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DayeTime: Two views of Southern history

This past Sunday passed without much fanfare or flagwaving. There were no speeches or wreaths laid at graves or monuments.

June 3 is an “unofficial” holiday in Louisiana -- Confederate Memorial Day. It is Jefferson Davis’ birthday and is also observed by what few observers may still be observing the date in Tennessee and Davis’ home state of Kentucky. Other Southern states use different dates to pay homage to that part of their history.

When I was growing up in North Louisiana, it was more celebrated. The local Daughters of the Confederacy would lay a wreath at the Civil War monument at the courthouse.

My grandmother’s grandfathers and her great-uncles fought in the Civil War. Those who survived shared with her their first-hand accounts of battles and the Reconstruction that followed.

They fought Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee and Mississippi and fought William Sherman in Georgia. They saw brothers die and a state they loved destroyed.

Suffice to say, there was a definite “tinge” of bitterness in their version of history.

If Grandma had to break a $100 bill and the clerk gave her a $50 bill as part of her change, she would hand it back and say “I don’t want Grant in my purse. I don’t trust him in there. He already stole more from my family than I can count.”

That’s one way to look back on those pages of our history.

At this time, over 150 years since the last shots were fired and the last man died in that war, most Americans either have no strong feelings about the conflict or have accepted that the South was in open rebellion against the nation’s legitimate government.

There are few, if any, who long for a resumption of hostilities or for the “South to rise again.”

Detractors of Confederate Memorial Day say it is observed by “old school” white Southerners yearning for a return to the “good old days” of Jim Crow.

Proponents say it is solely a way to remember the people and the spirit of a people who were willing to fight for what they believed in -- and not an endorsement of that past generation’s views.

It is also a time to reflect on Southern history -- the positive and the negative.

History is a viable tourist attraction and Avoyelles is missing the boat by not taking full advantage of its wealth of historic sites.

One of the parish’s “diamonds in the rough” is the undeveloped Fort DeRussy -- site of the first major battle of the Red River Campaign of 1864.

Recently I took my 6-year-old grandson Dylan to Fort DeRussy, just to see what we could see and to give him somewhere he could burn off some of that endless energy children of today seem to possess.

He saw a monument there with a list of names on it and asked me what it said.

“Those are the names of the slaves who died building this fort,” I told him.

I had previously talked to him about the Civil War and slavery and state’s rights and how Americans fought against each other for four years because each side thought they were right and decided the only way to solve their differences was by killing each other.

He told me that was stupid.

Standing in front of the monument, he suddenly became very quiet. He walked up to the stone memorial and touched the names engraved there.

“I feel like crying,” he said.

“Why, baby boy,” I asked.

“It isn’t right that these men were forced to build this fort and that they died doing that,” he replied.

You can’t really argue with the insight of innocence.

I suppose that is another way to look back on those pages of our history.

It also reflects the diffence of viewpoints of someone born in the late 19th Century and someone born in the 21st Century.

If June 3 passed you by and you didn’t think about the Civil War, Jeff Davis or the Stars and Bars even once, don’t worry about it. It’s okay. Really.

And if someone ever asks you, “What is the significance of the Third of June,” now you have two answers.

One is: “Jefferson Davis’ birthday/Confederate Memorial Day in Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky.”

If you would rather not think about that one, there’s an alternative: “It’s the day that Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty, Delta day.

I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay.

And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat.

And Mama hollered out the back door, "Y'all remember to wipe your feet."

Then she said, "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge.

Today Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge."
(Ode to Billy Joe, by Bobbie Gentry, 1967)

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know, sing and love that song and the woman who wrote and sang it.

Bobbie Gentry is living in seclusion now. and has been gone from the music scene for far too long.

She turns 74 on July 27, which could put her on the Paragon’s radar for a future concert appearance.

Just joking.

But ...


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