To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

While I'm on the subject of race ...

Here is an interesting article in the local paper. You have to register to read it, but it's free. It's about a photographer who took pictures during the famous sanitation workers' strike the week before MLK was assassinated, and who recently ran across his negatives and developed and printed them. I'm going to take out the full names from my post. They're on the newspaper website.

Here's one of the pics.

And here's the photographer's commentary.

One of [X]'s favorites shows a white woman carrying a sign with stenciled lettering: THE NAACP SUPPORTS THE FIGHT FOR DECENCY. You can see the back of an older man, wearing a fedora, looking at the marcher.

In the many hours he considered the photo, repairing it pixel by pixel, [X] constructed his own interpretation of the moment, as he explains to the class.

"To me," he says, his voice Southern and nasal, "(she) has become the symbol of the, you know, Yankees coming down to the South and joining in on the march. And this white guy is the symbol of the South looking down in disdain at the marchers.

"Now, you can interpret it however you want, but in my photographic eye, this is how I took it."

How you can see disdain in the back of someone's head is beyond me. But what's funny is this subsequent letter to the editor:

Subject of civil rights photo recalls 'strange, urgent' era

I am the white woman in [X]'s photo of the 1968 civil rights march (April 3 article, "Emerging views, 1968 / For nearly 40 years, photographer's negatives lay, unprinted, in storage").

I was born in Memphis; I am not a Yankee or an outside agitator. My grandfather, Malcolm Patterson, was governor of Tennessee and my seven-times-great-uncle, John Sevier, was the first governor of Tennessee.

In other words, the man in the fedora who is shown in the photograph is casting a disdainful look at a native.

I worked in the movement for 10 years, during which time I was on the board of directors of the Memphis branch of the NAACP. I chose the streets instead of luncheons where ladies discussed "sensitivity" issues around the subject of race relations.

It was a strange and urgent time. I wouldn't trade my experience for anything.



So it's funny, the assumptions we make.


jason said...

true--people see "southern" and they think ignorant, racist, angry redneck. which is rarely true (and southerners have no monopoly on ignorance--plenty of that for everybody).

i had a professor who said it best: he said southerners were kind, hospitable folks--from my experience i would agree.

people also don't realize that the north wasn't a haven for diversity--the klan was most powerful in Indiana.

redneck isn't necessarily a perjorative term either. some of my best friends are rednecks.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

We've had exactly one KKK incident in my conscious memory, and it involved an Indiana group that came down here and make a spectacle of themselves on the county courthouse steps.

Brian B said...

The funny thing is, the letter ALSO skewers some of the stereotypes of "Yankees" that I've heard many Southerners repeat -- effete, rich, soft, snobby, and meddlesome. I grew up in the northern half of the United States (although I'm not sure "Yankee" truly applies, since where I grew up, the Rocky Mountains are a more important cultural border than the Mason-Dixon Line. To us, you're all "Easterners"), and I grew up cherishing the outdoors, hunting and fishing and camping, with a strong sense of family and work ethics, was taught morals and respect for my elders...

Laura(southernxyl) said...

In Memphis you probably wouldn't be considered a Yankee, Brian. Somebody might go so far as to say "You're not from around here, are you?". But my daughter is in college in Mississippi, and she was informed by one Alabama schoolmate that being from Tennessee, she might as well be a Yankee. That's taking it a bit far, in my opinion.

Brian B said...

Heh. I guess it's a matter of perspective. To someone who grew up within a day (and often an hour) of the Pacific, I tell people that if they can watch the sun set while facing towards the Rockies, they're "Back East".