The great alluvial flood plain known as the Mississippi Delta begins just south of Memphis, Tennessee and extends to just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Delta is nestled between the Mississippi River on the West and the chain of hills on the East encompassing the Northwest quarter of the State of Mississippi.
Each year the Mississippi would flood all or at least a great part of the Delta leaving behind an additional layer of rich river silt. Ninety percent of the Delta was covered by virgin hardwood forest and low lying cypress groves. It was this vast stand of timber that would provide the financial capital to clear and prepare what would become one of the world’s agricultural paradises. Cotton would be the great cash crop in the Delta, but the timber made it all possible.
In the last quarter of the Eighteenth century planters from the Natchez area began to look north along the banks of the Mississippi for new lands to expand their holdings. Many new plantations were carved out of the oxbow lakes and hardwood forest north of the mouth of the Yazoo River. This area was owned by the Choctaw Nation and the early planters simply ignored the Indian’s claims. In 1817 Mississippi was admitted to the Union and things began to change.
The United States empowered General Andrew Jackson to enter into negotiations with the Choctaw Nation in an effort to trade some 13 million acres of land in the western Arkansas Territory for 5 million acres of Choctaw holdings in the Northwest corner of the new State of Mississippi. In October of 1820 the Treaty of Doak’s Stand was signed and the Mississippi Delta was opened to white settlement. Not much happened.
In the period from 1820 to 1866 there were no roads, no railroads and travel was limited to small river boats and horseback. Labor was scarce, goods remote and capital non-existent. The river counties grew, but the interior remained largely unsettled. The Delta remained a vast primal forest until after the Civil War. In the post war period things began to change.
In spite of confiscatory post war taxes imposed by the Reconstruction Republicans, the Delta began to be cleared for farming. This massive clearing effort continued until well into the 20th century and the timber provided the capital to clear and prepare the land for farming. Roads were built and railroads connected the cotton fields to an insatiable world cotton market. Towns grew, schools opened and civilization made its way to the Delta.
Since the earliest French settlers entered the lower Mississippi basin, man has attempted to control the flooding along the Mississippi River. In 1852 this task was assigned to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and they have been attempting to harness the river since. For the most part they have succeeded, but there have been dramatic exceptions resulting in devastating floods.
The Delta has received and absorbed several waves of migration. First came the Natchez planters, mainly patricians from Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolina’s. Many were second sons of prominent families sent west to seek their fortunes. They settled in the river countie, built grand homes and imported large amounts of slaves for labor.
Beginning in the late 1700’s and extending up until 1865 the great majority of laborers in the Delta were black slaves. After emancipation these black families continued to provide the labor force in the Delta with many entering into the sharecropping system and others as day laborers. In the 1950’s thousands of these descendants of slaves were displaced from their agricultural jobs by mechanization and were forced to move north to seek jobs in the industries of the American mid-west. The remaining blacks are still the largest single ethnic group in the Delta.
After Doak’s stand some white yeomanry came west from the Piedmont and Mountains of the east to seek a better life in the rich agricultural lands of the Delta. These hard working, god fearing folks never owned slaves, and for the most part did their own labor building small, but prosperous farms . They were the origins of the white middle class.
In the years following the Civil War, a great many Eastern European Jewish peddlers followed the Union Army into the Southern states. Many of these merchants settled in the Delta and opened dry goods stores so that by the early 20th century there was a vibrant Jewish community, and most small towns had at least one synagogue. Many of the children of these early settlers perused professional careers that meant moving to larger cities seeking opportunity. There are old store buildings in many Delta towns named Silverblatt’s, Sklar’s and Dattel’s.
As the cotton economy prospered the need for transportation increased and railroad construction brought a large number of laborers from mainland China to the Delta. In the 1880’s they built the railroads. In the early 20th century they owned small grocery stores in mainly black neighborhoods. The children of these small shop owners became doctors, lawyers and CPAs and left the Delta to seek their fortune in mainstream America. In every small Delta Town there is an abandoned Chinese store called Wong’s, Gee’s or Chong’s
In the early 20th century, immigrants from Italy and Lebanon came to the Delta. The Italians became farmers and prospered. These families continued to be landowners throughout the central Delta. The Lebanese settled in the River cities and became prominent restaurateurs and real estate owners. The Delta has a rich and diverse cultural history and has benefited from each wave of migration.
Today the Delta is home to large Agribusiness farms. The small farmer no longer exists. Most Delta farms are several thousand acres in size and require millions of dollars in equipment to be competitive. Modern farms employ very little labor, thus removing the major source of employment. Now the entire area is dependent on the support of programs from the Federal Government. All efforts to establish a manufacturing economy have failed and unemployment is at record levels.
THE YEAR WAS 1947
By Tom Lawrence
My friend Billy and I were walking home from school on a warm October afternoon in 1947. The aroma of burning leaves filled the air, and there was just the hint of a chill. We decided to take the long way home, detouring through downtown. We’d gone less than a block, when we saw the first brightly colored poster, wrapped around a light pole. The poster showed a black faced dandy playing a banjo, grinning from ear to ear. The figure wore a derby hat and spats on his shoes, and the poster announced:
COMING THIS WEEKEND!
MUSIC, DANCE AND COMEDY FOR ALL!!
We read the billboard with excitement! The minstrel shows were the only live entertainment that ever came to Ruleville, and they were anticipated by nearly everyone. Memphis hosted the Mid-South Fair and the Barnum & Bailey circus, Cleveland had the Bolivar County Fair, but we got the minstrels, and we loved them. If the minstrels were a baseball team, they would be playing in the show business Class D, but to two young boys, they were the only game in town.
Billy and I enjoyed a special place during minstrel week. The show rented the vacant lot next to my grandfather’s ice and coal business, and we were allowed to watch the tent as it was being set up, and to also mix with some of the performers. On Friday morning the Sugarfoot Minstrel traveling caravan pulled into town. There were trucks, a couple of old buses, and private cars and pick-up trucks pulling campers.
The manager, a black man wearing a derby hat, came over to the ice house and knocked on my grandfather’s office door. My grandfather stood as he came in, and then removed his own hat. They shook hands and my grandfather said,
“Well, Dan, it’s good to see you again. Looks like y’all are about to get set up.”
“Yes sir. We’ll have the tent up as soon as I can round up some help. You still okay with me hiring some of your hands?”
“Of Course. They always look forward to the extra pay and the free tickets. I’ll have my foreman, Crip round them up, and they’ll meet you on the lot. Do you want to park your vehicles inside my coal yard?”
“Yes sir, if you don’t mind. I like to get em off the street.”
“Well, fine. You know you can use our plant restrooms and showers, just like you always have.”
“I do, and it means a lot to our folks. Most places, we have to find a Negro church or school, but here we feel welcome.”
“I’ll send Crip and the boys over as soon as I find him, and they’ll get you all settled. Let me know if you need anything else.”
“Yes sir. We sure appreciate you and Miz Rainer.”
Billy and I followed Crip and the guys over to the lot, where we watched as they set up the tent. Once the tent was up and the stage was in place, they began to move in the chairs for the audience. When all was ready for the first show, all of the vehicles moved into our coal yard, with Billy and me following closely behind. This was my favorite part, because then we got to mingle with the performers.
Since the actual show, performed by an all-black ensemble, was considered “adult entertainment,” we would not be allowed to attend. Many of the performers knew I was Mr. Rainer’s grandson however, so we were welcomed by most everyone during rehearsal. We managed to view most of the upcoming show in the coal yard, where we gleefully watched the dancers, singers and comedians run through their acts, and no one chased us off.
All of the performers were in Blackface makeup, in spite of being black to begin with, which seemed to make it acceptable for a white person of the time to attend the show. The singers stuck to the standard vaudeville repertoire, with songs like I came from Alabama with a banjo on my knee, or Way down upon the Suwanee River. The dancers all did tap, and the comedians specialized in double entendre jokes, with sexual overtones — nothing smutty, but a bit suggestive.
Later, all of them would move backstage in the tent, and we were allowed to stay until just before the show started, but it wasn’t appropriate for two young lads to attend such a risqué function. Soon the tent began to fill with an all-white, mostly male crowd, and we were shooed out, and had to go back to the ice house. My grandparents didn’t go into the tent for the show either. They felt it was unseemly for a Christian white couple to mingle with the “riff-raff” who were in attendance. They, however, set up lawn chairs overlooking the tent, where they listened to every act.
After the first show ended, Billy and I took our blankets and returned to my grandparent’s apartment in the ice plant. My bedroom looked out over the lot, and if we cracked my window, we could hear the second show for the “colored people.” The black audience was much more participatory in their response to the show than the white audience had been, and we fell asleep to the lively music and laughter. When we woke up the next morning, the tent was coming down and the caravan was loading up to move on to Indianola for the next show. Ruleville’s annual dose of live entertainment had ended for yet another year.
The stereotypical practice of Blackface in theater began around 1830, with white performers creating a clichéd caricature of blacks, and by 1940, black entertainers began to see the economic value of it as well. The practice largely ended in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement, as both whites and blacks were furthering the belief that blacks were racially and socially inferior through the use of the mocking caricatures.
For more on Blackface Minstrels visit these sites connected to the images:
The header image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to black-face.com
The first image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.cs.pomona.edu
The second image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.jezebel.com
FACES IN THE CROWD
By Tom Lawrence
In every generation and in every society there are those who make a difference without the receipt of either recognition or fame serving as the motivation for their actions. Mostly, they are just plain folks leading everyday lives who find themselves thrust into a situation that demands courage, integrity and solid common sense. At a crucial moment in their existence these average citizens simply rise to the occasion. They do what needs to be done, then fade back into ordinary lives. These special people deserve our thanks and respect. Here is an example of one such person.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in a matter known as Brown v Board of Education, which made State sponsored segregation illegal under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The concept of separate but equal would no longer apply to schools all across the South.
In September of that same year, Ruby Nell Bridges was born in Tylertown, Mississippi. Ruby’s parents, Abon and Lucille, worked as sharecroppers on the farm that Abon had grown up on. The Bridges were hardworking people who were not politically active in the civil rights movement.
Equal opportunity was now the law of the land, but implementation of that law proved to be extremely difficult. But the segregation barrier in higher education fell in 1956, when Authorine Lucy was admitted to the University of Alabama, and Ruby Bridges had just turned two years old. The first high school in the South admitted black students in 1957, when President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne to escort nine black students to class at Little Rock’s Central High. Ruby Bridges was now three years old.
In 1958, Abon and Lucille decided to leave the farm, and moved to nearby New Orleans to seek a better life for Ruby. Abon got a job as an attendant at a gas station, and Lucille took on domestic work.
Louisiana had implemented a law that required black children to pass a test to determine their ability to attend an all-white school, and responding to a call by the local NAACP, Abon and Lucille reluctantly agreed that Ruby would take the test. She was one of six black children to pass the admission examination.
Ruby was assigned to all white William Franz Elementary School for the school year of 1960. The other five children, for one reason or another, either stayed in their existing school, or were assigned to other schools, leaving Ruby to attend William Franz by herself. Abon didn’t want Ruby to be exposed to the expected white backlash, but Lucille convinced him that it was the right thing to do, both for Ruby and to further the cause of black rights.
On November 14, 1960, Ruby was escorted to William Franz Elementary School by a U.S. Deputy Marshall, making her the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in Louisiana. Ruby described the scene at the school as very much like Mardi Gras — “throngs of shouting people throwing things.” Once Ruby was admitted to class, many of the white parents pulled their children out of the school, and all but one of the white teachers refused to teach in an integrated institution. The one exception was Barbara Henry, a native of Boston Massachusetts, who became Ruby’s teacher for the school year.
Ruby’s first year at William Franz saw her segregated within the school. She was taught one on one, ate her meals alone, and had no interaction with the white students. In further retaliation against her admission to the school, her parents, Abon and Lucille lost their jobs, they were refused service at their local grocery store, and her grandparents were evicted from their farm in Mississippi. Although there was some community support — both black and white — most of her first year was filled with angry racial slurs, threats and protests against her attendance. Ruby persevered however, and stuck it out, and she won the respect of not only her teachers, but also the Marshalls who were assigned to protect her. Former United States Deputy Marshal Charles Burks later recalled,
“She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very very proud of her.” American artist Norman Rockwell immortalized Ruby’s first day with his painting, The Problem We All Live With, which graced the centerfold of Look magazine in 1964.
The events of that November day in 1960 set Ruby Bridges on a path of service that has lasted throughout her life, but the quiet courage of a six year old child remains an inspiration to us all.
For more by Tom Lawrence: www.tomlawrenceblog.com
The photo of the 1954 Supreme Court is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Brown v. Board of Education – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaen.wikipedia.org555 × 380Search by image
On May 17, 1954, these men, members of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.
The photo of the Norman Rockwell painting, is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.nola.com2048 × 1263Search by image… ‘The Problem We All Live With’ depicts 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, who was the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in Louisiana
The opportunity had surpassed my expectations. My employer, the public television station and PBS affiliate in Memphis, WKNO, was holding a reception promoting and celebrating the return of Ken Burns’ acclaimed television series, The Civil War.”
I had arrived at the reception a bit early in the hope of speaking with the guest of honor for the evening. I recently had developed a special interest in the Civil War years, having happened upon a review of a book about a prominent figure of the period, Jefferson Davis. The review interested me, so I had obtained the book…and found it enthralling
Suddenly, there I was, speaking about my discovery with our honored guest, the renowned author, Shelby Foote, whose marvelous, smooth voice with rolling tones of the American South, was a highlight of the PBS television series.
Shelby Foote was gracious and attentive. While I cannot recall his exact response to my expressed interest in the life and career of Jefferson Davis, what he said to me was close to the following quote in the introduction to the very book I was reading:
“‘The strangest thing to me,’ writes Shelby Foote, who for years has been working on a history of the War Between the States, ‘is how human and warm Davis turns out to be. My admiration for him is virtually unbounded.’”
The book to which I have been referring is a sympathetic biography of the Confederate President by Hudson Strode. A measure of that sympathy is probably noticeable in Strode’s reference to The War Between the States, rather than The Civil War.
In this paper I come not to praise Jefferson Davis, but to share some of the high drama that played out in the life of this man; drama that is generously sprinkled with sheerest coincidence. Three such coincidences are particularly poignant.
We might start things with a pop quiz about dramatis personae of the American Civil War (or War Between the States.)
Question 1: What American served his country as President during that war, who was born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1808? Ah, I’m sure some of you are aware that Lincoln was born in Kentucky, not Illinois. However, Lincoln is not the correct answer to my question, and here is Coincidence ONE!
Lincoln was, indeed, born in a log cabin in Kentucky, but in 1809. Jefferson Davis was born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1808. Perhaps you did not know that the President of the Confederate States of America was born in a log cabin in Kentucky, not quite one hundred miles from the Kentucky log cabin birthplace of the President of the United States of America during the Civil War.
How might history be different had the Davis family moved north, say, to Indiana and then Illinois and had the Lincoln family moved south, say, to Mississippi?
There is no Question 2 at this point, but more coincidences await us.
Early Life and Education
Jefferson Davis was born to Samuel and Jane Davis, the youngest of ten children. His four brothers received names from the Bible; Joseph, Samuel, Benjamin and Isaac, but Jeff’s parents departed from scripture to name him Jefferson, for the red-headed President then in office, and gave him the middle name of Finis, no doubt in the fervent hope that this child was the last. He was.
By the time Jeff was weaned, says Shelby Foote in Volume One of his Civil War narrative, the Davis family had moved to Bayou Teche in Louisiana. However, the unhealthy climate, especially with the prevalence of malaria, occasioned yet another move. This time it was to Mississippi. Jeff may have escaped the dreaded Louisiana mosquito with this departure from the bayous, but the insect was to pay a tragic visit to him years later.
Jeff’s education began at a nearby wooden school at age 5, but Samuel Davis had been impressed by the reputation of a Dominican school in Kentucky. The Davis family was Baptist, but the friars of St. Thomas Aquinas were extraordinary educators and without telling Jane Davis of his intentions to get her son to Kentucky, Samuel, setting aside fears that Jeff would be subjected to Catholicism, arranged for Jeff to depart with a friend, Major Hinds, and his family, who were embarking for Kentucky. Major Hinds was pleased to take Jeff as company for his own seven-year old. Jeff departed on the 700 mile journey to Kentucky, riding his pony. His mother was to be told later.
One of the most memorable events of Jeff’s life occurred on the way to his new school. Major Hinds had fought beside Andrew Jackson at New Orleans and he had received an invitation from Jackson to stop and rest at The Hermitage in Nashville. “Old Hickory” was a national hero of whom Jeff had heard much. He, Major Hinds’ son, Howell and Andrew Jackson. Jr. enjoyed each other’s company and were urged by “Old Hickory” to contests of running, jumping and pony races. However, General Jackson discouraged wrestling, which could lead to a fight. Jeff was to learn later that Old Hickory was famous for vivid profanity, but during this stay the lad was impressed by General Jackson’s propriety, his saying of grace at meals, and his “unaffected and well-bred courtesy.” The experience was so enjoyed by the travelers and the gracious Rachel and Andrew Jackson that the brief stay stretched to two weeks. Jefferson Davis marked this experience as one of the very most important of his life. He had met the day’s leading hero and the future President of the United States.
Jefferson Davis enjoyed his education at St. Thomas and it stood him in good stead. The British-born friars offered excellent education in English and Latin. He was so impressed with the dedication of the Dominicans that at one point he determined to be instructed so as to become Catholic. The members of the order gently suggested that he might wish to wait for such a momentous step. He did decide to wait and some years later severed his Baptist ties to become Episcopalian.
By the time Jeff had reached age ten, his mother insisted that he come home. Upon his return and as Jeff’s carriage neared his home, he asked to be allowed to walk the rest of the way, thinking to play a prank on whomever he encountered. His mother was sitting on the family’s porch. Jeff, having put on some inches since he left home, called out, asking if anyone had seen any stray horses in the area. His mother responded, “No, but I have spotted a stray boy!” She flew to him with great joy.
By the time he was 13, Jeff was considered ready for college. Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky was an excellent school with an enrollment larger than Harvard’s. When Jeff’s namesake became discouraged in the founding of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson counseled, “We must send our children for education to Transylvania (Kentucky) or Cambridge (Harvard). The latter will return them to us as fanatics and tories, and the former will keep them to add to their population.” He preferred Kentucky over any other state, ”because she has more flavor of the old cask than any other state.” (Of course, Jefferson had not been afforded the joys of Tennessee Jack Daniel’s at that time.) Jeff Davis distinguished himself at Transylvania. At the commencement in 1824, Jeff gave an address on “Friendship” that the local newspapers praised, reporting that Davis’s “On Friendship” made friends of the hearers.
While Jeff was at Transylvania, he received word that his father had had financial reverses and had lost most of his holdings. His father died soon after. Three days after his father’s death, Jeff accepted an appointment as a cadet at the United States Military Academy.
West Point and Military Service
The career of Jefferson Davis at West Point was not that of a distinguished cadet. He had a number of demerits for absence after hours, revels in the local tap rooms and the playing of practical pranks. It is noteworthy that the cadet to whom Davis was to be commander-in-chief in later years had gone through West Point with not a single demerit. His name? Robert E. Lee.
In 1832 Lieutenant Jeff Davis had been assigned to western Illinois, where troubles with Native Americans were requiring the presence of army troops. The famous chief Black Hawk was having his realm shrunk, his grounds diminished, and the cagey, crafty leader would occasionally raid settlements in order to feed his people. Jeff felt some sympathy for the chief because of regular encroachment on Indian lands by settlers. When word spread that Black Hawk had sought the help of the British in Canada and was brandishing a British flag, Illinois sent militia to northwestern Illinois in a call to arms. One young Illinois’ captain (with no military experience and who had to borrow a horse to go to war) led his troops in a difficult crossing of the Henderson River. Despite Colonel Zachary Taylor’s order against the unnecessary firing of arms, the militiamen, by way of celebration of the river’s crossing, began wanton firing of weapons. The young captain was subjected to minor disgrace and made to wear a wooden sword. Less than a month later, some of this very captain’s men broke into an officer’s quarters, making off with four bucketsful of whiskey, and became too drunk to follow marching orders the next morning. As poet Carl Sandburg tells us, the captain was again sentenced to wear the wooden sword for two days. The captain was Abraham Lincoln. Jefferson Davis, although assigned to this area, was on extended leave in Mississippi at the time, returning approximately a month and a half later. At that time Black Hawk, despite masterful tactics and maneuvers, had suffered a massacre of his people at a little river called Bad Axe.
On August 27, 1832, Jeff saw Black Hawk brought in before Colonel Zachary Taylor. The old Indian wore a resplendent suit of white deerskins, and his prominent Roman nose gave his face distinction. Jefferson Davis took charge of Black Hawk and forty other prisoners. Hudson Strode tells us in his biography:
“As Lieutenant Davis proceeded down the river with his famous prisoner of war, he treated the Indian “with all the consideration and courtesy due a fallen warlord.” Black Hawk later wrote in his memoirs, “(We were) under the charge of a young war chief, who treated us all with much kindness. He is a good and brave young chief with whose conduct I was very much pleased (and this is the beginning of COINCIDENCE, 2!) Black Hawk continues “….people crowded around our boat to see us, but the war chief would not permit them to enter the apartment where we were, KNOWING WHAT HIS FEELINGS WOULD HAVE BEEN IF HE HAD BEEN PLACED IN A SIMILAR SITUATION, THAT WE DID NOT WISH A GAPING CROWD AROUND US.” COINCIDENCE 2 is completed toward the end of this account.
While serving in the Midwest area, Jeff became enamored of the beautiful daughter of the colonel commanding his unit. Jeff requested the hand of the colonel’s daughter, Knox, whose portraits disclose a beautiful girl. The colonel wanted no part of a son-in-law who was likely to make a career of the military, and refused to give his blessing. Jeff was totally smitten, writing to her, “By my dreams I have been lately almost crazed, for they were of you.” So ardent was his love that he resigned his commission and the couple were married in Louisville, Kentucky, at the home of the bride’s aunt, without the presence of or the blessing of the marriage by her father, but with his consent. The newlyweds were given by Jeff’s brother an 800 acre plantation in Davis Bend, Mississippi. Before the first crop, however, Jefferson Davis became ill with malaria, and Knox became ill the following day. At first it appeared that the young husband’s illness was more severe than his wife’s, but her fever spiked sharply and, when Jeff was helped into her room, he held her. She died in his arms.
This, then is COINCIDENCE #3. Jefferson Davis, future President of the Confederate States of America, was married to Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of Zachary Taylor, future and twelfth President of the United States of America.
Politics and Government Service
In 1845, Davis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He did not act as a freshman representative, going headlong into speeches in the House. After one address to his colleagues, he was offered fulsome congratulations by former President of the United States, John Quincy Adams. To others the former Executive said, “…that gentleman is no ordinary man. He will make his mark yet, mind me.” However, Jeff resigned his seat to fight in the Mexican War under the command, again, of Zachary Taylor. Jeff, now a colonel, distinguished himself as war hero, when the unit he led saved the day at Buena Vista. Having formed his troops into a unique V formation that fit the terrain, he strengthened his unit and broke the back of an outnumbering Mexican cavalry charge. Zachary Taylor, a general by this time, is reported to have said to Colonel Davis after the battle of Buena Vista, “My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was.”
Within sixty days of that battle the governor of Mississippi had appointed Jefferson Davis to the United States Senate. There Jeff fought hard for expansion of slavery into the western territories. He lost in this fight and resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate to oppose a long-time enemy, who was sympathetic to the Union, in a race for Governor of Mississippi. Jefferson Davis suffered a devastating loss. He was through, he thought, and came home to plant cotton.
Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was elected President of the United States. He had admired Jefferson Davis and selected the Mississippian to serve in his cabinet as Secretary of War. As Shelby Foote observes in his Civil War Narrative, “Whatever his reasons, Pierce chose well. Davis made perhaps the best Secretary of War the country ever had. He strengthened the army, renovated the Military Academy and came out strong for a Pacific Railway through Memphis or Vicksburg, financed by federal appropriation.” He no longer seemed to champion secession, but believed (things) might best be accomplished within the union.
Franklin Pierce had attended Bowdoin College in Maine. Bowdoin was a prime center of learning and had as alumni Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Jeff was a popular speaker in Maine, whose message was one of preference for national union. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree by Bowdoin
College. But he was roundly assaulted by strong southern states’ rights advocates, who felt that his conciliatory messages weakened Southern resolve.
When Jefferson Davis bid his colleagues in the United States Senate goodbye, because Mississippi had seceded from the Union, his speech was passionate with disappointment that Americans were splitting their bonds. “I see now around me some with whom I have served long. There have been points of collision, but whatever of offense there has been to me, I leave here. I carry with me no hostile remembrance.”
He stressed that secession did not signify enmity. To those with whom he had sharply disagreed in the Senate, “I now say, in the presence of my God, I wish you well.” Jefferson Davis sat. He put his head in his hands. Writes Shelby Foote, “Some in the gallery claimed his shoulders shook. He was weeping, they said.”
But the carnage came. His government fell. Jefferson Davis was arrested and taken to Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he suffered the humiliation of being shackled with ball and chain. Now, here is the conclusion of Coincidence TWO. Hudson Strode says, “Black Hawk was transferred to Fortress Monroe in Virginia, where three decades later, Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, was displayed to jeering crowds.” The President of the Confederate States of America was made to suffer the very humiliation that Black Hawk was spared, due to the compassion and decency of that very President.
Jefferson Davis shed his share of tears. The loss of his beloved Knox had been devastating. He was fortunate to meet and marry a worthy and comforting helpmate in Varina Davis. But another familiar, but disastrous loss came to him in October, 1878. The loss was once more the result of the bite of a mosquito. His son, Jeff, Jr., became the fatal victim, but not in Louisiana or Mississippi and not of malaria. He died in Memphis of yellow fever.
At age 80, Jefferson Davis must have been immensely gratified and refreshed to learn from Bowdoin College, that despite efforts to nullify it or to withdraw it, his honorary degree from Bowdoin was still intact and in good standing.
On occasion I have thought that the high drama in the life of Jefferson Davis could be the subject of a musical on the order of “Les Miserables.” Here was a man of extraordinary talent and his share of foibles, caught in the sweep of history, having been born in a log cabin in Kentucky, as was caught in that mighty sweep another man of considerable talent and foibles, born less than one hundred miles away and one year later.
The title of the musical might be, “March to Autumn.
Cooper, William J., Jr., Jefferson Davis, American, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000
Davis, William C., Jefferson Davis, The Man and His Hour, Harper Collins, 1991
Eaton, Clement, Jefferson Davis, The Free Press, New York, 1977
Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, Fredericksburg to Meridian, Random House, New York, 1963
Merriam Webster’s Biographical Dictionary
Strode, Hudson, Jefferson Davis, American Patriot, 1808 – 1861, Harcourt Brace and World, Inc., 1955.
“Song, song of the South; sweet potato pie and hush my mouth,” as performed by the country group, Alabama
This is a type of soft speaking which was primarily developed in the South during the northern occupation of the beloved Southland by the hated Yankee invaders and conquerors. Many of the occupying soldiers were fresh from Yankee battlefields where they had lost a lot of comrades to Confederate shot and steel. They weren’t in much of a mood for any back talk from the uneducated, rebel people they had just conquered and were as apt to kill a Southerner for the slightest perceived insult.
The defeated South developed a style of double-speak known now as Southern speak so that they could hurl disguised epithets at the occupiers while smiling innocently and the ignorant Yankees would believe that they had been praised or applauded. Terms like “Bless your heart,” means just about anything the speaker intends from ‘you’re such a ninny’ to ‘you ain’t got the sense that God gave a goose’ but is seldom meant as a blessing.
“Now, ain’t you the one,” can mean ‘you’re an idiot,’ while ‘you just beat about everything’ means ‘how can someone as stupid as you actually exist?’ I think you get the gist. If you don’t, then you ought to be ‘real proud of yourself.’
“Genteel Southern speech”
The South has always been outnumbered, out-financed and out-gunned by the Yankee north. When Grant came east in 1864 he purposely built up his army into a behemoth in order to bludgeon the Southern army into submission. When Sherman marched through Georgia, his avowed purpose was to kill and burn everything in a sixty-mile swath from Atlanta to the sea in order to make war so hellish that the Southerners would submit.
As a result, Southerners have always had to speak nicely and say, “Good doggie,” until they could pick up a big rock. Genteel mothers taught their children this from birth. “Never say ’Shut up!’ like the northerners,” they would advise, “say shush or hush your mouth, instead.”
They clearly followed the advice so succinctly stated a hundred years later by the northern mobster, Al Capone when he said, “You can always get more money with a gun and a smile than you can with just a smile.” Bless his heart! At least he is one Yankee who knew how to do something right.
“Why ‘the War’ was actually fought”
This simple ides has continued to evoke constant argument throughout the years. The point of view of the debater is usually discerned by the term used to name the conflict. ‘War of northern aggression’ is the preferred view of the majority of Southerners, while ‘war of Southern rebellion’ is used by most militarily-inclined Southerners and the ‘civil war’ is used by most from the aggressor nation, viz., the north.
Let me be precise, though. It was not a civil war. No war can, by definition, be civil. This war, though, was particularly uncivil. It was a duel to the death of two distinctive and competing cultures. Only one could win. While the South wanted to co-exist, the north demanded complete capitulation and barring that, finally, annihilation of its adversary.
It was a foregone conclusion that the north would win but Southern honor was at stake. When honor is at stake, all else is moot. If you understand that, then you are a Southerner. If you are not a Southerner, then you will never comprehend this idea. Bless your heart!
“Save your Confederate money”
In order to finance ‘the Recent Unpleasantness’ Southerners sold, financed or pawned everything they owned or could steal of value. Alas, when the northerners invaded the defenseless South and waged a war of aggression against the people, the land, the animals and every green thing, the glorious South was finally beaten into submission and finally called a cessation to hostilities. Please note that various armies of the South surrendered to their northern counter-parts but the Confederate government never surrendered or capitulated to any central northern official.
When ‘the war’ ended, the Southern economy had ground to a halt and its printed money was worth zero. There were many then (and even a few still) who advocate that you hold onto your Southern money, for the South will truly rise again.
The South is perhaps the only place in the English-speaking world where a preposition is permitted to end a sentence with. It is required, actually. A little known and even less understood amendment to the constitution of the United States of the South was passed early on, requiring that all sentences should end-dangle prepositions. That law has never been stricken. A good illustration of its use: “where ‘bouts are you at?” followed by “what are you over there for?” Therefore, I implore you, to honor that noble nation by using prepositions to end all your sentences with.
Por qué no hacen el sur carolinans habla español – (Why don’t South Carolinians speak Spanish?) by Tom Lawrence
I posed this question to several of my learned friends and got a variety of answers such as:
“Well, because South Carolina was settled by the English, dummy.”
“A whole bunch of them do.”
“Well, because the English drove the Spanish out of the State.”
And my favorite:
“Who do you suppose really gives a damn?”
I soon realized that I had hit upon an area of great concern, not only to natives of South Carolina, but to many Southerners in general. Just the subject I was seeking for this week’s history blog. I decided to do some research and get to the bottom of the issue. What I found was very interesting and illustrated just how close the Capital of the State came to being in Santa Elena on Parris Island rather than Charleston.
The first reliable record of Europeans in South Carolina looks at the efforts of a Spanish Naval Officer and slave trader. In 1520 Lucas Vasquez de Allyon, a Spanish official based in Hispaniola, modern Dominican Republic and Haiti, ordered Captain Francisco Gordillo of the Spanish Navy to explore northward of the Bahamas, seeking Indians to be taken as slaves to feed the mines in Central America.
He met up with an independent contractor who was running a slave trading operation and the two of them began searching for Indians to enslave. As they sailed along the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas they discovered and named many rivers and geographic points, but they found very few Indians. The combination of Jesuits, venereal disease and slavery had pretty much wiped out the natives of the Caribbean.
Their next move was to turn to the mainland for Indians to kidnap. They landed near the mouth of the Santee River in present day South Carolina and managed to kidnap about 60 unsuspecting natives. One of the Indians taken by the slavers was a young man whom they named “El Chicorano.” The young Indian became a renowned story teller and regaled the authorities in Hispaniola and eventually Spain itself with tales of great riches to be had in his homeland.
The tales of riches prompted Ayllon to obtain a patent from King Charles V and in 1526 he led an expedition to establish a settlement in the area now known as “The Land of Chicorano.” After landing near present day Georgetown, SC and moving inland for 40 to 50 leagues, he built a fort and called it San Miguel de Gauldape.
This was the second attempt by the Spanish to establish a colony in what is now the United States, The first was an effort near Charlotte Harbor, Florida by Ponce de Leon in 1522. They both failed and in 1527 the survivors of Ayllon’s folly returned to Hispaniola. It would be nearly fifty years before Spain returned to the area, but return they did.
In response to the French building a fort on Parris Island in 1562, the Spanish returned to the area in 1566 and drove the French out and established a fortified village and named it Santa Elena. The Spanish were active in exploring the interior of North America for the next two decades, but due to constant pressure of Indian warfare, they were forced to retreat to Florida and Santa Elena was abandoned in 1587. It would be 125 years before the English showed up in 1712. -Tom Lawrence
As a child, I spent my summers with my paternal grandparents in Pensacola, Florida. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Pensacola was a sleepy little city completely out of the American mainstream. Because my grandfather was a retired Naval Officer, we had full access to the facilities at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. My grandmother had grown up in Pensacola and you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one of my many cousins. We spent our days playing baseball and swimming in Jenny’s hole, a perfectly clear and ice cold spring-fed creek with a sand bottom. One of our great treats would be a day trip to Santa Rosa Island and Pensacola Beach. My grandparents would set up shop in one of the public picnic areas. My grandfather and I would always go and visit Fort Pickens, the only U.S. Fort to remain in Union hands throughout the War for Southern Independence, as well as the place of imprisonment for Geronimo, the Apache chief.
Every year Pensacola would celebrate the Fiesta of Five Flags, and as a result, I was aware that the city had a long and interesting history. We visited the site of Fort San Carlos de Brannacas, and I was generally aware of the city’s Spanish heritage. Few Pensacolians knew much about the area’s political and military importance for nearly a 500 year period. It was difficult to believe that such a laid back place could have been a key player in the great game of nation building and international intrigue.
The Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon landed in Florida in 1513, just 21 years after Columbus had stumbled upon the West Indies. He noted the present day site of St. Augustine and charted Pensacola Bay. Over the next fifty years other Spaniards paid visits to both areas, but in 1559 the Viceroy of Mexico dispatched an expedition to the site of Pensacola Bay with 11 ships and over 1400 soldiers, priests and settlers. They were chargeded with establishing a permanent settlement to control the great natural harbor. This attempt to settle the Pensacola Bay area pre-dated the permanent founding of St. Augustine by six years. A massive hurricane in September of 1559 decimated the settlement and forced the settlers to abandon their colony. If not for this, Pensacola would be the oldest permanent settlement in North America.
Pensacola’s location in the panhandle of Florida made it one of the natural harbors on the Gulf coast. Mobile, Biloxi and New Orleans were the others, and all were controlled by either France or Spain. As part of the treaty ending the French and Indian war in 1763, this area became the 14th British Colony of West Florida, with Pensacola as its capital. During the American Revolution, West Florida remained loyal to the British Crown and became a haven for Tory’s. In 1779, after Spain joined the American side in the Revolution, it re-conquered British West Florida to control the area until selling it to the United States in 1821. There was a great need for access to shipping ports for exporting agricultural goods from the new states of Mississippi and Alabama, and the acquiring of West Florida filled these needs. New Orleans became a great port due to its location on the Mississippi River, and Mobile prospered because of the Tombigbee River system. Pensacola slipped into the background, never becoming a serious port for international commerce. This allowed it to be the sleepy quiet town that I knew as a child. – Tom Lawrence