Saturday, June 17, 2006

Old South, New America

During the long hours on the road during my vacation, I amused myself with an audiobook. On four cassettes I listened to the voice of Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the U.S., read his book: An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood. He grew up outside of Plains, Georgia on a farm with a powerful farmer father and a nurse mother. Parts of their farm were worked by sharecroppers. Many of his boyhood friends were negroes and it wasn't until he was about 11 that he realized they were not his equals. Carter explained how the segregated south operated in those years of the Depression, and leading up to WWII. It sounded like a hard, hard life, for white and black folks. (Harder for blacks.) But he has such fond feelings for the land that the Carters still live there today.

I've heard that many urban northern black Americans are returning to the south. But it is a much different south than their grandparents left. Oh, the peanuts still grow, and the rivers still give up their fish, but everyone is a sight more better off. You'd be hard pressed to find teen-age boys having to plow their Daddy's farm with mules. And machines do the cotton-picking. But most importantly, we all get soft toilet tissue from Wal-Mart now and don't have to use the pages of the Sears Catalog.

Anyone who has a romantic view of life on the farm in the olden days should listen to Carter's description of the ringworm, lice and plentiful rats that were part of everyday life then.

I was curious as to how he would explain how he could accept segregation and then be a champion of civil rights in his adult years. We all change. And I think he always felt the injustice of his having benefits his young black buddies did not.

I feel I grew up in an enlightened home as my mother often stressed the equality of all people. So I felt a natural closeness to the anti-segregationists. I voted for Jimmy Carter. I believed in the platform of the Democratic Party. (Until their platform became nothing more than opposing everything the Republicans stood for.)

Today the new "minority" (that is not a minority) that is discriminated against are the Hispanics. They are the ones out in the fruit and vegetable fields, hoping for a better life for their children. But they are also starring in music videos and on television shows. They run the gamut from mexican gang members to state governors. It is even more stupid today to have dreams of an America for only "white" Americans. The world has changed.

It is unbelievable to me that people intentionally segregated the races in the south within the memories of many people living today. I expect that the current difficulties between Latin and non-Latin Americans will soon be a bad memory too.

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