Friday, June 17, 2011

Where Is The South?

During this weekend celebrating "Juneteenth" in Texas I was reminded of recent changes in the American mindset regarding what is currently considered the American South versus how large the South really is. I was recently amazed at how contemporary opinion can absolutely rewrite history. It happens regularly and many in the conversation either don't know any better or choose not to contradict the speaker, especially if the setting happens to be the speaker's home. Being polite is one thing, allowing revisionist blowharding to be accepted as truth is quite another.

On the way to a business conference in Florida while driving the rental away from the airport my colleagues and I were talking about various parts of the country and what it must be like to live there. We talked about the South, the "Deep South" and the Southwest, going over their similarities as well as some key differences from one region to the next. Somehow the subject came up regarding Maryland and Delaware and their place in the American South.

"They're not in the South" one of my more loudmouth co-workers unequivocally proclaimed. I politely pointed out that they were considered Border States during the Civil War and were prevented from actively participating in the conflict; their inclusion would have completely surrounded Washington, D.C. with Confederate States, an untenable and unacceptable position for the seat of the federal government. That's all well and good my highly opinionated peer said dismissively but that still didn't place either state in the "real" South. Even the truth that the Mason-Dixon Line ran along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border wasn't enough in their minds to be considered a part of the South. The Mason-Dixon Line has been reduced to an historical technicality.

At a recent Memorial Day party a similar conversation took place only this time regarding my home state, the great State of Texas. We were discussing traveling for family reunions and I mentioned that my mother's family was in the "Deep South" of rural Virginia. While not as far south geographically as Alabama, Mississippi and southern Georgia the mindset of the "Deep South" permeated this part of Virginia and the Carolinas as much as anywhere else. In that mix of opinions came Texas' place in the South.

"Texas is not in the South" came the last-word opinion of the party's host. After allowing myself time to collect my thoughts and continue my argument I stated that Texas was indeed in the South and that the traditional feel and mindset of the American South could be found alive and well in the eastern part of the state. The Talladega Forest region that extends in to Texas from Arkansas and Louisiana as deep in to the state as the Tyler-Lufkin-Nacogdoches line was as southern as any part of Tennessee could ever be. El Paso not so much, perhaps, but all along US Highway 59 as far as Houston the traditional "South" can be found. Anybody remember James Byrd, Jr. of Jasper?

I guess in their crude way I am supposed to go along with the argument that times change and that feelings and basic instincts evolve, etc. Those were different times and, indeed, Northern Virginia around Washington, D.C. is a whole other country compared to any part of the state from Richmond and Charlottesville south. At the same time, Texas is simply too large to be part of any one region geo-politically. El Paso is famously closer to Los Angeles than it is to Houston while Amarillo is barely connected to the coastal culture of Corpus Christi. I still held the final trump card in the debate as far as I was concerned.

Juneteenth is the celebration of the coming of Emancipation to the State of Texas in 1865, two and a half years after Lincoln's initial declaration. Now celebrated in 37 states across the Union, it was first celebrated in Texas which, like Delaware and Maryland, was a slave-owning state, plantations included. To any Black American breathing, that puts all three states squarely in the South. Happy Juneteenth.

Gotta go.

No comments:

Post a Comment