Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'd Have Picked My Own Damn Cotton

These are connected musings about signs, signals and symbols in the New South. That was the thought that woke me up this morning, what have I noticed over the past three years? So I began thinking about what I've seen since being here in ATL. Here goes:

1) Symbol: My daughter and her family bought their first home about a year and a half ago. They are almost an hour north of Atlanta in the town of Cumming, GA. I have no rational explanation for the fact that literally weeks went by as I was going and coming in and out of her subdivision before I finally noticed it. It isn't like these homeowners were trying to hide it or anything.

Then one day I guess I slowed my New York-fast- roll, long enough to look, to see. There it was in the front yard of a small house, right across the road from the entrance to her subdivision, flapping in the breeze, proudly flying high, a confederate flag.

2) Signs: Slightly over two years ago while visiting family in Columbia, SC, heading merrily on my way to the mall to see what's what, I noticed what became one of my favorite bumper stickers. I was directly behind a big ass pick up truck waiting to make a left turn on a hugely busy street, (I know it already sounds enormously stereotypical, but I can't help it, I didn't buy the thing he did) and along with the gun rack and a couple of confederate flags, there was the bumper sticker. It read, "If I'd known it was going to end up like this, I'd have picked my own damn cotton." Really, it did. Clever, funny even.

3) Signals: Those of you who know me, know that I love good BBQ. And have tried BBQ from one end of the country to the other, and many points in between. (Well that might also be because we have lived on both ends and many places in between. LOL)

But I digress. At any rate, for years when driving into the Columbia, SC area there were these mega billboards advertising Maurice's BBQ. There were at least eight of these things surrounding the highways with a nice big picture of Maurice with tantalizing quotes from satisfied customers, and all the wonderful things you see on billboards, and- a confederate flag! Really, saw it with my own two eyes.

If you bet that we have never eaten at Maurice's, you're a seer, quick, head to Atlantic City. I have absolutely no desire to give Maurice my money. And I am under no illusion but that he would have smiled, taken my money and said, something to the effect, "Don't forget to come back now, hear." Not in this lifetime.

No, not my money when, clearly, he was nostalgic for the days of free labor, mint juleps, and cool breezes scented by magnolia trees, aided by the tired arms of said free labor vigorously fanning.

Then over the past year while my dad was in the final stages of his illness and it was beginning to feel like we could put the car on automatic pilot and it would navigate to SC on it's own, I noticed that Maurice's billboards no longer had the flag! Say what? And the house across the way from the subdivision in Cummings? No more flag!

This is good, right? I imagine that someone may have knocked on the door of that home one day and said, something to the effect, "Listen, we are trying to sell some homes here and your flag is causing a little bit of a problem. It's giving our community a bad name."

I hear that Maurice's BBQ had received numerous complaints over the years. Capitalism apparently trumped ideology? Finally, I guess, something pushed him to the edge, he reached the tipping point maybe, and decided to call off the dogs, or hogs and lay the flag to rest.

The guy with the pickup truck and the funny bumper sticker, haven't seen him again but, my response sitting there reading his bumper sticker that day, "I wished y'all picked your own damn cotton, too." Mind you, at the time I saw his truck, I don't think Barack Obama had even announced his candidacy. So that wasn't the trigger for the guys frustration. No, that was just his every day, "I don't believe this crap, where I am in my life and I want to blame someone," angst.

But I digress. See the point I really wanted to make here was that in a strange way, I preferred knowing that the flag was in front of the guys house, and on the billboard, because it sends a really clear and unambiguous message. I get it, and most folks of color, especially black folks in the South, understand.

So without the symbols, signals and signs, some poor unsuspecting unknowing person may show up at the front door of that house in Cumming one night, with a broken down car looking for a phone, or help with a tire, (Yes, I know that's not a good idea but they always do this in the movies so I thought I'd try it here, it's creative license) and end up with a rude shock.

Although my short term memory is shot to hell, I am blessed or cursed depending upon your point of view, my long term memory is great. And I remember the story of Yoshiri Hattori, an exchange student in 1992 who was shot and killed in Louisiana because he mistakenly went to the wrong address while on his way to a fellow students Halloween party. A twitchy homeowner "thought" the kid was there to do him harm. There was a big brouhaha, and a lot of hand wringing and outrage, but the kid was dead and the homeowner was acquitted.

Here's the deal, really, I want to know. If you have a loaded gun in every room, and two in the bedroom, and you really are prejudiced, then hang the damn flag, please. Hang the flag, put up a sign, even one of those "Protected by Smith Wesson," that people use instead of ADT or Brinks. Trust me, I will not knock on your door. And no, I still won't head to Maurice for BBQ while in Columbia. Same man, same restaurant, same food, with the flag in the back room somewhere. Pass it on to unsuspecting drivers.

What isn't okay is state sanctioned, government enforced laws that codify prejudice as was once upon a time in our not too distance past. The Maurice's of the world, flash your gang signs so that we, the rest of us, know who you are.

But I digress. :)


  1. I still get a little itchy "down there"--honestly not unlike the same "itchy" I can feel in Bklyn, or The Bronx. Can't wait to read what you'll say about the "new south" it's ok to carry your pistol and drink all you want laws in TN!

  2. I want them to segregate themselves. Go find some uninhabited woods and develop it. Hang all of their flags, build $200,000 tract mansions victorian, and I will gladly stay away. I think those who have such an issue should go back to Europe. Ahh wait! Some places in Europe are even more diverse and tolerant than the good ole' USA.

  3. Well Keryl, I have to say I want to know too! Being born in D.C., growing up in Los Angeles, moving to Omaha and being in Atlanta for 15 years...I still want to know! One thing that people find hard to believe is I like to know "who" I'm dealing with. In LA you never knew who you were dealing with, moved to Atlanta and had much appreciation to those "folks" that told me who they are by sign, symbol & action. Love your blog! Love you, Mimi

  4. Virginia, I am heading to TN in October! Trying to figure out if I need Donna to advise on choosing a weapon and taking lessons or just stay out of places that mix alcohol and firearms. :) Will probably opt for the latter.

    And Mike, yup, even Europe would not be work for these folks. Just make them give us notice. I don't want to infringe on their right of free speech, or their constitutional right to bear arms. But if you're drinking, have bad eye sight already, poor eye hand coordination and carry loaded guns, and if you could, you would sport the old stars and bars, I wanna know!

  5. Since you mentioned "knocking on doors" my rule of thumb is I look around the whole neighborhood for some black folks, if I don't see any black folks and I see a flag or the little black porcelain dolls I get the hell out of there.

    Oh, yeah you mentioned Maurice's, I've run into many black people down here who swear up and down that Maurice makes the best bbq in South Carolina. One day, a few years back, I was working with a white guy who suggested "Let's go eat at Maurice's..." now he was the only white guy in the office, new in town and wanted to try Maurices. There were three of us in the office who immediately started laughing our asses off.

    I told him that there was no way in hell that I was going inside of Maurices. He said that he would pay for it. I thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it. And then said, Nah, I can't do it. But honestly, I won't lie there are times when I want to sneak into the drive through line and order some ribs and onion rings.

  6. 1-Truth is, more than likely he'd have been picking somebody else's cotton and making hoe cakes in the fire next to the hut.
    2-From what I understand, if the gun feels right in the hand, it's yours. Now they come with handy dandy features like laser sights--takes all the skill out of hitting something.
    3-If there are pastors in Ohion urging worshipers to bring their guns to church, what does that mean in GA? (for the record-I am from a long line of gun toting women although I don't own one. . . although I have been fighting the urge to shoot something. . . I mean a target!
    Love ya, woman!

  7. Well...here we go again...lol...as a party to the first part that was with our dear GA Peach when she saw said Bumper Sticker and as a party to the second part and a child of the aforementioned Father when she FIRST saw the Confederate Flag on the billboard in the first place...I must say...I't still funny as hell when she talks about years later!!! LOL..

    This whole entire family of Thompson-McCords-Munroes went into near shock upon entering or leaving the great city of Columbia, SC and seeing those damn flags on Maurices' BBQ billboards. But wait!! Let us not forget the whole Flag on top of the State house debacle that was news and major issues here in Columbia for YEARS. I hung my head in shame for so long when all of that was taking place...just damn...wrong...retarded...unconstitutional nonsense that was allowed, observed and revered for years.
    Foolishness I say!

  8. GA PEACH- I now live in Columbia and have for some 10 years. I work in the advertisement genre and had a personal while distant experience with one siad Maurice Bessinger of Maurices BBQ. On this day,said gentleman came in to shoot a commericial. There were whispers that he was coming in that day, so I was a bit unnerved if you will about seeing him. At that time I was one of maybe 3 or 4 other non white counterparts in the office. It has been a long while since this encounter, but I remeber clearly, seeing Mr Man come into the production area where I worked in his ALL WHITE SUITE. Yes, from head to toe, but I can not remeber the color of his shoes.

    I'm a young 40 something year old, and have seen some prejudices in my life, but I must say, I was never so silently struck by the site of one lonely man. I felt nervous, a lump in my throat, it was as though I was in the company of Evil and was very much aware of it being there. I do not remeber meeting eyes with him, just seeing him. Up close and in the flesh. It is quite amazing how one is personally affected when in the company of another whom you know "hates" your kind and seeing others, friends even, cater to and conversate with this evil manefestation.

    That day felt much like the Day Obama won. One Black girl amongst an office of "others" who were clearly unhappy, the 2nd quietest day I had ever experienced in my usually happy go lucky work atmosphere. I guess there are days when mixed company have nothing to say to oneanother and we walk and work in silence.

  9. SJuliets, there were a lot of unhappy folks here on November 5th. Fortunately we were able to be home and revel in our joy and amazement. I know there were many places, especially here, where people had to walk and work in silence.

    Thanks for the story about Maurice. Just mercy, what an image, all dressed in white from head to toe. He probably has a closet full of nothing but white suits and shirts. After all, BBQ is a very messy business. :) May the fleas of a thousand camels invade his crotch. Ha ha.