by Curtina Moreland-Young
I am a Southern woman, even though I lived a large and significant part of my life in the Midwest and short periods in the East. I was born, educated, and became a woman in the South. I have even lived, traveled, and worked in several countries, on five continents. But with all of that, I know I am a Southern woman.
But being Southern and growing up Southern are not the same thing. Growing up Southern may be simply a function of place of birth, of location of family, a matter of circumstance. Being Southern is more complicated. It means living in the world with predispositions for understanding, affirming, and delighting in contradictions and complexities. Being Southern is always knowing the usefulness of politeness, family, and faith.
As an African-American female in my mid-forties, my Southern "becoming" was influenced by the fact that my earliest memories are of an insulated, protected, and, I would learn later, oppressed community. My earliest recollections begin at my grandmother's house on Stark Street, in Columbia, South Carolina, a white house with beautiful French doors between the living and dining rooms. Every morning my grandmother would set the breakfast table with linens and china, and she would serve homemade breads, two types of eggs, cheese, liver pudding or sausage, bacon, grits, fresh fruit, and pasteurized milk. Pasteurized milk was important because of the delicious cream that my mother mixed from it herself. After this morning feast, my cousins and I would hurry outside and play with the children of the neighborhood. We all played on the crepe myrtle-lined streets, or in the back yards of the "nice" houses filled with plum, peach, and fig trees and scopponog vines. We weren't afraid of getting shot or abducted, nor were we concerned about issues of class. The only admonitions I remember were not to let dogs or people with purple gums bite us in August (because of blood poisoning). And another thing - we were not to go to nearby Valley Park.
The author's father was a science teacher and athletic coach at Holsey-Cobb Institute, a Christian Methodist Episcopal day and boarding high school in Cordele, Georgia. The homecoming king and queen pictured represented that school, one of two local, private high schools for African Americans at that time. No public high schools admitted Black students in 1955, when this picture was taken.
Photo courtesy Moreland Family Archives
I didn't worry about the first admonition since I had never seen anyone with purple gums, and I knew enough to stay out of the way of stray dogs. But not going to Valley Park was another matter. I could see children having so much fun on the slides, the swings, and the little train that ran through the park. I wasn't sure why I couldn't play there, but my father's face tightened when we passed the area and I looked longingly at the train. One day, as we passed the park, my father lifted me up and walked over to the train. He said something I couldn't hear to the conductor and then put me on, and I rode all by myself. When I told my grandmother about this, she cautioned me not to go into Valley Park anymore. The people there were nice, but they had germs. She explained that we didn't sit near these people on buses, or try on clothes or shoes in the same sections, or drink out of the same water fountains because of these germs.
Curtina Moreland-Young, Ph.D., is chair of the Department of Public Policy and Administration at Jackson State University.
Liverpudding is a sausage-type meat dish usually served with rice or grits and sauteed onions. It is customarily found in North Carolina, South Carolina, and in a few places in Georgia.
Womanless Wedding is a mock ceremony in which everyone is male. Tom Thumb is a mock wedding in which young children assume the roles of the wedding party members. It was usually held as a fundraising event and was very popular in some Southern African-American communities.
The Martha and George Washington Tea Party was an annual event at A. S. Clark High School in Cordele, Georgia. It was a recreation of the first tea party or social given by the first President.
Silverand Green Teas were fundraising events sponsored by local churches. The hostess provided the silver service and china for the tea; guests brought silver coins to the Silver Tea and green folding money to the Green Tea.
Senior Deb and Esquires were social clubs organized by parents to provide recreational activities for their children.
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