Letter: Too-long division

Former member of Congress Ben Jones, who twice represented Georgia’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, seems to think that if the majority of folks in a national poll believe disgraced television chef Paula Deen was “unfavorably treated by the media” that is some kind of vindication of her and of his own endorsement of her as well.

I have a different take: Of course she was unfavorably treated, as the mere reporting of her egregious words hoisted her by her own petard. I’m surprised the poll didn’t register 100 percent. I would have been among those affirming her unfavorable treatment. Unfavorable does not mean unfair, after all.

I started out quite ready to hear Deen’s side of the story, knowing the vicissitudes of media coverage. The tide turned for me, however, when, in a sworn deposition, Deen felt compelled to instruct the lawyer questioning her in the semantics of Southern English. She stated that the n-word was inappropriate when applied to black professionals. For pointing out this obvious bit of racism, Ben Jones called me a bigot, a rather extraordinary charge to say the least. So I ask him, how would he construe Deen’s remark?

Jones, for whom I would have voted in 1988 if my newspaper hadn’t transferred me from Atlanta to New York, well describes the ugly chaos that ensued when the University of Georgia was desegregated in the early 1960s [“Suffering fools ungladly,” July 18]. I’m a good judge of his description: I was there. I observed with a sense of horror the outraged mobs following Charlayne Hunter around.

Jones points out that the late Hamilton Holmes, M.D., took on the racist hordes at the same time. Indeed he did. But he kept an extremely low profile, living off campus and leaving Athens to go home to Atlanta on the weekends. Both risked their lives for their cause. But believe me, it was mostly about Charlayne,.

And yes, my feisty mother was a great and formidable Southern grande dame — but, as we were too poor to own an automobile, this grande dame rode a hot city bus to work. Though lacking the trappings of wealth and power, she was not cowed by anything I can remember, and certainly not by a white bus driver ordering her to get off the bus for giving her seat to an old black woman. Actually, this last reminds me of Jones himself when he was giving his all fighting against the Ku Klux Klan.  

But that was a long time ago and now Jones is taking the side of Paula Deen and talking about a “Second War of Northern Aggression.” Other than media reports of Deen’s precipitous fall from grace (and maybe a South-bashing book or two), what comprises this “war?” (I won’t dwell on the Markey campaign.)

And why is he so het up about North vs. South anyway? Isn’t entrenched political enmity between Right and Left enough division for our mangled American identity?

In the end, it’s hard to know what he’s so vociferously defending because he’s short on specifics. He says: “My Confederate flag stands for a lot of things, all of them good.” Okay, what are those things? An enumeration would be helpful! Surely social events with a plantation theme, of the sort Paula Deen suggested to her brother, are not exemplary instances. So what is?

I’m a born and bred Southerner. I would fare pretty well in a “More Southern than thou” competition. I grew up where a lot of kids were told by their parents they could use the curse word “damn” only if followed by “Yankee.” In my six-year-old innocence I thought: What’s a Yankee? I learned soon enough in the cultural milieu of Augusta, Ga., during the ’40s and ’50s.

But why in the world dredge up the “Y’ word in 2013 (other than to refer to the richest team in baseball)? Why refer to one’s “Yankee friends?” Why not just friends? I doubt those friends conjure up images of Blue and Gray when thinking of Ben Jones. Or maybe they would if they had read the last few issues of the Rappahannock News.

Even the Allies and the Axis have made peace. So have the Hatfields and McCoys. I think most people don’t give a rap about old latitudinal differences anymore in what are now the 50 states of the United States. Perhaps even displaying the Confederate flag is really less divisive these days than it is anachronistic. At any rate, to resurrect old hatreds, by calling the Civil War “The War Between the States” — the old Southern term for that conflict — is just over the top. There’s nothing laudatory about stirring up the animosities of the past.

I would not be surprised if Ben Jones doesn’t end up regretting the identification of his own “brand” with that of Paula Deen. Frankly, I think he’s better than that. I have long admired his fine writing style and his political populism. I hope we can bring this particular Deen kerfuffle to a close.

If he could ever be persuaded to run for political office again, I’d be very pleased to vote for him, though I hope he would leave the Confederacy and its artifacts to historians.

There’s one great thing about the South at its best that Jones and I would agree on — the graciousness of its people. Perhaps he and I should both remember where we came from.

Clay Fulghum

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