The AfroTraditonalist has been interested in starting a regular fireside chat with interesting people from the various political & cultural “spheres” I interact with on the internet.
Sam Burnham is a blogger and media personality from North Georgia with roots across the South, who’s purpose is “the celebration and preservation of Southern history, culture, and agrarian ideals.” He will be the first to pull up the chesterfield and have a chat.
AfroTrad: Hello, Sam I happy to have you as my first fireside chat. I have known you on Twitter for quite a while and have always enjoyed your tweets, disposition, and point of view.
Sam Burnham: Hello and thank you for graciously inviting me to be a part of this chat. I’m honored to be a part of it.
AfroTrad: You are a Southerner but not only in a geographical sense but it is a part of the foundation of your identity. I too consider myself a Southerner, but culturally as I’ve spent much of my life as part of the Black Southern diaspora.
How does your identity as a southerner inform how you approach the world?
Richard Weaver, a great Southerner & traditionalist, said:
“The man of culture finds the whole past relevant; the bourgeois and the barbarian find relevant only what has some pressing connection with their appetite.”
The chivalric, anti-industrial mores of the South’s past seem to be on the run in our current age. Places like Atlanta and Charlotte have been colonized by the most vulgar consumerist types, killing most of the character that one would associate with the old South, not only in the superficial sense but even spiritually. How can we use the South’s history and traditional culture; its folklore; literature; folkways; music and cuisine, the things that make the South a full culture, to fight this tide? Is it possible in your opinion?
Sam: As a Southerner, I think it’s important to lay out a definition of sorts. I say “of sorts” because one thing about the South that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is how very diverse the South is. A person from Louisiana, a person from Georgia, and a person from North Carolina could all be Southerners while enjoying very different food, music, architecture, even denominations when choosing places of worship – and all while speaking in very different accents. It is possible that a visitor from Europe might not think these three people to even be from the same country, much less the same region.
But looking at what a Southerner is, we think about the Old South. So much of the “New South” movement is just a version of the ideology of the North using the word “y’all” and sipping sweet tea during breaks at a factory. It’s industrialized, it’s modernized, and its sanitized. The real South is none of that. Southerners care about the land they’re emotionally tied to, the traditions that live there, and they know there are skeletons in our closet. We know our history has ugly parts. But we also know that, without the whole picture, there’s just not a South, not as we know it.
So as I approach the world as a Southerner, I look at how to live in a way that benefits this land and its people. I look at how to preserve the old parts we still have. And I think about how our way of life and making decisions can have a positive impact on the world.
That brings me to your second question.
We have to accept that these large metropolitan areas that have popped up throughout the South just aren’t Southern. Shopping malls, skyscrapers, and factories just can’t hold a traditional role in the South. I heard it said best when a common pal of ours said: “Atlanta is what 350,000 Confederate soldiers died trying to prevent.”
But what you do about this is to look for those enclaves of the South that still remain in these places. Those old neighborhoods, monuments, cemeteries, as well as restaurants and entertainment venues.
While the modern developers have left little room for people to make their own living off the land, there are still those local businesses that we should support, especially if those businesses are carrying on a piece of Southern culture.
I also think we need to be an example. We need to not only be Southerners, we need others to see what that means. We need people to know that a Southerner is more than a white guy in a ball cap driving a pickup truck in a Luke Bryan video. Because in so many ways, today’s modern culture has spilled over and mutated true Southern culture.
AfroTrad: The South is much more diverse than where I was raised, New England. The north has more immigrants so it is mistakenly thought of as having greater diversity. But I find the South forms of diversity to be far more interesting as it is mostly home developed. From unique cultures like Gullah of SC and Creoles of Louisiana; to interesting isolate groups like the various “smalls races”; not to mention the various cuisines and sub-cuisines popular far and wide. The South carries variety unmatched by the rest of the US.
If you were directing someone, completely ignorant of the South and its culture and history, to learn about the South what would you suggest to them? Where would you suggest they visit? What literature and poetry would you tell them contains the soul of the South?
Sam: There are so many special places – from the mountains of North Georgia to the Yazoo Delta region of Mississippi.
If you are to understand the history of The South, begin at the begin at the beginning. It’s a little-known fact that the country began in The South. The first permanent English settlement at Jamestown had been in place for a dozen years before The Mayflower landed at Plymouth. St. Augustine, Florida was in its seventh decade when Jamestown was established.
St.Augustine has always held a special place in my heart. It is a must see. The architecture there is simply gorgeous, everything is old and has a story. And it can be helpful to see Southern roots that aren’t English.
But Jamestown/Williamsburg/Yorktown triangle is really what I’d call the cradle of The South. This is where the true colonial birth of America took place. Jamestown was where the British began, Williamsburg would serve as the colonial capital, and Yorktown is where the colonists finally severed the ties with England – all within a couple miles of each other.
Then places like Savannah, Chattanooga, and Charleston, all have their own history to offer. But I’d say if you want to understand the South, you have to risk getting a little of it on you. Get out of the cities. Go find the real South.
Everyone knows that Nashville is The Music City but very few know that Country Music was really born in Bristol.
When you say Louisiana, folks to straight to The Big Easy in their minds. But you really need to hit some local spots a little further South – down around Houma, Raceland, or Thibodaux.
I just this morning saw one of these media sites compile some list of the best BBQ places in the country. Of the 2, 4 were in Atlanta. I don’t think the 4 best BBQ places in Georgia are in Atlanta, so how could 4 of the best 25 in the country be there? Get out of the cities, they aren’t Southern.
Look for forts, battlefields, agritourism, local restaurants, local musical performances, etc.
As far as literature, and of the 12 Southerners of I’ll Take My Stand renown. Faulkner, Civil War titles by Shelby Foote, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor. Read humorists like Lewis Grizzard and Bo Whaley. And remember, if a story isn’t about how rough life is, either laughing or crying about it, it’s probably not South
AfoFogey: Three of my four grandparents are from the rural South, I spent much of my youth around the waterways of coastal SC and on the country roads of Tuskegee, AL. Some of the best times of my life. My favorite thing to do then, and now for that matter, was to visit the small AME, and the occasional Apostolic(for the music), churches that dotted my grandparent’s environs. The rural South really does have a mystical otherworldly feel that one has to visit with an open mind to really get.
What area of the South are you from? Tell us a few things about you’d like us to know.
You mentioned food. Which is always one of my favorite topics. As one of Geechee heritage red rice, perlo, and other Gullah dishes are staple foods in my house. I also really enjoy the stereotypical, but sublime, foods associated with the South like fried chicken, grits, collard greens, biscuits etc. Of course, BBQ is good. I really enjoy whole hog BBQ, I am a fan of South Carolina style most.What are your favorite dishes? Was your region known for a particular style of cuisine or dish?
I think Southerners have a keen sense of the tragic that is well represented in its folklore and literature. Your comment “And remember, if a story isn’t about how rough life is, either laughing or crying about it, it’s probably not Southern.” reminded me of this Ralph Ellison quote “The blues speak to us simultaneously of the tragic and the comic aspects of the human condition and they express a profound sense of life shared by many Negro Americans precisely because their lives have combined these modes”, I think that’s one observation that could be said of the whole South.
I suppose we can not speak of the South without mentioning race. In regards to Blacks & Whites, The South is the most integrated area of the nation, to the surprise of many, they have always lived side by side here. Some things that are thought to be black in other parts of the nation could be said to be general Southern things. Slavery, reconstruction, and Jim Crow obviously are points of contention among black and white southerners but in a cultural sense, they share many similarities.
How do you think the relationship between the two group will go in the future? Do you think the influence of liberal northerners and racists has severed any for unity that could be had beyond repair?
Sam: I see we have something else in common. Three of my grandparents grew up in the rural South while one grew up in rural New England. Of the three Southerners, one grew up in North Georgia, one in South Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. The third grew up on a far outside Iuka, Mississippi. This combination is much more diverse than non-Southerners would typically understand.
In my formative years, this combination had me growing up in North Georgia while spending a lot of time in the Central Florida area. Florida is not considered to be a Southern state by many. I’d suggest that these folks have probably been to Ft. Meyers or Miami and never been to a fish fry in Morriston or Sebring. They’ve probably never fished for warmouth on Orange Lake near Micanopy or seen live manatees from a jon boat in the St. John’s River. Trust me, parts of Florida are very Southern.
As far as home, I grew up in the Appalachian foothills of North Georgia. While my history is in the mountains, I feel at home anywhere in the Peach State or the rural areas of Florida. I attended college just over the line in Alabama. My blog, and all the media that accompanies it, is based mainly on the experiences in these states but also on my travels throughout the South.
Food is one of those most Southern of things. I think I was in college before I realized that there was something known as “black food”. So many of the items labeled “soul food” were commonplace on the tables of my mother and grandmothers. Any kind of beans or peas with a thick slice of cornbread. I’ve yet to meet a cut of pork that I did not like. Yes, the stereotypical BBQ. I don’t have a preference between Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, if it’s a pig and it’s been properly smoked, I’m going to eat it. I love fried chicken and any kind of greens. Obviously, I love biscuits and sausage gravy. And I think cheese grits are best served with fried fish and hush puppies. I remember several occasions thinking “That’s not ‘black food’ that’s my food!”
I’m glad you mentioned the blues. I think the music by people like Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, and so many others, not only told the story of the South, it paved the way for today’s rock, rap, R&B, practically every modern form of popular music. Without the early Southern music, we’d have no popular music today.
One of the great blessings in my life has been my experiences growing up in an integrated town. My parents were in high school during desegregation. I heard so many stories of what they saw and endured in that tumultuous time.
While I grew up in a relatively small town, I attended city schools. I was a racial minority in high school. Our racial makeup was about 60% black, 40% white with just a few Asian and Hispanic students. We didn’t have friends from other races because it was trendy. You had friends from other races because you didn’t really now much different. If you were on a team or in a club, you were involved with students of a different race. We had class together, lunch together, practice together, meetings together, life together. That was just our reality. It was how we were all raised. Was it free of any and all animosity? No. But neither is reality.
I like to think that we have a bright future. I think the fact that you and I are having this fireside chat is indicative of what can be. Many would look at you and I and think us to be opposites, perhaps mortal enemies. But unlike the narratives the northern liberals and racists you mentioned would have us believe, you and I have far more in common than we have in opposition. The difference between you and I and so many in our nation today is that we have taken the time and effort to find our similarities and to let them bring us together rather than letting our differences drive us apart. If a majority of Southerners will do that, we’ll not only be the most integrated part of the country, we’ll also be the most united.
This chat has been great and I appreciate the invite. If there is anything else you’d like to ask, please feel free. I’d also be very open to having other chats in the future, should you wish to.
AF: Thank you for participating Mr. Burnham, I appreciate you.