Building Bridges or Perpetuating a Myth?

Note: This video came across my feed yesterday, but the date of the event is unknown.

How we respond to a video like this no doubt tells us a great deal about how we identify with our Civil War past as well as how we understand the war’s legacy and continued significance to our own lives and communities. Jacksonville City Councilwoman, Glorious Johnson, is clearly sincere in wanting to build connections and encourage understanding between the races in her own community. At the same time she chose to do it at an an event that is fraught with multiple and even conflicting meaning depending on the viewer.

Ms. Johnson is no H.K. Edgerton, but I can’t help but come away with a similar response. It makes me feel uncomfortable, especially given the song that she is encouraging her all white audience to celebrate. Does Ms. Johnson really wish she was “in the land of cotton”? Perhaps the problem is mine. Perhaps I ought to acknowledge the purely instrumental value of history and heritage that Ms. Johnson’s participation and purpose implies.

What do you think?

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26 comments… add one
  • R. Alex Raines Nov 26, 2013 @ 23:15

    Maybe, 151 years ago, on some battlefield or other, when a band played the song, they were only referring to a place. And maybe, when the song was created, it only referred to a place. But hello, I WISH I WAS IN THE LAND OF COTTON, OLD TIMES THERE ARE NOT FORGOTTEN… Its almost as if the songwriter had the foresight to see that soon would come a time we the song would be needed for saying, without explicitly saying it, “I miss the Confederacy. I miss King Cotton. I miss the free labor I got from my slaves. I miss the exploitation of a race of people.” Its not 1862. Its 2013. That song has its own train for the baggage.

  • Forester Nov 26, 2013 @ 15:40

    I always thought of Dixie as relating to a PLACE rather than time. To my (white) ears, the line “I wish I was in Dixie” just means below the Mason-Dixon line, be it 1860 or 2013 or whenever. Connecting Dixie with the period of slavery just never occurred in my mind. Sure the song is OLD, but a lot of songs are. I don’t connect “God Bless America” with intolerance because it’s from 1938 and was sung by conservatives in the 1960s.

    Guess that’s the difference between black and white perspective?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 15:45

      The song originated in 1850s minstrel shows. I don’t understand what it means to say that the song only refers to place.

      • Forester Nov 26, 2013 @ 18:11

        I was only talking about personal interpretation. When I hear “land of cotton,” the keyword is ‘land,’ and the connection between cotton and slavery went over my head until you mentioned it. Cotton is still associated with the south, right? I’m not saying the song ISN’T racist; I’m saying that I never would’ve thought of it that way without some help. And no, I didn’t know it was originally sung by blackface minstrels. Chalk it up to apathy, I never cared enough about “Dixie” to really study its history.

        Of the 5 people who would recognize the tune at a football game, only 2 probably know its full history.

        As for the video above, I don’t think she is doing anything wrong. But I can understand your discomfort. I don’t have anything to really add to the conversation there. I think memorials are important. Confederate heritage isn’t inherently racist, although I think we all agree that the Confederacy itself was. Opening channels of communication can never be a bad thing.

  • Pat Young Nov 26, 2013 @ 14:37

    Glorious Johnson, from what I understand, is a conservative Republican. She wears shirts announcing “Equal Rights for Southern Whites”. This may be less about building bridges and more about crossing over.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 14:38

      Do you deny that southern whites finally deserve equal rights, Pat. 🙂

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Nov 26, 2013 @ 12:30

    While I personally would rather not sing “Dixie” with these people, I can appreciate the spirit of racial reconciliation that Councilwoman Glorious Jackson is trying to achieve here (though we question if “Dixie” really reconciles or divides). I’m glad to see she is willing to build a bridge across the divide. But I wonder if the people she is trying to reach are willing to meet her on that bridge. In other words, will these Confederate heritage defenders be willing to support Ms. Jackson’s Black history? And will they be willing to do it without trying to make it about them (i.e., Black Confederarte soldiers)?

  • Betty Giragosian Nov 26, 2013 @ 7:28

    I believe Mrs. Johnson is doing just what she says in the video. It is a good song. She is reaching out, so much better than protesting.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 7:43

      Hi Betty,

      I don’t doubt her intentions one bit. In fact, I applaud it. That said, why do you think the alternative has to be “protesting”?

      • Betty Giragosian Nov 26, 2013 @ 14:01

        I think the alternative is protesting, Kevin. Dixie cannot be played in public anymore–not at Virginia Military Institute, for one. No military bands are allowed to play it. We had a military band from Ft. Lee at one of our UDC conventions, and they could not play Dixie. That is when I first became aware of it. This lady has grace.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 14:20

          I can certainly see why some people might not want to hear Dixie.

          • Betty Giragosian Nov 26, 2013 @ 14:40

            Kevin, I can see why they would not want to hear it, too. So all of us must be denied. You should hear the congregation in my church singing Battle Hymn of the Republic. We love it. I love to play it. Some of my Confederate brothers and sisters would frown and call us–traitors!!! Who cares!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 14:42

              So all of us must be denied.

              Who is saying this? Certainly not me.

  • Ryan Nov 26, 2013 @ 5:54

    With the tens of thousands of offensive songs that have been released since the 1850’s, and especially the garbage that we all endure today from the likes of artists such as Kanye West and NAS, it seems more than a little bit silly to take issue with Dixie.

    Ms. Johnson seems to recognize the song for what it is – a cultural symbol of the antebellum South. I think she is viewing the song objectively and probably enjoys it for it’s “instrumental value” as well – I know I do.

    One has to view these things in the correct context. Dixie was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln himself. Should we all stop singing the American Anthem as well? I am sure you are aware that slavery existed all over this country during colonial times…

    In summary – I think the problem is yours.

    • Bryan Cheeseboro Nov 26, 2013 @ 7:33

      Ryan, I think what Kevin finds uncomfortable is an African-American willing to celebrate a song so connected to a heritage of the enslavement of Black people and the rebellion connected to it that sought to preserve, protect and defend that enslavement. If you want to acknowledge cultural symbols of the antebellum South, slavery is THE symbol, pure and simple.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 7:40

        That’s right.

        • Ryan Nov 26, 2013 @ 8:34

          Bryan and Kevin – so you are acknowledging openly that you do not think blacks should acknowledge any symbols of the antebellum South because of slavery? That is quite ridiculous in my opinion.

          Should Jews not acknowledge the splendor of the Egyptian pyramids because they were built by (Jewish) slaves?

          Bryan, what do you mean by slavery is THE symbol? Surely you understand that there was more to the Old South than slavery? If not than you are uneducated or simply extremely close-minded.

          • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 8:56


            How exactly did you get from a concern expressed about a specific song and event to: “so you are acknowledging openly that you do not think blacks should acknowledge any symbols of the antebellum South because of slavery?”


            • ryan Nov 26, 2013 @ 9:08

              Kevin, maybe you should re-read Bryan’s comment, then read the one you made in which you agreed with him.

              “If you want to acknowledge cultural symbols of the antebellum South, slavery is THE symbol, pure and simple.”

              The implication is that to celebrate the Old South is to celebrate slavery.

              Look – I understand why you might think it is strange for an African American to celebrate the song but maybe your being a little too uptight.

              Dixie is a piece of music. It represents a different time – a better time to some, despite the evils that existed then.

              The institution of slavery was not created by the South. It existed in America from Argentina to Canada at the time of the Revolution. So if you want to call Southern symbols and traditions into question you should also call those of our founding fathers into question.

              I am not recommending you do that, though. I think you should try to understand and appreciate these things in the terms of the times in which they originally existed without applying modern standards and viewpoints to them – not that we’ve evolved that much in terms of our culture which was the point I was making with my Kanye comment.

              • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 9:17

                So, this is what I was agreeing with: “I think what Kevin finds uncomfortable is an African-American willing to celebrate a song so connected to a heritage of the enslavement of Black people and the rebellion connected to it that sought to preserve, protect and defend that enslavement.”

                Like I said, how you get from this to the claim that it is inappropriate to identify with any antebellum symbols seems odd, especially since both black and white Southerners have since the beginning enriched Southern culture.

                • Ryan Nov 26, 2013 @ 9:22

                  I apologize then. I thought you were agreeing that THE symbol of the antebellum South was slavery and I think that is untrue and that it is impossible to describe any culture that existed throughout history in such a narrow minded way.

                  I really enjoy your blog and I hope you don’t mind my commenting.

                  • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2013 @ 9:24

                    No worries. Thanks for taking the time to comment. The more voices the better.

                    • Bryan Cheeseboro Nov 26, 2013 @ 11:03

                      I still stand by my comment that slavery was THE symbol of the antebellum South. Not only do I believe that but White Southerners at the time believed it as well. They thought the institution was the distinguishing fact that separated them from Northerners. CSA VP Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” isn’t called that for nothing.

                      I don’t define the antebellum South with slavery as a means to condemn that society; I define it with slavery as a means to understand it. I don’t know if you saw the film “Gods & Generals” (2003), but that movie flopped in part, I think, because it presented a very whitewashed picture of slavery. Blacks in that film are treated with an equality and respect that are very familiar to us today as opposed to what was then. Earlier this month, I saw “12 Years a Slave” and I thought the movie did a much better job communicating what slavery was really all about than “G&G” had the courage to do.

                      Ryan, you suggest that we should “should try to understand and appreciate these things in the terms of the times in which they originally existed without applying modern standards and viewpoints to them.” I absolutely agree with you. And that is EXCATLY why I still say slavery was THE symbol of the antebellum South.

  • John Tucker Nov 26, 2013 @ 5:42

    I belonged to several SCV camps. Been a Judge Advocate and PR for them. Also part of the MOSB and SUVCW as lineage member.

    Yes some of those camps do as Ms Jackson stated. It is about the memory and heritage not hate. BUT many have become political. They rules and regulations expressly state that this, the SCV is NOT a political organisation nor have such agendas BUT many have been lead astray and now spread and perpetrate myths, revision and out right lies. The have turned heritage not hate.

    WE, those who truly accept and adopt heritage not hate, want to and MUST attract people and support then you do what is best for the memory of those who have gone before. Instead of complaining in some case’s with hate. Voice you issues in a diplomatic and educated way. Make the public aware but not threw terms of hate. Be true to HERITAGE NOT HATE and not hate not heritage. Many times these arguments and debates turn into such and you CAN’T allow that to happen.

    This was NOT what the former confederates leaders requested of there men after the war. Many use the typical defamatory language and NO ONE with a diplomacy would think you being constructional but rather distractionary.

    • josephinesouthern Nov 30, 2013 @ 11:01

      Yes I am angry indeed I am. IMO John Tucker it is YOU and Kevin levin types that started the Hate and keep it up every single day. I object to you and Kevin Levin so you call me the hater; I didn’t start it YOU DID! I got fed up with being Mrs. or Miss or Mr. Nice Guy to your South Bashing and I will let you have it right between the eyes!

      • Kevin Levin Nov 30, 2013 @ 11:07

        Hi Josephine,

        Hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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