I don't flaunt any images of the Confederate battle flag on my person or chattels, but a certain Southernness still abides in me. That condition befuddles some Yankees, one of whom asked me if I wanted a return of racial segregation.
"How come you talk about all that Dixie stuff" another asked, "when you spent 15 years fighting for Negro rights, and in Mississippi at that?"
Well, there is Dixie stuff and there is Dixie stuff. The hoodlum Dixie stuff is a loudmouthed call for the return of Simon Legree to the plantation. My Dixie stuff examines a sentiment held by a dwindling number of Old South gaffers whose great-grandfathers fought for the South. We do not yearn or conspire for a return of Old South culture. We simply bear a deep commemorative love for those great-grandfathers who wore the Gray, and rags.
When I was a boy, I didn't go around emitting the Rebel yell. I didn't know, still don't know, what it is. Ones who do usually are those who also claim that any Southerner can lick any 10 damnyankees.
My mother and father and all my grandparents were Southerners but never told me I could whip 10 damnyankees. They never said "damnyankee" in any context. My mother's grandmother used to tell me of watching Union soldiers search her home for valuables, thrusting their swords, hoping to strike buried treasure.
There was never rancor in her ancient voice. I never heard anyone in our house say "nigger" until I brought the word in from outside one day. In a frightening fury my mother threatened to wash out my mouth with soap if I said it again. She had been born in Tennessee, raised in Louisiana, schooled in Mississippi.
Love for ex-slaves
After the Civil War, two young ex-slaves remained with my great-grandmother when she moved from the plantation to New Orleans. Born in 1858, they were a twin boy and girl, named William and Pigeon. They stayed with my grandma until she died, then went to her oldest daughter's family, then to the next oldest.
Finally they came to my mother, the oldest of the next generation. They had adopted the family name, Trousdale. They were too old to work, but William butled a bit and Pigeon dusted. We children -- my sister, my brother and I -- loved the kind, dear pair. Certain people have snickered when I've said that. But children that age don't patronize. If they say they love, they love.
My mother and great-grandmother and William and Pigeon started me toward a "traitorous anti-Southern" belief that black Americans were entitled to the same legal rights and privileges other Americans enjoyed, a belief I tried to promulgate in a Mississippi newspaper from 1948 to 1963.
So, where is the two-sided Dixie stuff? Let's see. I am a European-American, to give myself today's chic hyphenation. Specifically, I am German-English-Scotch-Welsh-Irish, a typical all-American amalgam whose ancestors fought in the Revolution, 1812, Mexico, Cuba, France and everywhere else that U.S. arms were deployed.
In 1942, I volunteered for the Navy, although I was married, had two children and thus was some distance from the draft. Southern men have an honored tradition of volunteering for war. There was little indication yet of the Dixie-stuff duality in me. But somehow, wearing the uniform stirred my latent feelings of belonging to two once violently opposed partisanships.
Comfort, not discord
Now, after the turn of the calendar from 1900 to 2000, a comfortable two-sided psychological state has grown more prominent in me. My eyes grow moist when I hear the strains of "Dixie," but also when I read the Gettysburg Address. How come? Maybe it is because winners take victory as a given, while losers dwell on their misfortune. The opposing states occupying one psyche may, as I've noted, produce comfort, not discord.
I do know, however, that there is a firm pride in me for my Southern background, pride also for my Rebel descent. Several years ago an uneducated newspaperman wrote a snarling piece about the Confederacy, referring to it as treason. I wonder whether that writer was descended from Revolutionary soldiers, the original American traitors. I am. My great-great-great grandfather fought for North Carolina's militia and the Continental Army. My hereditary Rebel credentials are immaculate. If this be treason, so be it.
There are many Southerners of my age (85) who scorn the hate symbol that some Southern hoodlums have made of the battle flag -- but who also revere the Stars and Bars. And not at all in contradiction do they they also give obeisance to the Stars and Stripes. Yet can a person hold dual loyalties?
Here is how: I do not desert nor dishonor the USA when I honor and cherish the memory of my four great-grandfathers of Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee who fought for the South, particularly Dan Harkey of the 2nd Mississippi Cavalry, who was killed in June 1863 as Grant moved toward Vicksburg.
Three of these men were po-folk, not fighting over slavery but for something honorable. I cherish also the memory of another Southern rebel, my Carolina triple-great-grandfather, who fought with Francis Marion in the Revolution. Rebel blood flows in me. Yankee friends, maybe you are Rebel-descended, too.
How can two loyalties live side by side? Easy. There are still a few thousand old birds like me talking Dixie stuff with their millions of descendants. Our dual loyalties cause no dissonance.
We are Confederate-Americans.