Patterson Hood: South’s Heritage Is More Than a Flag

The Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood wrote an essay for the upcoming New York Times Magazine, published online today, about Southern heritage and the Confederate flag, which has been the topic of much debate since white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, SC. It’s well worth your time.

Hood grew up in a progressive family in Muscle Shoals, AL, a city where the white South’s conservatism was somewhat tempered by the dozens of legendary African American musicians like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett who recorded music there.

My father worked long hours at the studio, and I spent a large part of my childhood with my grandparents and great-uncle. Raised during the Great Depression, they were progressive by the standards of their generation and told me stories about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who the old folks said had saved Florence and the surrounding towns; and Wilson Dam, a World War I-era structure that crossed the Tennessee River just east of Florence, made the river navigable and provided the impetus for Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority, which electrified the region and brought it — sometimes kicking and screaming — into the 20th century. They also told stories about my great-great-grandfather, who fought for the Confederacy at Shiloh during the Civil War. They were always quick to say that he had been poor and never owned slaves, and had simply fought against a conquering army invading his home.

Hood goes on to discuss the Truckers’ coming-of-age album Southern Rock Opera and how he no longer plays “The Southern Thing,” a song about the contradictions of Southern identity, because rebel sympathizers mistook it for a rallying cry. He concludes:

If we want to truly honor our Southern forefathers, we should do it by moving on from the symbols and prejudices of their time and building on the diversity, the art and the literary traditions we’ve inherited from them. It’s time to study and learn about who we are and where we came from while finding a way forward without the baggage of our ancestors’ fears and superstitions. It’s time to quit rallying around a flag that divides. And it is time for the South to — dare I say it? — rise up and show our nation what a beautiful place our region is, and what more it could become.

Read the whole thing here. (But be warned: If you don’t have a subscription, The Times only lets you read 10 articles a month for free.)