The Enduring South -- For Better and Worse

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Sat Mar 17 11:23:01 MST 2001

[ bounced contained attachment from "Hunter Gray"


There's something about this enduring discussion of The South that
makes me a little wary [and, to use the Southern expression, "I say
this politely"]: sort of one's sensing that he or she is on the edge
of a quicksand slough that's covered only with soft but pointy
pine-needles.  Nevertheless:

There are definite regional differences between the South and the rest
of the country -- and there are definite differences between various
components of the South.  There are differences between the
Intermountain West and the East Coast and the West Coast.  A small
town in Northern Arizona, coloured by its isolation and shaped by its
proximity to several Native tribal nations, is certainly a different
place than, say, Phoenix and considerably different than New York
City.  Any working organizer -- and certainly any radical organizer --
would have to be very sensitive -- and in an always principled fashion
-- to those differences. [ I grew up with Levis, logging/miners'
boots, denim shirts, and genuine Stetson hats; in my years in the
South -- and I do get back there every so often and am even a Life
Member of the Mississippi Historical Society -- I always wore and wear
a somber dark suit, white shirt, dress shoes and -- to use the
horrible word! -- a conservative tie, whenever I speak in a Black
church.  I do that out of pure respect.]

All of this said, I reiterate that which I've said on other occasions
regarding regional differences, etc.: One must not get trapped in
insular romanticism -- and it is very much the same system across the
South and across the country, and the struggle is, of course,
international in nature.  Once, very briefly out of Mississippi in
1962, I was picked up at the Cleveland airport by that excellent
Southern radical and writer, Al Maund, then a key staffer for the
International Chemical Workers Union -- [one of his excellent works,
by the way, a 1961 novel, The International, is a labor classic] --
and the ICWU was certainly, at that point anyway, one of the better
AFL-CIO unions.  I'd never really been in Ohio before and the absence
of at least conspicuous and personally hostile cops led me to comment,
"Seems a little bit more free here, anyway, than in the Jackson
airport."  Al Maund smiled and said, "Same damn system, John."

I like the South.  I think Southern workers, to use the Mississippi
expression, "Black, White, Chinese, and Choctaw" are all well worth
working with -- in the context of inter-ethnic solidarity -- as is the
case with bona fide workers anywhere.  [My one-half Mississippi
Choctaw grandson, Thomas, is grinning over my shoulder as I write
this.]  I can cite many, many examples where White Southern workers --
including some who once had active Klan backgrounds -- have been
brought into militant, democratic -- and racially integrated --
unionism and have been damn good union people.  Personally, I'm just
not inclined to write human beings off -- especially when they're
victims of the same power structure that cuts at us all!

On another point, and without in any way attempting in any fashion to
be an authority on Texas, there was a '60s civil rights movement in
Texas: much from Bishop College, and at Hawkins, Marshall, Beaumont,
and some other places in East Texas -- the cops and the segs used
police dogs against the Movement -- and there certainly were some
vigorous Chicano endeavours, primarily in Central and West Texas.
Mine-Mill maintained locals at El Paso and Laredo -- and the IWW had a
strong maritime organization at Houston/Galveston through the 1950s.
Texas has always, however, struck me as a place that could blend
vicious repression and honey-breathing co-optation very shrewdly
indeed.  Even as well-entrenched a native son as that great
Southwestern writer, J.  Frank Dobie, strongly identified in the 1930s
with the left Southern Conference on Human Welfare, had to fight one
academic freedom battle after another at the University of Texas.  I
had known next to nothing about Trotskyist efforts in Houston but I
find those fascinating and commendable.

If people are interested in getting a very thoughtful and extremely
well-written book on "The South" -- myth and reality -- I suggest W.J.
Cash's The Mind of the South [many editions.]  An especially
courageous book, given the fact that it appeared in 1940, it provides
some excellent insights into the skeleton hand that, even today,
shapes much of Dixie.  Mr.  Cash committed suicide shortly after the
publication of his classic.

Here, too, from our Discussion List's archives, is the link to my own
piece of last fall "Radicals -- and Troops -- in the South, and Other
Things."  Much of it seems currently relevant.

In Solidarity -- Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]

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