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Sharecroppers and Cotton-Pickers

I stumbled upon The Help tonight i.e. there was nothing else on.  I have been afraid of watching this film for its potential problematic issues (yes, I read reviews), nay, I had moved it to the pile of unwatchables based upon the folk I knew who had enjoyed it (a bit of profiling on my part).

But The Help reminded me of a very problematic Southern issue, that is, if you are a true Southerner, can you trace your heritage without discovering “ownership.”

See, on one side, I am Native American.  My Pop’s folks were share-croppers.  My grandmother wasn’t allowed to ride the school bus (she was a Lumbee Indian).  Being Lumbee was equal to being “colored” or maybe even worse because it suggested pretention (my Uncle was scorned for his dark skin).  I didn’t have to walk with my Grandma, or be laughed at with my uncle, so I was pretty damn proud of being Lumbee.  Too damn poor and segregated to have owned slaves. . .

And Mom’s side was worse.  At least the Lumbees had some land.  Mom’s folks were poor as dirt.  I saw the house she was born in, the last of 8, right next to the railroad tracks.  We really wouldn’t call it a house today.  It’s gone now, but it was a shack and I can’t imagine 8 children in it (I’m glad my mind captured a snapshot of it). 

But Mom got into the genealogy thing and turned up some slave owning ancestors.   For her, as it was (most likely) for Paula Deen, I’m guessing it was a sign for status.  For me, it kind of ruined my fun of being descended from a long line of ridiculously poor people.  Worse, it meant I was descended from slave-owners, an issue I had felt somewhat removed from thanks to my Lumbee heritage.

It’s a horribly ridiculous thing, this notion of a Southern heritage.  To esteem to the true ideal (the Plantation) re-enforces all kinds of horrible notions.  To be Southern bread, and never come from that suggests horrendous poverty, a “trailer-trash sort of existence.”  When my mother was born (1940), I’m guessing she was born into the equivalent of a trailer.  Lucky for me, I was raised middle class, without the stigma of being Lumbee (had I been raised in N.C.) or poor, had my mother’s parents not worked so hard in the cotton mill.

I’ll end with a story Mom has told a couple of times, but only in her “declining” years, of her mother putting her up on the bed, and telling Kenneth and Martha Sue (the two children elder to Mom, the baby) to watch out for their father.  My Grandmother, Mary Charlotte, had to leave for work before her husband came home.

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About clocklearf

I've wanted to be a writer since the third grade.

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