This morning I drove away from Savannah, GA, a town filled with angry folks. Savannah demystifies Southern Hospitality. I’m from the South, lived here from birth to 25, retuned at 40 after 15 years of living in places that made me believe I would never return to the South as a resident citizen. I understand Southern Hospitality. It’s aggressive niceness–may I take your order, Sweetie Pie? Well you’re mighty welcome, Dumpling! Sugah Bunch? Pumpkin, Honey Bun, your every wish is my command!–Southern Hospitality grabs you by the neck & makes you believe you’ve been taken, gently, by the hand. The abundance of politeness has an expiration date: how long you visitin us, Sweet Pea? Emigrate to the South and all bets are off. Migrate from one Southern state to the next & all bets are off. Southerners are vicious & territorial & live amongst historical markers reminding the white Southerners that they lost the civil war & reminding the Black southerners that they live amongst people whose ancestors enslaved their ancestors. Savannah is especially bad.
On my way out, I was screamed at by a woman who was impatiently waiting for me to make a left turn against traffic. “. . . yo ass! . . .” is all I caught. I imagine she screamed “take yo ass back to North Carolina!” Or “get yo ass out the street!” Or “who gave yo ass a driver’s license?” It was an appropriate end to a research trip in a town filled with financially impoverished Black people, enterprising art students, & financially prosperous White people.
Needless to say, I was happy to see the back of Savannah.
It doesn’t take long to cross from Savannah into South Carolina & about an hour inside of SC there is the Combahee River, a muddy river surrounded by woods. Harriet Tubman led a military campaign there, which led to the freedom of 750 enslaved persons. Barbara Smith & company named their Black & lesbian & activist collective, the Combahee River Collective, after Tubman’s successful mission, the only military mission planned & led by a woman.
A few miles down the road, the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial. The South is filled with success stories of Black people. Perhaps if we remember and recognize and relish these stories, we’d make a truly new South, one in which Black people are no longer financially impoverished. We did, remember, build the South.