proud of atrocities to the black man that took place many years ago, just as I am not proud of the genocide we performed on the indigenous Americans nor am I proud of the property seizure and relocation of the Japanese Americans by the FDR administration at the beginning of World War II.
As bad as certain aspects of life have been for American citizens, there have been good things that came from generations of soul searching, positive leadership and just good ole hard work. The net good to our society is what has built the most powerful, open and progressive nation in the world.
While growing up there was no apology for being Southern. Many embraced the concept and rode it to stardom amid songs and acting. Cooking Southern was considered to be a delectable cuisine enjoyed across America while our own Cajun specialty can be found from LaFourche Bayou to Lake Tahoe to New York. The South was well known for leaders that provided positive guidance while standing alone without requiring a throng of followers to give lip service to their decisions.
While we have witnessed the desecration of monuments, burning of churches and demeaning of the South, there is still a lot of pride in the South among its inhabitants. This pride is manifested in the past. The slings and arrows incurred during the Civil War Reconstruction brought a great hardship to the South while at the same time built a strong unity among its citizens. Instead of instilling a sense of demeaning and causing a whippeddown subservient deep south, a strong and very proud resilient populace sprang from the ravages of a horrible war.
In the early 1860s America was in the throws of a Civil War. The teachings that were taught to history students was that the war was caused by states rights and the sovereignty of each state without interference by the federal government. Later we were told that the war was fought over slavery and to many it was felt that the cause of the civil war was being glossed over and a new issue was inserted into history. In fact it was one in the same. The southern states wanted to be able to determine if slavery was to remain and if the federal government mandated a change then the original states rights that were guaranteed by the Constitution would be violated. It was not until after the Civil War ended that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States— including former slaves—and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.” As deplorable as slavery was and as inhuman as it was to mankind, it was not until Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that went into effect in 1863 and then the 14th Amendment was signed that the slaves were freed and allowed equal protection under the law.
During the Civil War all people in the South were viewed as traitors while those that lived in the South viewed themselves as being a people that were being trampled on by the industrialized North. The war did nothing to disprove this belief. In November of 1984, U.S. General William Sherman began his march from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia. His approach was to completely destroy the Shenandoah Valley and this included not only military targets, but infrastructure and civilian property as well. This march followed the burning of Atlanta, an act of utter destruction depicted in the movie Gone With The Wind. So complete was Sherman’s destruction in his march to Savannah that he wrote, “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking”. The table was set for many years of hatred displayed by the South. Then a very sad occurrence took place; Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and the moderating voice that was set to unify a broken nation was dead. With a vengeful spirit, the carpetbaggers entered the South from the North and the South was supposed to be made to be subservient to the victors.
A different attitude was launched. The one thing the South had was pride, though diminished from war and attrition there was a resolve to keep a sense of value that had prevailed before the war. Not slavery but an independent loyalty to a southern way of life. Instead of punishing the South into unquestioned loyalty of the North, a wedge was driven between the North and South that would last for generations.
I love the South and I have seen both sides to the story, as I was raised by a mother from the mountains of Nevada. As great as the steel mills of Pittsburg are and as grandiose as the skyscrapers of New York are, there is nothing better than sitting on the banks of the Ouachita River or watching the Passion Play in Hebert Springs, Arkansas. Nothing makes a person feel any better than a church service on Sunday morning or the Watermelon Festival in the hot humid days of July. This is our legacy and I am proud to say I am from the South. I will never apologize for being southern.
Better yet I am proud to say I am a citizen of the United States. In the movie Rough Riders, the trains carrying the Union Troops to Florida for embarkation to Cuba during the Spanish American war had to go through the deep south. In one scene an old one-legged confederate soldier in uniform was standing with his grandson watching the train. The child said, “grandpa they are yankees”, to which the grandfather said, “no son, they are Americans”.
Tuffy Fields may be reached by emailing thelouisianaexplorer@ yahoo.com.