Saturday, March 17, 2012

Editing History.......

I am a student of history.  That, plus the fact that I am considered an "old guy", having graced this planet for three score and seven years, gives me a certain perspective on changes in our society.  Some changes are good and necessary; many are not.

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
Harris' book was published in 1881, and served as a delightfiul teaching and entertainment vehicle---through folk tales, animal stories and songs.  His characters Br'er (Brother) Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear and the Tar Baby were loved far and wide.  Until around 1970, that is, when Harris' works were judged Politically Incorrect and began to disappear from libraries and book stores.  I'm so glad I was able to become familiar with these wonderful characters before they became a footnote.

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)
Publisher New South Books has agreed to republish these works this year with one change---the "N" word and the "In" word will be replaced with the word, "slave".  Somebody shoot me.

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.


  1. Hearing these old songs make my cry and some of the changes being made in this country make me cry too! You know how I love history and all the original state songs. I love hearing "My Old Kentucky Home" at the beginning of the Keeneland Races in Lexington! Hey, it almost time for the races!

    A good and well researched post!

  2. I remember a lot of those songs. And as a child "Br'er (Brother) Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear and the Tar Baby" was the book I always got when they would read to me at night. I appreciate posting all these great memories Clint. God bless!

  3. You know what would be great??? Hearing you playing the guitar and singing.

    Have a great weekend and enjoy the market☺

  4. I've often wondered what books popular today will be considered offensive in the future. It is a shame to try to edit out history- it is what it was.

    And, I agree with Nova. You should put up a video of you and Cindy singing some of the good old ones.

  5. I couldn't agree more, the words should stay the same as written. History is just that and a wonderful remembrance for the future.

  6. Three scores and seven years, how many is that?

    1. Ha. A "score" is twenty....hence, three score and seven is 67. But I "feel like I'm 20-something.

  7. Who in the world would think that some of our words today would have such twisted meanings. Sandie

  8. The rewriting of historical pieces should be illegal but apparently after 40, maybe it's longer, years after the author passes on the work becomes no longer copywritten... or something like that. My sister was looking up copyrights for some art work from the oldies but goodies and now she's got a company started where she has retouched and/or restored the old drawnings and she sells them, mainly to those who do digital scrapbooking.

    And yes, lets hear some of your g'tar pickin', I've love to hear it. :-)

    Have a wonderful week Clint, cheers.

  9. I agree with you in everything you wrote here, Clint. You are brave to state your personal opinion. Who gave people the right to change the words to those songs, and those books? That's taking over a territory that doesn't belong to them. Because history is history, and it should not be changed just to suit the opinions of others.

    I even heard that there was a move to erase the historical fact about the extermination of the 6 million Jews... well I hope that the Lord will never allow that.

    Bless your heart for singing those songs on your guitar, in their original version.

    Enjoy the week ahead of you.


  10. i believe a lot of our history has been edited, going back thousands of years, and that we are taught his-story in our system today.