Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten


Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

No matter what movie she saw, my Mother generally expressed the same frustrating, yet humorous, review.  If the guy got the girl, she liked it.  If he did not, then she did not.  This cinematic peccadillo of hers was rigid and it applied to any and every movie she saw, including those in which it was difficult to conceive of any characters paired up in a satisfactory way. ( I’m thinking of E.T. and Driving Miss Daisy here.)  I blamed this rather skewed way of viewing film on Gone With the Wind.  That moment when Rhett finally walks out on Scarlett has greatly affected Southern women for ages.  The film ends with Scarlett determined to “get him back” and no Southern woman ever doubted that she would.

To be honest, I’ve never revered the fabled Gone With the Wind as much as other born and bred Southerners.  The movie never made me nostalgic.  I could never manage to work up a wistfulness for what the opening credits declared to be “this pretty world” where “gallantry took its last bow”.  Instead of seeing Scarlett as resourceful and tenacious, I always found her manipulative and mean.  Melanie’s legendary “goodness” was too saccharine for my taste and, to the bewilderment of some of my girlfriends, I never could fathom the knee-buckling attractiveness of Rhett Butler. But more importantly, no matter how many red petticoats Cap’n Butler gave Mammy, I always saw her for what she was.  A slave.  

On the sunniest day the shadow of slavery still colours the South.   We have come so very far out into the light but that shadow still lurks.  It can still lie between the lines of a politician’s speech.  It can still crouch behind the eyes of a darkly closed mind.     This polluted shadow of our region’s past shows up all the darker when it is thrust into the light of the world as it was last week in Charleston, South Carolina.  In the horrific glare that bore down on that murderous scene we can easily see racism for what it is:  pure evil. And as the inevitable selfie images of the murderer surfaced, the eyes of the world saw the symmetry of symbols:  the same flag he celebrated was flying over the capitols of many Southern states, including South Carolina itself.

There are some white southerners who will tell you that the confederate flag is a symbol of loyalty and honour that speaks to the attributes of our heritage.  Some will tell you that our nation’s only civil war was fought solely to preserve state’s rights.  I have always found  both assertions to be delusional at best, disingenuous at worst.   While a lot of us have forefathers who indeed fought, and died, in that hideous war, I have never found it disloyal to say that they fought on the wrong side and that, thankfully, they lost.  I have also never found it difficult to imagine what my black brothers and sisters must feel when they see that flag flying today.

It is just as impossible to defend the South’s moral history as it is a mistake to let that history define it.  The South is full of graciousness and kindness.  It teems with a beauty and a mystery impossible to duplicate anywhere else on the planet.  But the Confederacy was not the lovely “Old South” of Gone With the Wind.  It was a ugly place of well-documented cruelty and horror.  We should not venerate its symbols.  Take that flag down.

28 comments:

  1. As I have little or no knowledge of the history of the Deep South Pamela, I found this view fascinating and most interesting.
    I have tried to think of a similar situation in our history - there have been shameful 'doings' in Northern Ireland - and we have had so many colonies which we have exploited. The world is a cruel and unjust place - and it doesn't get any better.

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  2. Well said. Thank you for this beautifully written and greatly appreciated post.

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  3. Thank you for this fresh and powerful perspective.

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  4. Thank you. As a Yankee I cannot understand why that flag is venerated. There is much about the south and southerners to love. But not that flag.


    I love your blog, your amazing writing, and your dog!

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  5. Thank you. As a Yankee I cannot understand why that flag is venerated. There is much about the south and southerners to love. But not that flag.


    I love your blog, your amazing writing, and your dog!

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  6. It is unbelievable that states fly that flag today. When I see a car or truck pass by with that in their window or on their license plate, I give them the stink eye.

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  7. Yes! A Southerner who isn't afraid to speak her mind. I am also a Yankee, born and raised, and I don't like to judge people, although I am guilty of it more than I want to admit. It was refreshing to see so many Southerners who all said to remove that flag. It's just wrong on so many accounts. We all have come a long way, Pam, Southerners and Yankees, but we still have far to go. Your blog brought tears to my eyes today....grateful for those who aren't afraid! Love your blog!!!

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  8. as a southern I can understand + what a terrible thing! xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

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  9. So very well said...as Southern white woman I have been struggling with how to express my thoughts and feelings re:these issues. Thank you for doing it so well!

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  10. Amen. I also hope that roads and other public places currently named for southern confederate office/ racists are renamed. I remember hoping that racism/sexism/etc. would be history for the most part by the time my daughters, now in their early 20's, were adults. Progress has been made but when we are talking about states taking down the confederate flag or redesigning flags b/c they incorporate the confederate flag I really wonder if we've make as much progress as I (did) think>

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  11. My mother was from Atlanta and lived around the corner from Margaret Mitchell, and they had what could me called a 'nodding acquaintance.' So, GWTW was a big deal in my family. I first remember seeing it on the big screen when I was eight or nine and got to stay up late on a school night. What affected me the most at that time was Bonnie's death and Rhett shooting that poor pony. I never quite got over that. I believe the next time I saw it at a movie theatre was during college and my future husband and I were fairly scornful. I never liked Scarlett's manipulative self-interest at the expense of others, and, yes, Melanie was just too sweet, and Ashley was such a namby-pamby. Rhett (or an aging Clark Gable) never made me swoon either, though he was interesting, but too wild for my tastes and playing both sides to his own profit. And then the whole slavery deal and the romanticizing of it, without giving an inkling of what horrors it was built upon. I think it did give me an idea of the vast human toll and suffering (who can forget that wide panned shot of the rows and rows of injured and dying soldiers lying outside the makeshift hospital?). But I agree with you. Though I'm southern by birth and heritage, I have always been ashamed of the Confederate flag and what it stood for, and I have mostly seen the symbol used in defiant hatred rather than in honor of those who died for a losing cause, whether by choice or coercion. It's long past time to take it down.

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  12. Dear, dear, dear. Growing up in a cocoon of white wool here in the South as I did, right smack-dab in the 1950s, I must be honest and say that I loved Gone With the Wind, both the movie and book. I didn't want to be Scarlett, although I envied her that tiny waist, I certainly didn't want to be Miss Mellie with her rose-colored blindfold, and I never knew what either woman saw in the mild-mannered Ashley, but Lord, how I was in love with Rhett Butler!

    Are you sure, Miss Pamela, that he never made your heart flutter even a tiny bit?

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  13. Pamela,
    You are such a wordsmith. I appreciate your perspective and I wholeheartedly agree. There are so many wonderful southern folks that I've met and you're right, so gracious and kind.
    As a west coast girl I've missed some of the bigotry that exists, although we've had our share. I hope the tragedy of Charleston will move us along toward equality once and for all.
    xo,
    Karen

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  14. Well done, Pamela. It is time to take down the flag.

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  15. Because I have never lived in the south, I have never really understood this "Confederate flag" thingy. The north won the war. We became the United States of America. Take down the dated flag. I just haven't ever comprehended the whole thing. Get over it. Get on with it. Stop living in the past. Now, I'm sure if I had or did live in the south, I would understand it a whole lot better so I will have to plead ignorance. I've never even set foot in the south. It has always seemed scary to me.....and I'm not black.

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  16. I share your distaste for the movie, and I didn't like the book either. I saw the movie at age 10, on a fifth grade field trip, no less (what were they thinking?), when my Cobb County class rode a bus in frigid temperatures down to the Fox Theatre. It was supposed to have been a Big Deal. All I remember was how cold it was, and the horrific (to me) scene when Scarlett fatally shot the Union soldier. That shook me to my core, and it remains the most vivid memory I have of the movie. As a high school teen, I hoped to gain a better impression of Mitchell's story by reading the book. I did not. I found Scarlett as lacking in moral character as you did. I could not fathom how both the book and the movie had gained so many accolades. But more importantly, I agree with your assertions about the Confederate flag. I have never identified with it, Southern born and bred as I am, and it has never represented anything to which I have aspired. It was a symbol of division then. It is a symbol of division now. A friend of mine compared the flaunting of that flag in the face of Charleston's awful tragedies to the scripture where Paul talks about abstaining from meat for the sake of another's conscience. She put it this way: "Remember when Paul taught that there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but if eating it would cause a weaker brother to stumble, it could be seen as harmful to that brother - better to not eat the meat in the presence of that brother than to shake his faith. It's the courtesy shown to people who hurt and are upset by the symbols that counts, not the symbols themselves. That kind of disregard for the feelings of brothers is proof positive that one does not have love for that brother, nor cares for his soul. Tempting brothers to anger by flaunting your "freedom" in defiance is not loving them. And.... if the folks who are hurting are not considered by these defiant ones to BE brothers, not worthy of love or respect, then that is proof that there is no love within them at all. If your love for your heritage must be proven by public displays of symbols that cause pain, one wonders if it's the pain you're aiming for in the first place rather than honoring your heritage." Amen.

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  17. Thank you for putting the distaste most of us feel about the Confederate flag, into words, so eloquently, Pamela. I hope you will not be offended if I place it onto my FB page. An acquaintance posted something quite offensive the other day about the same subject that so infuriated me that I have been stewing ever since. I wasn't sure how to respond, and, now I do. You have an incredible gift, and, as always, have used it to enlighten and inform.

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  18. one always has to wonder... why did it have to take a horrible tragedy before "good conscious" people finally wake up?
    that flag should have been taken down the minute the war was declared over. by rights it should have. but the anger and hatred and pain were too deep. maybe they're still too deep. maybe for some if will never come down.
    but the old generations will die away. perhaps the young ones coming along can finally get past the great divide.
    the divide of feeling superior to an entire people. because of their color.
    I hate to say this... but I always felt the south and its grandiose charm were like a fancy frilly bandage covering a gangrene wound.
    my mother in law was a southern 'lady.' and she was one of the cruelest and most gentile of witches there ever was.
    she never raised her voice. but she did more harm with that quiet refined and bigoted whisper than anyone could have otherwise.
    brava dear pamela. this was an eloquent piece of writing that hit every mark. but then... we're used to that from you.
    you're a treasure.

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  19. I do agree Pamela well put all. Fly the American Flag and if wanted and appropriate our state flag, however we are one United States!!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena
    Gallery Opening!

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  20. To those who would disparage the South (and yes, it is spelled with a capital S) without ever having been here, I say, Come On Down! To cast stones without knowing who you are stoning seems a little absurd. Believe me, it is not a scary place. Folks from outside the South flock here by the thousands every day and never want to leave. And yes, it probably is time to lower the flag; just don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Sorry, Pamela, I just couldn't resist. You know, of course, it is not directed at you.

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    1. Oh, bless your heart!

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  21. Well, if I were a black person I certainly wouldn't make the South a priority on my vacation list. I wonder why. I know they have beautiful places in the South. I know they have beautiful people in the South. It is just not a priority for me either. That's just my humble observation, darlin'.

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  22. Although we didn't have much time to spend in Atlanta earlier this year I'd have to say the changes in the 37 years since I was a student at Emory were gratifying. The 'selective' admissions policy at the Piedmont Driving Club is a thing of the past. Hopefully, the same is true of that awful bar in Underground Atlanta with the collection of pre-civil rights era baseball bats on show above the counter. The place seemed much more cosmopolitan. much more relaxed and much more at ease with itself than it was in the late 70's. Progress happens. Guess there are still Coweta County type parts but we came back impressed.

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  23. The South doesn't have a monopoly on treating people badly, human suffering was common in the days of slavery, but the idea that the confederate flag still flies over any State sponsored area is abominable. Take down that flag is a tiny baby step. Stop teaching children to hate would be a better rally cry. Thank you for being so brave in bringing this to the front of your blog post Heather, much appreciated.

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  24. Well said. I'm from South Carolina and have seen the quiet, genteel racism as well as the overt all my life. I think our culture is going through a great shift that is spiritual and I am so thankful.

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  25. I am from Virginia, and I agree it's good that SC took down the flag. To really overcome racism and America's experience with slavery, it is imperative to take a hard look at our national involvement instead of assuming it was strictly a southern institution.

    Unfortunately, there were indentured and enslaved people in the north as well as the south; there were quite a number of freedmen who owned slaves. Read Robert Penn Warren's THE LEGACY OF THE CIVIL WAR; he takes the north and the south to task. Of course there was slavery in the north and slaves were openly auctioned in NYC, Philadelphia, etc.

    The historian Joanne Pope Melish, who wrote a perceptive book on race relations in antebellum New England, recalls how it was possible to read American history textbooks at the high school level and never know that there was such a thing as a slave north of the Mason-Dixon Line:

    "In Connecticut in the 1950s, when I was growing up, the only slavery discussed in my history textbook was southern; New Englanders had marched south to end slavery. It was in Rhode Island, where I lived after 1964, that I first stumbled across an obscure reference to local slavery, but almost no one I asked knew anything about it. Members of the historical society did, but they assured me that slavery in Rhode Island had been brief and benign, involving only the best families, who behaved with genteel kindness. They pointed me in the direction of several antiquarian histories, which said about the same thing. Some of the people of color I met knew more."
    According to Ms. Melish, there were slaves in RI until 1842, in NJ until 1865, in CT until 1848.

    English media are taking a hard look at how England continued to profit from the slave trade long after abolishing the holding of slaves. To truly overcome racism, America needs to do the same exploration.

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I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!