The Charlotte News

Saturday, September 10, 1938


Site Ed. Note: This day's editorials turned to the precipitant crisis in Europe over Hitler's demands for the Sudetenland, which would soon become what was shortly afterward pejoratively known henceforth simply as "Munich", the "peace in our time" pact which Neville Chamberlain made with Hitler awarding the predominantly German Sudetenland to Germany on the promise of not taking any more territory in Czechoslovakia, an agreement which would be broken by Hitler a mere six months later in March, 1939.

As the page turned to this crisis, Cash's memory obviously began turning in the editorials below to his own days visiting in Europe in the summer of 1927.

"Scene for the Yankees", though concerned with a local vignette of which Cash had borne witness, nevertheless calls to his mind memories of kindness while he was in France eleven years earlier, reinforcing the notion that his thoughts were shifted primarily from local concern to Europe, a recurring and increasing potion with which he would draught himself more and more, away from finishing the daunting task still ahead on the final part of the manuscript for The Mind of the South.

This editorial would return to the topic of the South and race, exploring the subject, as Cash often would, in a manner not usual for a Southern newspaper editorialist in 1938, a reflection on the paternalism the sentimentalized portrait of the Southern black man fordrove in many whites, that stereopticon image of the Southern black man often held in the North and other parts of the country at least--the endearing proverbial singer of lonesome songs in the cotton, strumming along or playing a horn aneath the magnolia and willow while smacking grease over fried catfish come evening bell, sitting in the cozy cabin then afterward as the smoky moonlight filled the orchard plenty with some special sway of tension, agony, yet obeisance to its inevitable cruelty, its inevitable ordering force from on high, with faux-bonhomme's voice drowning the distant submissive cries as he chaws shifting Odyssian tales in pecksniffian swells, amid the songs of the faburden, through dialect felled from double-dished shares of barbecued pig's feet, meanwhile barefoot, snaggled-toothed, blues singin', swayin' in the moonlight, tappin' happy--the Gone With the Wind sort of imagery of Mammy or Pork or Prissy, all largely a fictionalized portrait, of course, one not so behind the arras of reality, but projected forth nevertheless out of the black-streaked mirrors from the South's unhappy past made over into happy-happy in the 75 years since the institution's demise, though consciously and unconsciously maintained vestiges of which, sometimes simply a deliberate contrivance to bring the fiction to life behind the screens through which the wide-eyed tourists' vision clave, there were certainly in varying degrees throughout the South even through the early 1960's.

That is, the effect on the non-Southerner not exposed to daily life and realities in the modern South--not to mention the effect on the Southerner given to grandiose flights of fancy to a time which never much was in the manner presented--provided by this sort of thing:

Scarlett heard Mammy's lumbering tread shaking the floor of the hall and she hastily untucked her foot and tried to rearrange her face in more placid lines. It would never do for Mammy to suspect that anything was wrong. Mammy felt that she owned the O'Haras, body and soul, that their secrets were her secrets; and even a hint of a mystery was enough to set her upon the trail as relentlessly as a bloodhound. Scarlett knew from experience that, if Mammy's curiosity were not immediately satisfied, she would take up the matter with Ellen, and then Scarlett would be forced to reveal everything to her mother, or think up some plausible lie.

Mammy emerged from the hall, a huge old woman with the small, shrewd eyes of an elephant. She was shining black, pure African, devoted to her last drop of blood to the O'Haras, Ellen's mainstay, the despair of her three daughters, the terror of the other house servants. Mammy was black, but her code of conduct and her sense of pride were as high as or higher than those of her owners. She had been raised in the bedroom of Solange Robillard, Ellen O'Hara's mother, a dainty, cold, high-nosed French-woman, who spared neither her children nor her servants their just punishment for any infringement of decorum. She had been Ellen's mammy and had come with her from Savannah to the up-country when she married. Whom Mammy loved, she chastened. And, as her love for Scarlett and her pride in her were enormous, the chastening process was practically continuous.

"Is de gempmum gone? Huccome you din' ast dem ter stay fer supper, Miss Scarlett? Ah done tole Poke ter lay two extry plates fer dem. Whar's yo' manners?"

"Oh, I was so tired of hearing them talk about the war that I couldn't have endured it through supper, especially with Pa joining in and shouting about Mr. Lincoln."

"You ain' got no mo' manners dan a fe'el han', an' after Miss Ellen an' me done labored wid you. An' hyah you is widout yo' shawl! An' de night air fixin' ter set in! Ah done tole you an' tole you 'bout gittin' fever frum settin' in de night air wid nuthin' on yo' shoulders. Come on in de house, Miss Scarlett."

Scarlett turned away from Mammy with studied nonchalance, thankful that her face had been unnoticed in Mammy's preoccupation with the matter of the shawl.

"No, I want to sit here and watch the sunset. It's so pretty. You run get my shawl. Please, Mammy, and I'll sit here till Pa comes home."

"Yo' voice soun' lak you catchin' a cole," said Mammy suspiciously.

"Well, I'm not," said Scarlett impatiently. "You fetch me my shawl."

Mammy waddled back into the hall and Scarlett heard her call softly up the stairwell to the upstairs maid.

"You, Rosa! Drap me Miss Scarlett's shawl." Then, more loudly: "Wuthless nigger! She ain' never whar she does nobody no good. Now, Ah got ter climb up an' git it mahseff."

Or, though we don't mean to pick on this book or its author, but stereotype and take advantage of largely accepted stereotype from earlier works such as Thomas Nelson Page and Thomas Dixon, born of the ante-bellum era, published in the forty years afterward, she did with a fair degree of abandon, though better written in the whole, and not completely devoid of a level of authenticity, hard nevertheless to distinguish of what quantity the featherful display, when poised in reality, flowed from the past in genuine colors and that which was dabbed on the face in caricature culled precisely from the literature, not only by whites masqued as the plantation lord and lady in the white-columned country clubs and colonial-deco country homes but also by the African-American acquiescing for survival to the perceived white expectation, even demand should obeisance drop in a moment's inadvertent failure of the toothy grin, of the subservient role, maybe that of domestic servant, attendant uptown, majordomo in white gloves and tails, auto scrubber, grease cook, shoe-shiner, what have you--a complex incidentally which, while lessened in its overt display in modern day Southern attitude, still is nevertheless apparent at times in subtler displays, made more apparent to those for whom custom has brought expectation, habituate in other parts of the country outside the South, of other forms of interaction, grating on these then, like chalk on the board:

Dilcey was tall and bore herself erectly. She might have been any age from thirty to sixty, so unlined was her immobile bronze face. Indian blood was plain in her features, overbalancing the negroid characteristics. The red color of her skin, narrow high forehead, prominent cheek bones and the hawk-bridged nose which flattened at the end above thick negro lips, all showed the mixture of two races. She was self-possessed and walked with a dignity that surpassed even Mammy's, for Mammy had acquired her dignity and Dilcey's was in her blood.

When she spoke, her voice was not so slurred as most negroes' and she chose her words more carefully.

"Good evenin', young Misses. Mist' Gerald, I is sorry to 'sturb you, but I wanted to come here and thank you agin fo' buyin' me and my chile. Lots of gentlemens might a' bought me but they wouldn't a' bought my Prissy, too, jes' to keep me frum grievin' and I thanks you. I'm gwine do my bes' fo' you and show you I ain't forgettin'."

"Hum--hurrump," said Gerald, clearing his throat in embarrassment at being caught openly in an act of kindness.

Dilcey turned to Scarlett and something like a smile wrinkled the corners of her eyes. "Miss Scarlett, Poke done tole me how you ast Mist Gerald to buy me. And so I'm gwine give you my Prissy fo' yo' own maid."

She reached behind her and jerked the little girl forward. She was a brown little creature, with skinny legs like a bird and a myriad of pigtails carefully wrapped with twine sticking stiffly out from her head. She had sharp, knowing eyes that missed nothing and a studiedly stupid look on her face.

"Thank you, Dilcey," Scarlett replied, "but I'm afraid Mammy will have something to say about that. She's been my maid ever since I was born."

"Mammy getting ole," said Dilcey, with a calmness that would have enraged Mammy. "She a good mammy, but you a young lady now and needs a good maid, and my Prissy been maidin' fo' Miss India fo' a year now. She kin sew and fix hair good as a grown pusson."

Prodded by her mother, Prissy bobbed a sudden curtsy and grinned at Scarlett, who could not help grinning back.

"A sharp little wench," she thought, and said aloud: "Thank you, Dilcey, we'll see about it when Mother comes home."

Mother came home in the 1950's and tanned Miss Scarlett's Tartarin back side but good--long, long overdue.

Upon reading "Scene for Yankees", we are left to think, however, about recent scenes in the wake of the hurricane which drowned New Orleans--not the looting, which is to be expected of starving people with no means and no place from which to obtain provender in the normal course--but the random apparent untoward by some toward others, even toward those rescuing and those being rescued. Such conduct is hard to fathom except in terms of strangled tensions of the worst order, piling tensions awaiting vent, pent up in hostile places away in the shadows wanting only of chaotic opportunity upon which to take advantage with impunity.

We are left to remember that people are people, that no matter how well-socialized, a degree of anarchy lingers in all of us when the norms are stripped away--that residual genetic memory passage from the days as hunter-gatherer out of the cave. People trapped on small islands, no food, no water fit to drink, though everywhere it was, just as with the mariner stranded at sea with the albatross. It is worthy to suppose that we can only give thanks the resort was not to cannibalism as well.

We are left to remember that we are all at base part of Nature.

We are left to remember jazz at Preservation Hall. Rides on the streetcar down St. Charles.

We are left to remember.

Pork entered the room, bearing a plate, silver and a napkin. He was followed closely by Jack, a black little boy of ten, hastily buttoning a white linen jacket with one hand and bearing in the other a fly-swisher, made of thin strips of newspaper tied to a reed longer than he was. Ellen had a beautiful peacock-feather fly-brusher, but it was used only on very special occasions and then only after domestic struggle, due to the obstinate conviction of Pork, Cookie and Mammy that peacock feathers were bad luck...

...The house servants shuffled and rustled in the hall to kneel by the doorway, Mammy groaning aloud as she sank down, Pork straight as a ramrod, Rosa and Teena, the maids, graceful in their spreading bright calicoes, Cookie gaunt and yellow beneath her snowy head rag, and Jack, stupid with sleep, as far away from Mammy's pinching fingers as possible. Their dark eyes gleamed expectantly, for praying with their white folks was one of the events of the day. The old and colorful phrases of the litany with its Oriental imagery meant little to them but it satisfied something in their hearts, and they always swayed when they chanted the responses: "Lord, have mercy on us," "Christ, have mercy on us."

Funny people, these Nature dwellers.

Sir Christopher Turns

Fillers--those small items designed to add to one's fund of knowledge as well as to take up the unused space at column's end--are sometimes exasperatingly brief.

"England has a movement for new churches as attractive as movie theaters," one of them informs us cryptically.

This rather unsettles us. It is possible that the proud cathedrals and the moss-grown abbeys of England have been a little over-rated. And it is possible that the Loews and Roxies of England have built their theaters along more dignified architectural lines than have ours. For our own theaters, rococo is a complimentary term.

We had thought that exposure to an ancient culture would in itself bring about a congeniality of taste. "England has a movement for new churches as attractive as movie theaters!" That slight earth tremor you detect quite possibly originated near the grave of Sir Christopher Wren.

More Work for Bookkeepers

In addition to the very old, the very young, the blind and others, social security has been a boon to still another class of people--bookkeepers. In Washington, to keep track of millions of old-age pension accounts requires an army of ledger laborers, while unemployment insurance places the same burden upon the states. And as for business, the old days of putting so much money in an envelope and calling it a pay day have passed. The tax collectors have complicated that procedure enormously, with the result that thousands of bookkeepers have had to be hired to keep the record straight.

With the beginning of wage and hour regulation, pay day is to take on another complication. It is not enough that you work each employee no more than the specified maximum hours each week and pay him no less than the specified minimum wage. The Government has got to have proof of these performances, and proof means paperwork. Administrator Andrews assures business men that he will make every effort to be considerate, but it stands to reason that detailed records have got to be kept and detailed reports made to Washington. It looks like more job-insurance for the bookkeepers.

A Stone Unturned

The Senate Campaign Expenditures Committee has found cause to support the charge of Senator Tydings that the postmistress at Salisbury, Md. (population, 10,997), violated the law by working for the New Deal's candidate, Little Davey Lewis. The evidence will be handed over to the Department of Justice and the Postmaster General.

The committee likewise has called on the National Emergency Council and the RFC for their side of the story concerning the dismissal of a couple of George supporters in Georgia--one of whom was Edgar Dunlap, RFC counsel.

Again, the committee has evidence that in Kentucky $71,543.50 was collected from State employees to finance the unsuccessful campaign of Happy Chandler and it has also found that "in many instances men on WPA known to hold views contrary to Candidate Barkley were discharged." These findings the committee passed on to the proper Federal agencies.

Senatorial primaries and elections should, of course, be conducted on a plane commensurate with the eminence of the office, and it is good to see the Senate committee functioning. But it will be noted that not a single one of these confirmed allegations has directly involved a member of the exclusive club that is the Senate itself. Indeed, the only charge involving a Senator directly--that Senator Guffey sent out over his own signature letters soliciting campaign contributions from the 270,000 WPA employees in Pennsylvania, a flagrant violation of the law--the committee has never got around to and probably never will.

Behind the Lines

In the dispatches which tell of French troops moving up into the Maginot Line, that chain of underground fortresses along the German frontier, names of once dreadfully familiar places have appeared. Metz, Strasbourg and the town which the French called Nau-Che--but they couldn't fool the doughboys; they knew plain old Nancy when they saw it. It is like turning back the calendar some score and more of years to read again of these places, near which is Verdun and all of which once were battleground.

And it is familiar too to read that in the little parish churches in the frontier zone, the good old peasant Catholic women are placing lighted candles on the altar and kneeling to say their prayers for peace. Our Father who art in Heaven... But in Germany, a turgid people raises its voice in praise and exaltation to a man in a brown uniform, chanting, "We thank our Fuehrer."

In Italy

Obscured in yesterday's paper by the crush of news from Germany, France, England and Czechoslovakia, storm centers of the European crisis, was a story from Rome telling how the Italians were reacting to the excitement. The nation was "ready for eventualities," boasted Infomazione Diplomatica, whose utterances ranked almost as an official government communique, but it hoped that the Czechs could be reasonable and forestall a "very great crisis."

If the worst came to the worst, however, Germany knew where Italy stood. The solidarity of the Rome-Berlin Axis was reaffirmed. It was recalled that Duce had given Hitler a free hand in Czechoslovakia, and moral support for the independence of the Sudetens, but that he had expressed the hope that Germany would be able to get what she wanted "on her own strength."

As for what Italy would do in case of developments to the contrary, Informazione Diplomatica did not care to say.

Scene for the Yankees

In the quiet Summer evening, the street lay silent save for the thumping of the piano and the caterwauling of a too-ambitious tenor up the way. From behind the dark fringe of trees over the way, a drama had been thumping, African-wise, in the district where the black men live. But it was silent now. And under the remote burning of the stars even the tenor sounded somewhat faraway and negligible. And when the voices--black voices, undeniably--broke out with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," we sat bolt upright and rubbed our ears and eyes. Then, presently, a dozen women and girls straggled up to sing for us, and then went all along the street, singing in every house, and soliciting alms for their church.

Curious, we thought, how that high, clear, melancholy sound touched you. And curious the country in which we live, where the old tradition of Africa and the old tradition of Europe encounter each other daily in the streets and in our houses. Then we remembered that it had been a long time since we had heard anything like that. Surely the customs of the Old South were about gone, if ever they existed at all. And thereafter, with our usual inconsequentiality, we suddenly reflected that we could see now where the Yankees get those old pictures of us which are reflected in the movies, wherein coveys of blacks are perpetually chanting at the white folks' gates. They come down here and somewhere or other see something like this, and thereafter go on naively believing that it's all in the day's work for us, just as we have gone on believing that all old French women are paragons of generosity because once upon a time one of them gave us a bottle of cider on a hot day and would not have payment. Funny people, the Yankees.


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