Last week my wife and I watched The Help. Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the movie tells the story of a young woman who sets out to write a book recounting the lives of the black women in Jackson who work as maids for wealthy white families. Obviously, most of the story is focused on Jim Crow and bigotry.
The movie got me thinking. There was a time when I was a little bit ashamed by movies like this, that portrayed so many southerners as either evil racists or blind followers. These were, after all, ‘my people’. But time and distance has a way of shifting perspective. There is no doubt there were a lot of evil racists in the south and a whole lot more blind followers. My ancestor John Stewart Walker seems to fit well into this second category. But there are many southerners I can be proud of –
Martin Luther King Jr. was a Georgia boy and Rosa Parks was from Alabama. In my hometown, four men had the courage to sit at the Woolworth’s counter where they weren’t allowed and started a movement that swept across the country. These are ‘my people’ too, and I’m damn proud of it.
And those are just a few of the most obvious examples. It took thousands of people, black and white, southerner and northerner, to beat down Jim Crow. It’s sad that they had to do it, but it is a glorious victory that was won by ‘my people’.
So, before anyone asks, no, I’m not ashamed of my Confederate ancestors. I’m sure they did the best they could with the world as they understood it. I know they were wrong on a major issue, but it is not for me to judge them, better to learn from their mistakes.
That said, I will always carry with a bit of pride the story that my great granddaddy James D. McCullough, (grandson of Col. McCullough and a minor politician from South Carolina) once received a threat from the KKK because they found him just a little too ‘liberal’ on certain racial issues...