Monday, June 4, 2012

How Did The South Get Upside-Down?

I remember the Civil War centennial in 1961 as a light-hearted celebration in our mountain town of Albertville in northeast Alabama. Our father’s build a stockade downtown in front of the local hangout, Golden’s Drug Store, and any adult male caught  thereabouts without the proper period attire, a beard and a bow-tie, was good nature-dly locked up and displayed in the calaboose. This of course had no sanction under the law and anyone was free to refuse and some did.

I remember that Dr. Isabel, whose ancestors were well known to have been Unionist and was himself a rare creature thereabouts (a republican) did refuse and with a tiny bit of ill humor. He informed his peers that their nostalgia for the CSA was misplaced -- -- “Hell fellow, you don’t even know which side your ancestors fought for,’ he scoffed and he refused the invitation to the stockade.

 And he was perfectly correct;  Sand Mountain had been predominately Unionist  during the war and wasted very little of its affections on the Confederacy and even long after the war the Unionist took pains to segregate themselves from their ex-Confederate brethren.
That is the reason that even today so many rural communities share the name Union Grove and their self imposed separateness went on even into the next world, which explains the abundance of Union Cemeteries all over Sand Mountain and all over the mountain regions of the entire former Confederate states.

The upland affiliation with the Union never even remotely had anything to do with sympathy for the plight of the black man, it had everything to do with resentment for the planter class and the disproportionate distribution of economic and political power. But in the post-bellum world of reconstruction and the long struggle for civil rights, the former foes became strange attracter s because their harsh opinions of the black man were never very far apart.

On Sand Mountain people of a certain age always tell the story of the sign at the top of the mountain that said," Nigger don't let the sun set on you here!" I don't know if the story's true or just a rural legend like the mysterious black cats that are said to be seen here and there in our woods, but I do know there were, with one notable exception, exactly zero blacks living in rural areas of the mountain and only a very few of the servant class living in any town. 

 When the struggle for civil rights began in earnest, the southern democrats were not too keen and formed a rebel tribe, calling themselves the Dixiecrat s.

 Lyndon Johnson lamented that he had lost the south for the democrats for generations when the Civil Right Act was finally passed and that has been born out because the south led the white-flight from the Democratic Party and the former dixiecrat s now call themselves republicans!

 A confounding turn about because during  reconstruction and throughout most of the twentieth century the democrats were viewed as the party that worked actively to suppress the black man’s emerging rights and the republicans were viewed as the nearest thing the persecuted race had to a friend.

At the dawn of the civil rights era, for reasons that defy a simple explanation, those positions had totally flip-flopped and it was the democrats that selflessly paid the political price to get full citizenship for the black man.

That all happened more than a half-century ago and the racial vitriol that followed in the years after the centennial, at the height of the civil rights era, was anything but light-hearted.

 At least  now any negative and public demonstration on the subject of race is taboo, although there are still a few rubes around today that remind one, just a little, of the likes of Asa Carter and George Wallace.  The xenophobic undertow is unmistakable and to this day pretty much rules the political expressions of the white tribe of northeast Alabama! 

1 comment:

  1. My Great Grandpa lived in AL on sand mountain and my Papa lived there as well and my Papa told me many years ago, that there was a sign that said that. He told me that a white man had a truck full of blacks to work in his fields and he was told to talk them back down the mountain and get white men to do the work, there was whites that needed work, and if he didnt then that would be the last of him and the blacks in his truck.


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