Singing Loudly: The Duality of the South

Singing Loudly

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Duality of the South

It can be argued that the elections this year showed that the South is still misunderstood. Whether this misunderstanding relates to the South doing something good or just that we don't understand fully the evil they are capable of is not something I'll explore right now. However, I don't understand why people have become this surprised about the division/misunderstanding.

Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Drive By Truckers have all addressed the misunderstanding of the south by the north in wonderful songs.

The Drive By Truckers addressed the feud in their song from Southern Rock Opera called "The Three Great Alabama Icons". Those icons discussed in the song/essay are George Wallace, Bear Bryant and Ronnie Van Zant. They describe the problem of the north misunderstanding of the south,

It wasn't till years later after leavin' the South for a while that I came to appreciate and understand the whole Skynyrd thing and its misunderstood glory. I left the South and learned how different people's perceptions of the Southern Thing was from what I'd seen in my life. Which leads us to George Wallace. Now Wallace was for all practical purposes the Governor of Alabama from 1962 until 1986. Once, when a law prevented him from succeeding himself he ran his wife Lerline in his place and she won by a landslide. He's most famous as the belligerent racist voice of the segregationist South.

Maybe some of you don't know the history of the supposed feud between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. If you don't, then do you ever question any of the lyrics to Sweet Home Alabama? In it they reply to Neil Young's "Southern Man" by saying,

Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down.
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
a southern man don't need him around anyhow.

What some people don't know about Skynyrd is that this album, and especially this song, is a response album. They wanted to defend the South and the Southern way of life. The lines in "Sweet Home Alabama" are a direct response to Young's anti-racist, anti-cross burning "Southern Man" and "Alabama" songs.

Those two songs were cry to stop one of the most racist, dirtiest politicians in the south, George Wallace. In Southern Man, Young sings:

Better keep your head
Don't forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man

I saw cotton
and I saw black
Tall white mansions
and little shacks.
Southern man
when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin'
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

And calling out the state of Alabama in "Alabama":

Oh Alabama
Banjos playing
through the broken glass
Windows down in Alabama.
See the old folks
tied in white ropes
Hear the banjo.
Don't it take you down home?

But did Lynyrd Skynyrd really hate Neil Young? It would seem so from the lyrics of Sweet Home Alabama, but this would later be charged as nothing but an urban myth. Still, they don't seem to agree with each other or understand each other.

This all seems to go back to the North and South misunderstanding each other. Ronnie Van Zant said about Sweet Home Alabama and Neil Young,

"We wrote Alabama as a joke. We didn't even think about it - the words just came out that way. We just laughed like hell, and said 'Ain't that funny'... We love Neil Young, we love his music..."

So where did things go wrong? Why does this image exist? It seems to go back to the infamous legacy of George Wallace. As the Drive By Truckers explain,

Wallace had started out as a lawyer and a judge with a very progressive and humanitarian track record for a man of his time. But he lost his first bid for governor in 1958 by hedging on the race issue, against a man who spoke out against integration. Wallace ran again in '62 as a staunch segregationist and won big, and for the next decade spoke out loudly. He accused Kennedy and King of being communists. He was constantly on national news, representing the "good" people of Alabama

And Lynyrd Skynyrd was up on the stage singing about the South and Alabama with a backdrop of the Confederate flag, which is a clear signal to the desire for another society where slavery is a fact of life. Yet, if you listen closer to their songs you can hear a different picture than the image of Alabama that they send. As Drive By Truckers say,

And bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd attempted to show another side of the South. One that certainly exists, but few saw beyond the rebel flag. And this applies not only to their critics and detractors, but also from their fans and followers. So for a while, when Neil Young would come to town, he'd get death-threats down in Alabama.

The funny thing about this hatred of Neil Young is that the South also seems to have a problem understanding the North. It has been written that Van Zant would frequently wear a Young t-shirt to screw with the people who didn't get the humor and irony in Sweet Home Alabama.

The North still felt like outsiders looking in on this society that they had no understanding of. For those who lived in the South there was certainly a different point of view. You see the things that don't make the national news. You talk to the people who live there and don't believe, and often for good reasons, that they are being racist. The confusion is earmarked by Drive By Truckers,

Wallace was viewed as a man from another time and place. And when I first ventured out of the South, I was shocked at how strongly Wallace was associated with Alabama and its people. Ya know racism is a worldwide problem and it's been since the beginning of recorded history, and it ain't just white and black. But thanks to George Wallace, it's always a little more convenient to play it with a Southern accent

To be fair, how could the North not decry this sort of behavior? Wallace goes from being a supporter of human rights and equality to promoting segregation because it gets him in office? It seems that Wallace was able to represent the views of one majority and secure his place in office while completely ignoring the minority, or black, voice. However, this is the duality of the South.

The Drive By Truckers continue:

Ironically, in 1971, after a particularly racially charged campaign, Wallace began backpedaling, and he opened up Alabama politics to minorities at a rate faster than most Northern states or the Federal Government. And Wallace spent the rest of his life trying to explain away his racist past, and in 1982 won his last term in office with over 90% of the black vote. Such is the Duality of the Southern Thing.

I think that speaks a lot to what we don't get today. This moral voice that is speaking is one that is confusing. Just as Wallace never represented the blacks but was able to get their votes is similar to the fact that the Republicans don't represent the Christians but they are getting their votes. The crossover because of the faith values and whatnot was outstanding. Hispanic voters and Jewish voters switching over in droves is not something that just happens.

This is the Duality of the South. It is also the Duality of the Right. We don't understand it because you can't understand it; it's an enigma. Those of us in leadership positions, like the Young and Van Zant line of players, understand that neither party is wanting to ignore morals, religion, and faith. However, those who are on the outside see two different worlds that might or might not really exist. The key thing being it's hard for people from the Blue states to really understand what happens on a day to day basis in the Red States. It's the same thing for those in the Red who believe the Blue states are full of immoral, unethical, and unfaithful heathens.

This disconnect is the duality of our political system.


First let me say that I am a ninth generation East Tennessean. Hold no racists views, nor can I as a Christian. It's pretty dadburn stupid if you ask me.

Secondly, the north calling the south racist is like the pot calling the kettle black. This air of superiority, this air of regional harmony as opposed to our air of regional racism is condescending and historically inaccurate. There is plenty of evidence that paints the north as being unworthy of its' self-image of being so racially harmonious.

I saw a map which plots the concentration of the black poplulation in the states, and a greater number are found in the south. Now, why would that be if the stereotypes of our regional racism were so true? We, like any other area, have our token racists that we have to deal with, are ashamed of, and would like to be shet of. Of course the same is true up north as well as is evidenced by the recent cross burning in the yard of a mixed-race couple in Rhode Island. The south is the home to both races and we have much more in common than not. One commonality is the fact that blacks, both free and slave alike, fought for the south. They did this as well during the Rev. War and are lauded for their efforts, but not so for those who fought or supported the south. Many are now realizing this bit of forgotten history, as is evidenced by recent books like one that came out for Tennessee entitled: "Black Confederate Pensioners." JAWS DROP.

To understand the south you must understand the events leading up to the War Between the States, especially the role of radical abolitionists and their attempt to end slavery overnight. You have to understand the south's desire to end slavery where everyone benefited without the ruination of our economy. You have to understand the complete and utter devistation of the south, it's economy, industry, banking, railroads, agriculutre, shipping, etc. after the war. You must understand the immediate emancipation of hundreds of thousands of unprepared slaves into a hostile and economicaly devistated region. You must understand the farce of reconstruction, carpetbaggers and scalywags and the affect that these things had on the south for generations to come.

Hence, the north was seen in an even greater negative light and these things have not been forgotten. Native Americans don't seem to be ridiculed for remembering The Trail of Tears or The Massacre of Wounded Knee, the broken treaties, etc., but the south has no right to remember the devastations and losses of the war.

I would like people to understand that the south didn't invent slavery or racism and that the American flag flew over slavery for over 90+ years. Is it a painful reminder of slavery. 

Posted by crockett

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:25 PM, November 22, 2004  

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