Category Archives: Confederacy

The magic in names: slavery and my family

noni mike_NEW

Michael and Noni

My brother Michael remembers Noni,  our paternal grandmother, asking him, “Don’t you think it would be just terrible if you had to go to school with little colored boys and girls?” This would have been in 1954, just after Brown vs. the Board of Education; Mike would have been nine at the time. He remembered thinking about the black boys he played with at the swimming hole and in the park — about Dave and Frank and Harry — and said no, he wouldn’t mind.   He thought it would be kind of fun.

By the time I knew Noni, she was slip-sliding down into the slough of senility, thanks to a decades-long drug habit. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t exactly love her either. Dementia is never endearing and perhaps I sensed the hostility between her and my mother, although I was not to understand the considerable animus between those two until I was an adult. And then there was Noni’s every-Christmas-without-fail gift to me — a set of three gi-normous old lady panties. This was a gift to which I took considerable umbrage. Did my grandmother really think my ass was THAT big?

If my brain were an attic, in one part of that attic, tucked away down under the eaves, you’d find a mildewed hatbox full to bursting with mouldering confederate money, a battered steamer trunk stuffed with moth-eaten petticoats and tattered ball gowns and, a musty, dog-eared history of the Eastern North Carolina branch of the Hardy family published in 1964 by one David Hardee. Hardee, Hardie, Hardy – we’re all the same family; it was just that some of us could spell and others not. Lately, I’ve been poking around in that old corner of the attic, stirring up dust, sending up ragged clouds of moths, sifting through old mouse poop in an attempt to understand my family in the context of history and of race.

Which was how I stumbled upon an inventory of the Bertie County, North Carolina estate of  my forebear William Hardy. According to a will drawn up in 1793, the estate included:

  • Farm equipment — saws, fire tongs, shovels, hoes;
  • Produce – corn, potatoes, salt, flour, flax, cotton;
  • Livestock – 5 horses, 34 cattle, 15 sheep, 14 sows, 65 pigs and 47 other hogs, 22 chickens, 25 turkeys and 47 other fowls, 4 stocks of bees, a yoke of oxen;
  • Books – a Bible, Prayer Book, 3 volumes of Mares arithmetic, Harvey’s Meditations;
  • Furniture – tables, table cloths, chests, 4 beds, 2 pillows, 12 chairs, pots, pans, candles, candle snuffers, candlesticks, glasses, plates, knives, forks;
  • Tools and supplies– one file, one surveyor chair, money scales, 5 spinning wheels, 5 pairs of cards, carpenter tools, 1 cart, 67 weight of pewter, 2 saddles, 2 bridles, 2 grindstones, tailor shears, looking glasses, mill picks, writing paper, 40 barrels of turpentine, 1 bag, 2 wallets, 2 towels, guns

It also included, “Negroes as follows: Dave, Frank, Harry, Tom, Abram, Ben Rofe, Wink Bett,  Brutus, Andrew, Daniel,  Simon, Peter, Matt, Abram, Woman Bell, Woman Penn, Girl Rose, Girl Easter, Girl Polly.”

According to the will, the slaves were to be divided between William’s wife Sarah and his children. Only the sons got land, but everybody “received” one or two in slaves in formulations that read like this:

“Sarah Sutton received Matt and Simon and other sundries worth 118 pounds, 8 shillings and 8 pence.”

“Lamb Hardy received his 1/6 part of the land, negro boy Daniel, and other sundries worth 118 pounds, 8 shillings and 12 pence.”

It was their names that got me. You don’t think of a slave being named Dave, for example, or Frank or Harry and yet Dave and Frank and Harry they were and Penn and Rose and Easter and negro boy Daniel . . . and they were passed down from father to child in the same breath as forty barrels of turpentine (William was a cooper by trade) or a yoke of oxen. According to a Census of Bertie County taken some 67 years later in 1860, Ellinor Hardy, Humphrey Hardy and Jason Hardy all owned slaves — 79, 33 and 39 respectively — but these were merely enumerated; they were not named. The fact that I know the names of William Hardy’s slaves makes them more real for me.   Whereas Noni lamented a future in which her precious grandson might have to go to school with nameless “little colored boys and girls,”  Michael knew the names of his playmates and did not find the prospect of associating with them in any way problematic.  There is a kind of magic in names.

family crestIf I believed in God, I would ask Him for forgiveness — for generations of my family going back three centuries, for my demented. racist grandmother, and for myself.   But I don’t believe in God, so, instead, I’m sending this out across the arc of history, across the span of 220 years that separates us in time: Dave, Frank, Harry, Tom, Abram, Ben Rofe, Wink Bett,  Brutus, Andrew,  Frank, Simon, Peter, Matt, Abram, Bell, Penn, Rose, Easter, and Polly,  I am sorry and I’m ashamed.

And now it’s high time I clean out that bloody attic.

 

 

High time to retire the Stars and Bars

Alice in her racist bikini

Alice in her racist bikini.

Nine years ago, my daughter Alice neglected to bring a bathing suit on a beach vacation and was accordingly dispatched to the local Oak Island, North Carolina sand and surf shop to purchase same. She arrived back at the house with a confederate flag bikini which she proceeded to rock, in her inimitable fashion, the entire week. Later, when we were back in Canada and after she had shown photographs of her on vacation to her friends, she called me with a bone to pick. “Mom! Why didn’t you tell me I was wearing a racist bikini?” To which I replied, “I didn’t know it was racist. I thought it was just . . . I don’t know . . . Southern.”

And I did think that. I did. In my mental universe, it was possible to be both an American and a Southerner. I thought that the confederate flag bespoke another layer of identify, not an alternate one, that the two were not mutually exclusive. I thought that until June 17, 2015 when yet another twisted excuse of a loser gunman mowed down nine innocent people in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and my mental universe shattered into pieces.

I grew up with the confederate flag. I was comfortable with it. To me it connoted mornings when nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina. It meant an actual Spring as opposed to the Canadian version of that season – i.e., that time when the snow retreats ever so slowly to reveal a winter’s accumulation of discarded cigarette butts and oddly mummified dog poop. It meant dogwoods and azaleas and blossoms blowing through the air and sun tanning in March. I’m talking principally, I realize now, about weather, specifically good weather. To me the confederate flag meant good weather, and good weather meant home.  As an ex pat who has spent the vast majority of her adult life in the True North Strong and Free, I retain considerable nostalgia for the mild climate of my native North Carolina.

My father, Bill Hardy, in the mid-sixties.  I'm not sure what he was doing in this photo.  Then again, he was an actor.

My father, Bill Hardy, mugs for the camera in Confederate regalia in the mid-sixties.

I was raised by liberal, educated parents in Chapel Hill,  a progressive college town in a deeply conservative state. I handed out fliers for LBJ in the predominantly black town of Carrboro and volunteered as a teacher’s assistant at a Head Start program held in the basement of a black church. I was that kid.

But the truth is, I was another kid as well – some screwball version of a Southern belle. I had no clue about the magnitude and pervasiveness of Jim Crow law. I had no clue about the history of slavery or, for that matter, of the United States. I bought hook, line and sinker the whole Romance of the South thing as perpetrated by Gone With the Wind. In fact, my knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction derived almost entirely from that novel, which I read not once, not twice, but five times. My favorite color is green not because I’m an environmentalist but because that was Scarlett O’Hara’s favorite color. In other words, I, like so many of my fellow Southerners, was capable of holding in my brain two dichotomies: I was a staunch supporter of civil rights and I was a true daughter of the South.

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County -- the before shot

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County, NC

The truth is that the Romance of the South was, at best, a tawdry one. There was nothing gentile about the institution of slavery. No beneficence was involved, nothing noble, or gracious, or fine. Slavers and the people who kept them in business – my ancestors among them – weren’t a whole heck of a lot different from Boko Haran, save for the fact that Boko Haran perpetrates its crimes in the name of religion and slavery was predicated on filthy lucre.

As the fallout from the Charleston massacre has demonstrated, the confederate flag is not all in good fun. Not by a long shot. As for that jumped up little cracker who took all those good peoples’ lives, I’m glad their loved ones can forgive him, because I sure as Hell can’t.  I’m having a hard enough time forgiving myself.

Ruminations on the Confederacy

redneckI am a Southerner.  A bona fide one.   My direct lineal ancestor, Lemuel Lamb Hardy, was born sometime between 1695 and 1700 in Chowan, Bertie County, North Carolina and died there on Salmon Creek in 1750. Solomon Zant, my mother’s Great (times five) Grandfather on her father’s side was probably born in Switzerland, but made it to Ebenezer, now a ghost town in Effingham County, Georgia in time to hitch up with Elizabetha Keiffer  on March 24, 1767.[i]

My point is: my Southern roots go back to before the U.S. became a country.  We came early to this party and we stayed late. Which gives me the right to comment on this whole “Romance of the South/ Up with the Confederacy” CRAP coming up through the drains these days, poisoning our public discourse with pure vituperative nonsense.

Any student of American history knows that the United States was founded on a fault line – slavery – and that it was only a matter of time before tectonic plates shifted and the nation was rent asunder. A civil war was in the cards from Day One. In fact, pace Tea Party,  it’s arguable that the Second Amendment had a lot more to do with assuring Southern whites that they would be able to surpress a slave rebellion than it did with ensuring that patriots could defend themselves from some nonspecific tyranny.  It still does. “Don’t want too many of them brown people getting up in our white business, after all.”  Isn’t that what you believe?

There was nothing romantic about the Old South.   It was predicated on an abomination.  The Southern “way of life” was a rare bloom growing from a great reeking heap of manure.  Africans did not benefit from being dragged to these shores in chains and then treated worse than pack animals.  (The wonder is that they have managed to succeed to the great extent that they have, enriching our culture beyond anything us honkies could pulled off under similar circumstances.)   As for the ladies, corsets like Scarlett O’Hara wore resulted in everything from squashed ribs and hearts to displaced spleens.   If childbirth didn’t get you, your corset surely would.  (Not that you could ever hope for a seventeen inch waist.  I’m talking to you, Paula Deen.)

And here’s the kicker, those of you just a-longing for those good old days upon the Swanee River, for most of you that will be a case of nostalgie de la boue.  Because you descend from Crackers.  Yes, Crackers.  All of you who are so proud to call yourselves ‘Rednecks’?    Crackers. Tenant farmers.  Dirt Farmers. Poor white trash.  You know how to tell?   Do you have a great grandmother who belonged to the Daughters of the Confederacy?  Is your daughter eligible to be a debutante in North Carolina or Georgia or Mississippi?  No? I thought so.  Crackers.

I’m a Cracker too.  I once asked my Grandfather Hardy what his people had done in the Civil War.  “Why, they hid in the swamp every time the recruiter came by,” he told me.   “They didn’t think the war had anything to do with them. They were dirt farmers.  They didn’t own slaves.”

And your relatives probably didn’t either, so stop dreaming!

When I was twelve years old, I read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind for the first time. Then I read it four more times.   I loved it.  I fell for it hook, line and sinker.   For a number of years it informed my view of the Civil War and the history of the United States and my own identity as a Southern woman.  Excuse me.  As a flower of Southern Womanhood.

Then I grew up.

So don’t save your Confederate money, boys.  The South will not rise again.  And you are not who you think you are and never will be. So just get over it.  And, while you’re at it, learn to spell.


[i] (Interestingly enough, Ebenezer was established in 1734 by 150 Salzburger Protestants who had been expelled from the Archbishopric of Salzburg in present-day Austria for religious reasons.  Elizabetha was a Saltzburger, as was Solomon’s mother.  The town was intended to be a religious Utopia on the Georgian frontier, but that’s another story.)