I am a son of the South and proud of it. Born here, raised here and, God willing, will be planted here. The South is and always will be my home.
Have we always been a perfect place? Far from it. The notion of separate-but-equal was anything but in the South in which I was raised. Blacks rode in the back of the bus and attended substandard schools. They couldn’t eat in our restaurants or attend our churches or shop in our stores. They were required to serve in the military but discouraged to the point of intimidation from registering to vote. Blacks were accused of crimes they didn’t commit and too many lost their lives as a result. It was not our finest hour.
The civil rights movement of the ‘60s changed the dynamics. It was a painful but necessary time. There is disagreement as to just how much things have changed but in my view they have and for the better. There are special interest groups on both sides of the racial divide who will disagree. That is understandable because it is in their political and financial interest to do so. They will never be satisfied.
I grew up thinking that bigotry existed only in the South until I ventured north and heard the locals disparaging Greeks, Italians, Poles, Jews, Irish Catholics and, yes, Blacks. I discovered that prejudice was not regional. Neither was hypocrisy.
I grieve that what has made being Southern so special has come under attack. It started with the “Fergit, Hell!” crowd glorifying a way of life that no longer exists and probably never did. Their Lost Cause was exemplified by supporters of the old Georgia state flag which resembled the Confederate battle flag; as ornery a bunch of people as I have ever dealt with and I have dealt with a bunch of ornery folks in my long career.
They threatened and bullied and postured but totally misread public support of their cause. The state flag was changed during the Perdue Administration with the overwhelming approval of Georgians.
Now they are reduced to watching the pendulum swing the other way and having to endure politically-correct zealots tearing down statues and trying to obliterate anything having to do with Southern history, without knowing what they are talking about.
The flaggers with their heads turned toward the past and a war long ago lost do not represent my South. Neither do the fanatics trying to rewrite the history of the region by destroying it. In some ways, their actions are eerily reminiscent of the Taliban’s efforts to wipe out Afghanistan’s history 20 years ago.
My South is gentle and polite. We grew up saying “Yes, ma’am” and “No ma’am” and “Thank you.” I still do. Friday night football was a social gathering. It still is. We went to church on Sunday and on Wednesday nights, too. Nobody locked their doors. Southern cooking was equal parts lard, salt and fried. We ate supper because dinner was at lunch. And nobody in the South prepared a meal. It was fixed, as in, “Come on in the house and wash your hands. Momma is fixing supper.”
People laugh at how we talk. The laugh is on them. It is everybody else that talks funny. Yes, our speech pattern may be slow but as my daddy used to say, we think fast.
If you want to see the real South, you will need to venture out from the killing fields of Atlanta and environs. That area is about as southern as South Bronx and just about as hazardous. Head in any direction – north, south, east or west – and you will find a South of mountains and lakes, pecan and peach and apple orchards, rolling farmlands and pristine ocean beaches. It is a special place filled with God-fearing people who love their country, sweet tea and one another.
This is the South that I love. This is why I am proud to be a son of the South. If you don’t agree that this is hallowed and holy soil, I can only say, “Bless your heart.” It is not a compliment.
Dick Yarbrough is an award-winning, syndicated columnist from Georgia. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.