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Posts Tagged ‘dumbass crackers’

One Sunday several years ago I attended a funeral at a small Southern Baptist church, tucked into a break in the woods, deep in the gully-wash country where the Piedmont, vaguely, gives way to the Foothills.  Near the end of an otherwise restrained and gentle eulogy, the preacher declared that the deceased now enjoyed freedom, real freedom, true freedom.

“And not that Martin Luther King kind of freedom, neither,” he added with a sneer.

Another Sunday, many years before that,  when not otherwise engaged with changing the course of Southern (and American, and world) history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., summed up Southern history rather well.  He explained and anticipated why dumbass crackers like that preacher would sneer at the kind of freedom King struggled for:

The other day I was saying, I always try to do a little converting when I’m in jail. And when we were in jail in Birmingham the other day, the white wardens and all enjoyed coming around the cell to talk about the race problem. And they were showing us where we were so wrong demonstrating. And they were showing us where segregation was so right. And they were showing us where intermarriage was so wrong. So I would get to preaching, and we would get to talking—calmly, because they wanted to talk about it. And then we got down one day to the point—that was the second or third day—to talk about where they lived, and how much they were earning. And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, “Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. You’re just as poor as Negroes.” And I said, “You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you’re so poor you can’t send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march.”

The full text of King’s sermon is available here; many thanks to Joy Vermillion Heinsohn for sharing this with me.

My esteemed cohort Patrick McLaughlin recommends David Roediger’s monograph “The Wages of Whiteness” for an “in-depth examination” of the Drum Major Instinct, which is similar to what W. J. Cash called “the proto-Dorian bond” in The Mind of the South.  Rob Riggan’s very fine novel The Blackstone Commentaries recognizes and dramatizes the instinct, or the bond, and the sad effects it has had on the South.

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Not all of us who holler, hate.
Not everyone who drawls or twangs
Speaks hatefully, nor everyone
Who prays in stiff-backed pews demands

That God incline to those like us.
Not all of us who ache for fall,
For fishing and football think in thick
And arid ruts.  Not all of us.

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