Excerpt- Red Hills and Cotton, Ben Robertson

Red Hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory, by Ben Robertson (1941)

Chapter I, Page 9:

I and my kinfolks are Southerners of the inland and upland South. We and the ten million like us call ourselves the backbone of the Southern regions, the hickory-nut homespun Southerners, who while doing a lot of talking have also done a world of work. We are of Scotch-Irish stock, improved Scots of Ulster extraction, and it has never been said of any of us that we have held back from sounding our horn. We are forthright and outspoken. We are plain people and our houses are plain – you will not find on our front piazzas tall white columns holding up the roof. We are Southern Stoics. We believe in self-reliance, in self-improvement, in progress as the theory of history, in loyalty, in total abstinence, in total immersion, in faithfulness, righteousness, justice, in honoring our parents, in living without disgrace. We have chosen asceticism because all of our lives we have had to fight an inclination to license – we know how narrow and shallow is the gulf between asceticism and complete indulgence; we have always known much concerning the far outer realms, the extremes. We have tried throughout our lives to keep the Commandments, we have set for ourselves one of the strictest, sternest codes in existence, but our country is Southern and we are Southern, and frequently we fail. In the end we stake our immortal souls on the ultimate deathbed repentance. We put our faith in the promise of Paul the Apostle that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed.

We believe in hard day labor, and in spite of all our cooks and bottle-washers we hold that every farmer should take his turn in the field – he should plow and pick cotton and thin corn. All that eat should sweat. Some of us, of course, have never sweated, but always we have thought we ought to. We are formal – we address God in prayer as “Thou” and “Thee.” We are intimate – we like to call old married ladies by their lost maiden names, “Miss May Belle,” “Miss Minnie Green.” We flatter – we call men “Colonel” and “Judge” and “Major.” Of all the colonels among my kinfolks, only one ever really held that rank. My Great-Uncle Bob was a real colonel. Once he had commanded a regiment of infantry in the army of General Jackson. The rest of our colonels were like my cousin Colonel Tom, of whom my father said: “He is just a Southern colonel.” He looked like a colonel, so we called him one. We honored the distinction of his stately appearance. Many of my kinfolks have charm – if I do say it myself. Like almost all Southerners, white and black, we were born with manners – with the genuine grace that floods outward from the heart. I must add also that many of us, far from home, have learned that we can trade on our Southern manners. We do not hesitate to do so, either – we flatter and charm when we can without a flicker of regret.

As Southerners, it is essential to my kinfolks that they live by an ethical code, that they live their lives with dignity to themselves, that they live them with honor. A Southerner who loses his honor loses all, and he had rather die than live in disgrace. Honor is at the base of our personal attitude toward life. It is not defeat that we fear, it is the loss of our intimate honor. We do not only disgrace ourselves, we disgrace all the others, and we cover our heads, for each of us was born in the image and glory of God.


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