This subject came to mind the other day when I sat down with my trusty guitar with the intention of singing some well-known American songs from the 19th century. In their day, and for many generations afterward, these songs were considered staples of American folk music. They were much loved, and sung at gatherings of all types.
The first song I started to sing was Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home"---also known as "Way Down Upon the Suwanee River".
Well, it turns out that the great Stephen Foster made a mistake when he used the word "darkies" to describe negroes in the song. Little did he know that a century later, this great song would no longer be sung because society had evolved in such a way as to judge the term "darky" as offensive.
Same thing with another favorite song by Foster---"My Old Kentucky Home". There's that "darky" word again. This song has been the official state song of Kentucky since 1928; but, in 1986, the word "darky" in the song was officially changed to "people". When you think about it, this does change the sentiment of the song in a significant way.
In 1861, James Ryder Randall, a professor at a Louisiana college, penned a powerful poem which was put to music. It became the state song of Maryland. "Maryland, My Maryland" was an appeal to the citizens of that state to join the confederacy. This followed riots that occurred in Baltimore when Union troops fired on citizens who were protesting their presence in that city.
It is a most beautiful tune ("Oh Tannenbaum") and the poem itself is strikingly meaningful.
But today, elements of society in Maryland are saying that the song is racist. I don't see it by any stretch of the imagination.
So, here again we have a state song that is under attack, even though it is much loved and has been around for almost a century and a half.
Then there is the case of the former state song of Virginia---the beautiful and wistful "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny", authored by James A Bland. This story is particularly delicious because Bland was a black man who was an accomplished songwriter and musician. The lyrics to "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" refer to an old slave who longs for the old days when "Massa and Missus" were still alive. The song was judged Politically Incorrect in 1997 after being the official state song since 1940. I could not tell you what song replaced it as the official state song. I could look it up, but as Rhett Butler said, I don't give a damn.
Then there is the case of editing history by excluding works of literature. When I was a school boy, I studied the works of Joel Chandler Harris. Mr Harris created a character named Uncle Remus who told stories to children. These stories were wonderful tales much like nursery rhymes or fables---but told by the African-American Remus in southern negro dialect.
|Joel Chandler Harris|
In 1876, Mark Twain published "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer". It received universal acclaim. For generations this book was required reading for American school children. Not any more. It seems that the words "nigger" and "injun" appear hundreds of times in the book, as well as the 1885 follow-up publication, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn".
|Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)|
NOTE: I did sing the above songs accompanied by my guitar...with the original lyrics intact, as the authors intended. I am not a racist and neither were the authors. But I do love history as it really happened, without the misguided censorship of a misguided age.