Thursday, July 28, 2011

Greenwood Lullabies

There’s something about Greenwood that I just can’t get out of my head.  It’s a paradox, a study in intertwined opposites.  It's one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  Many parts of Greenwood and the surrounding areas are blanketed with lush, vibrant green forests.  The trees stand tall and strong, yet seem to sway and move about like old men conducting important business.  They protect and they watch. 

In this heartbreakingly beautiful place some of the worst and longest atrocities were visited upon blacks.  Yes, slavery.  Slavery was not about work.  Slavery was about cruelty, it was about rape, it was about humiliation, it was about tearing apart black families and it was about the wearing away of will, hope, pride, and peace. 

One of the things about slavery that seems to add a pungent odor to its stale air of humiliation is that people around the world knew about it and thought it was just fine.  Whether or not blacks were beings just one layer removed from animal was a given.  It seems as though there were very few people in the world who could look at a black person and see much more than a dollar sign, a work man, or an opportunity for quick sexual satisfaction.  There was a general agreement that blacks were stupid, disgusting, and deserving of nothing.

That will always be part of the history of this place.  If you stand on the Delta's rich farming soil long enough you can almost hear the cries of mothers who lost their sons to the fields.    

When I visited Greenwood in June, I met rich people who clearly treasure their Southern heritage.  I also met people who live at a level of poverty that I’ve really only ever heard about.  The homeless in most major cities eat better than some of these. 

I met heroes of the civil rights movement, men whose minds hold the memories of how change happened, who are barely be able to feed themselves.  I also met people who live across the street and around the corner from their children, cousins, and grandchildren.  Their lives are rich with love and simplicity. 

I'm stirred when I recall the look in the eyes of some of Greenwood’s residents.  I feel saddened when I think of the drunkards loitering street corners at three in the afternoon.  Yet, my heart soars when I think of the warm embrace that will always await me there from aunts, uncles, cousins, and the beautiful green landscape that seems somehow to envelope me in wonder.  

I’m supposed to go back.  The filmmakers need more scenes.  I wish we were going back today and I wish to never go back.  Greenwood haunts me, yet it calls me home.  Everyday I feel more and more convinced that what God intended for me to find on this journey was not Booker Wright, but the knowledge that I belong to a place of wonder.  I do come from the stuff of legends.  The song of the slave is my soul's lullaby.  

How can a place, a dot on the map, create such conflict within me? 


  1. You expressed my siren song to Pocatalico WV and my coal miner heritage my grandmother tried for generations to distance us from very elegantly.

    Yes, the circumstances were very different, but the lifestyles were more alike than you may want to admit. And no, I don't equate slavery with indentured servitude by any means, but poor and with little hope resonates through eternity and my point is I am in agreement that I feel the passion that drives me to tears for no reason whatsoever other than when I am there, in the physical environment of my ancestors. Your writing is truly beautiful.

  2. I love that you can hear your own connection to West Virginia in my conflicted love for Greenwood. I completely agree with you, "poor and with little hope resonates through eternity."

    Oftentimes our parents remove us from our heritage to save us from it, but our souls can often long for something beyond the history of one generation. Thank you for your comment.

  3. I believe I understand to an extent your confliction of emotions about Greenwood. I live nearby and have seen what you report. Both great love and community and schizophrenic like prejudice. I have to admit though I am white that my heart sinks when I hear the "N" word. My Dad never allowed us to say the word. He was loved by blacks and whites and though it "was not done" in his generation, he shook the hand of white and black men. I am thankful that I don't have to throw off as many of the shackles of prejudice because of my parents teaching. Prejudice does indeed shackle the person who is prejudice, the way it seeks to shackle the one the prejudice is against. Things are changing here in the South as I am sure you have seen, but in towns where there was a history of slavery, meaning towns that grew up around "the cotton fields" and thus a need of slaves to make lots of money, it has hung on longer, because you have to hate those you have used and abused to justify your past treatment or the past treatment by your ancestors. There is prejudice everywhere there are people and unfortunately there is prejudice toward some people just because they are white as well. I have experienced it. My ancestors were not slave owners, as my ancestors were mostly blue collar workers or in some trade that did not require any cheap labor. However there are relatives and friends who still hold on to their prejudices. We speak up in those situations about all men being the same in God's sight. I want our state to move forward and both sides to let go as much as they are able of hatred and resentment. I have found in my own life that people who mistreated me in my life and I have experienced prejudice as well, I will not go into why here, but I find that if I keep hating them, I lock my own self up and am still letting those who abused me, control me. I think the truth should be told, to educate this generation but not to keep the hatred going which ever "side" it comes from. God bless you.