“If we want to truly honor our Southern forefathers, we should do it by moving on from the symbols and prejudices of their time and building on the diversity, the art and the literary traditions we’ve inherited from them.”
By Fred Mills
In a recent essay I joined the chorus of national voices calling for South Carolina, in the wake of the Charleston tragedy, to remove the Confederate battle flag from the SC state house, additionally reflecting on what it meant to grow up in the South during the ‘60s and ‘70s and witnessing racism in both its purest and its subtlest forms. Add Drive-By Truckers mainman Patterson Hood to that chorus now, perhaps timed coincidentally but perhaps not with South Carolina legislators’ decision to, indeed, take the flag down.
In an essay published today at the New York Times, Hood writes how Americans can celebrate Southern heritage without deploying such a divisive symbol as the flag:
“Why fly a flag that stands for the very things we as Southerners have worked so hard to move beyond? If we want to truly honor our Southern forefathers, we should do it by moving on from the symbols and prejudices of their time and building on the diversity, the art and the literary traditions we’ve inherited from them. It’s time to quit rallying around a flag that divides. And it is time for the South to — dare I say it? — rise up and show our nation what a beautiful place our region is, and what more it could become.”
Right on. As I and many others have recently, Hood relates growing up in the South—he was born in Florence, Alabama, located in a region “deeply religious and politically conservative”—and how the Southern storytelling tradition influenced him as a songwriter. He also outlines some of what went into the making of the Truckers’ classic opus A Southern Rock Opera, noting that the band members “were very concerned about how the record would be received. We wanted to back up everything we said with documented facts, lest we be construed as apologists — lest someone not notice that a sympathetic song about George Wallace was written from the Devil’s point of view. And we made a conscious decision not to discuss the so-called rebel flag. We didn’t want our narrative getting bogged down in a debate about an antiquated symbol, one we considered a moot point in any case.”
However, he adds, “When we started playing songs from the album at shows, that we noticed that fans were bringing rebel flags and waving them during a song called “The Southern Thing.” The song was written to express the contradictions of Southern identity [but] instead, people were treating it as a rallying cry. I’m still grappling with how easily it was misinterpreted — and we rarely play it today for that reason.”
Click on the above link to read the entire essay, as it’s remarkably insightful, and coming from a musician whose band has always been (and probably will continue to be) inextricably wrapped up in aspects of the South and what it means to be Southern, it’s authoritative, too. There’s no knee-jerk navel-gazing in Hood’s words. Instead, there’s a profound sadness underlining the Southern pride being expressed, and that’s something that I feel quite deeply myself.
Below: not long after I wrote my original blog post about the flag, I spotted this truck flying it, along with a US flag, in the parking lot of the local Food Lion where I shop.