Take ’em all down: Southern heritage and history

29 08 2017

south2Perhaps because our winters were so harsh, the months of July and August in Lewiston, NY we’re like heaven!  The small town of about 16,000 people, north of Buffalo, NY, was a great town in which to grow up.  When I think of our summers I think of sunny, blue skies; 80 degree days with low humidity; and refreshing breezes off the Niagara River. Memories of bike rides to Canada, swimming in our Redwood, “Fanta Sea” pool, and sailing on Lake Ontario still bring a smile to my face.  And thoughts of all the fruit stands that would pop up on our many country roads, with all kinds of fresh cherries, melons, and peaches, still make my mouth water.  Nothing can compare to summers in Western New York . . . except maybe summers in New England.

Several years ago my family was looking to escape the heat of July in Virginia, and so we decided to head to Maine.  Along the way we stopped in Mystic, CN, and Beverly, MA, and enjoyed all kinds of fresh seafood – lobster, mussels, and of course, New England Clam Chowder.  We took our kids White Water Rafting on the Kennebec River, and explored coastal harbors and the rocky beaches of the Northeast. Since then, my wife and I have enjoyed trips to Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Cape; and upon returning home, we always say that nothing can compare to vacations in New England . . . except maybe vacations in San Diego.

From the beaches, to the food, to the weather, Southern California has it all.  In fact the entire west coast, from Los Angeles all the way up to Seattle, offers vacationers the best America has to offer.  Disneyland and Knot’s Berry Farm, vineyards and national parks, the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, Haystack Rock and Mount Rainier:  one could spend months on the west coast and never run out of things to do and see.  No place in the US has more to do than the west coast . . . except maybe Chicago.

When it comes to things to do, and see, and experience, Chicago is a city with an all kinds of things to entertain a family.  No city can compare to Chicago . . . except maybe Atlanta. That too was a wonderful place to spend a week with three young kids: with the highlight being Ebenezer Baptist Church.  Not many places have a lesson like the MLK National Historic site . . . except Washington DC.  Our nation’s capital is unlike any other historic city in America . . . except maybe Gettysburg, or Williamsburg.

The beauty of our nation is remarkable, and the only place better than where most of us are right now, is where we will be tomorrow!  From the Great Lakes in the north, to the Giant Redwoods of the west, to the historic towns that dot the entire east coast, America has it all.  But these days, my heart belongs to the south.  As the saying goes, “I wasn’t born here; but I got here as fact as I could.”  And if my wife and I have our way, we will never leave!

Now granted, we currently live in Alexandria and are well aware that many people don’t think of Northern Virginia as part of the south. But we lived in Williamsburg for 13 years, and we make frequent visits to a son and daughter-in-law in Fuquay, NC, and another son and daughter-in-law in Richmond. So as far as we’re concerned, we are Virginians, and there is southern blood flowing through our veins.  We love the south, and for all kinds of reasons.

We love the hospitality of people.  We love the scent of the honeysuckle and pine.  And we love the sweetness of the tea!  We love long, summers days, and mild, sunny winters. I love the sight of blooming Redbuds in March, announcing that that winter has passed; and the sight of an October cotton field always makes my wife smile.  Like every other part of the country, the south has its downsides: humidity, guns, country music, and big hair!  But the positives far outweigh the negatives. And if I never live anywhere else I will be a happy man.  The Appalachian, Shenandoah, and Smokey Mountains; the white sand of the Gulf; and especially the Atlantic coast beaches all make me feel at home.  And my home, has my heart.

So here’s my question:  considering all the south has to offer, why does anyone think that in order to treasure, value, or in any way show appreciation for southern culture, one has to talk about the Confederacy?  Why, in order to prove that one’s heart resides in Dixie, does one need to honor the likes of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson: men who led a treasonous war against our nation, and who did so in support of an institution that is nothing short of evil?  Why is it necessary to even speak of the glory of the Antebellum South, as if life ‘after the war’ has been some kind of burden?

It we want to celebrate Southern heritage, let’s talk about neighborhood conversations, on long wide porches, full of laughter, on warm summer nights. Let’s talk about Sunday Brunch, and tables overflowing with ham biscuits, fried chicken, cheesy grits, Beignets, and Mimosas. (Actually, I’m not sure Mimosas are all that southern, but what is brunch without a Mimosa!) And if we want to really lift up the contributions of the south, let’s celebrate the knowledge and passion of Sequoah, from what is today Knoxville, Tennessee; the strength and activism of Helen Keller, from Tuscumbia, Alabama; and the courage and determination of Jackie Robinson, from Cairo, Georgia. Let’s give thanks for Harriet Tubman and Harper Lee, James Brown and Jimmy Carter, Booker T. Washinton and Barbara Jordan, and countless other men and women whose memories are not laced with rebellion against America, and the defense of racism during the one time in our history when people were most aggressively seeking to change the trajectory of life for people of color in America.

If a person can only honor southern heritage by raising a Confederate flag and erecting monuments to leaders if the Confederacy; then we have no choice but to call into question both that person’s patriotism, as well as that person’s appreciation for the south’s heritage and history.  The south is so much more than an offensive piece of fabric, and racist pieces of stone.

And no one should no know that better than a real southerner.

 

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