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Eugene Patterson was a newspaper editor - a Southern newspaper editor - who wrote about the South when it was a deadly place; full of evil, full of anger, full of people who hated and resist change.

Yes, I know. To many of you the South is exactly like that now. You look upon us as a bastion of prejudice and conservativism and see nothing helpful or hopeful about the place. You despair of its redemption.  Many of you think you should secede from us.

Eugene Patterson died today. And however lacking we in the South may be today, perhaps you will agree with me that he, as a Southerner, was different.  Please follow below the squiggle-diddle.

Back in 1963, you may remember, four little girls were murdered at a church in Alabama. We seem, too often I think, inspired to look into the depths of our soul when our sickness leads to the death of children, and this was no different.

Eugene Patterson, a Southerner, was a newspaperman in Atlanta, a city that was then, as it is now, deep in the South, and he was a newspaperman at a time when that really meant something - like having a voice and a soul and courage to tell right from wrong, not just a false equivalency of balanced ideologies.

Here is something that Eugene Patterson wrote after that murder of four little girls. It is an excerpt, and I suggest, if you are interested, you go looking for the rest of it.  It was published on September 16, 1963.

This is how he began his editorial, which he called "A Flower for the Graves" :

A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her.

Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.

And this is what Eugene Patterson wrote toward the end of his article:
We hold that shoe in our hand, Southerner. We hold that shoe in our hand, Southerner. Let us see it straight, and look at the blood on it. Let us compare it with the unworthy speeches of Southern public men who have traduced the Negro; match it with the spectacle of shrilling children whose parents and teachers turned them free to spit epithets at small huddles of Negro school children for a week before this Sunday in Birmingham; hold up the shoe and look beyond it to the state house in Montgomery where the official attitudes of Alabama have been spoken in heat and anger.

Let us not lay the blame on some brutal fool who didn’t know any better.

We know better. We created the day. We bear the judgment. May God have mercy on the poor South that has so been led. May what has happened hasten the day when the good South, which does live and has great being, will rise to this challenge of racial understanding and common humanity, and in the full power of its unasserted courage, assert itself.

Eugene Patterson was a Southerner who spoke to Southerners, who held up the mirror to Southerners and forced them not to look away. Martin Luther King Jr. was another Southerner who did the same. There were a lot of Southerners like them, not just a few, and there are even some like them today.

The South is conservative today, as it was then, but it was a different type of conservative. By many metrics it is still full of hate and prejudice and fear. But there is also hope; hope that those of us who see the world as it should be can someday push past this anger and divisiveness - and not just here, but also in the places far and wide from here.

Eugene Patterson was a Southerner and a friend to progressive thought and action, who helped a lot of people here see things differently and to embrace the common dignity of all human beings. Eugene Patterson died today, and I thought you should know.

Originally posted to GarySeven on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 01:11 AM PST.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, Black Kos community, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you. n/t (7+ / 0-)

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 02:59:39 AM PST

  •  He was extraordinary (25+ / 0-)

    From the Washington Post's obituary:

    In a 2008 interview with Florida Trend magazine, he remembered a day when his daughter, Mary, then 9, called him at The Constitution. She was sobbing. Someone had shot her dog in the backyard. He hurried home. “I kept telling my daughter, ‘Look, we don’t know who shot her,’ ” he recalled. “But my daughter said she knew — that it was ‘somebody who doesn’t like what you’ve been writing [about civil rights] in the paper.’ ”

    “I tried to explain to her,” he said. “It was tough for a child.”

    But there was no turning back. “You had to address the issue of race relations because the civil rights marchers were in the streets, the sit-ins were going on, the riots, the fire hoses, the police dogs, the killings,” he said. “This had to be addressed and not simply by reporting it, but by editors who would stand up and say what we had been doing was wrong, and we had to change.”

    He seems never to have understood that he was supposed to be a stenographer, reporting what the powerful want to read so they'll continue to give him access to the information they want to read.

    "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

    by KateCrashes on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 03:00:55 AM PST

  •  A good guy's voice amid the crazies. (5+ / 0-)

    He will be missed.

    Rakoff for president! "An application of judicial power that does not rest on facts is worse than mindless, it is inherently dangerous..." -- Medicare for All -- "Justice delayed is justice denied" for the 99%

    by EquityRoy on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 06:08:33 AM PST

  •  Thank you for sharing that, GarySeven! (7+ / 0-)

    I knew about Ralph McGill, but had never heard of Eugene Patterson.

    I now know the name and story of yet another genuine southern progressive hero.

    So I am grateful.

  •  I used to read him in the Atlanta Constitution. (12+ / 0-)

    During the '60s, he and Ralph McGill wrote about ideas that were the antidotes to the subtle racism I was taught at home.  R.I.P.

    Private health insurance: a protection racket without the protection.

    by rustypatina on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 08:10:25 AM PST

  •  A very fitting (5+ / 0-)

    eulogy; thanks for reminding us

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 08:12:13 AM PST

  •  Courageous folks then; where are their equals now? (6+ / 0-)

    I was a white military kid growing up in eastern NC (Klan country) when the Civil Rights movement blossomed.  Like all my peers, I have vivid memories of the haters like Jesse Helms and George Wallace; of the VA county that closed its public schools rather than integrate them; of the indignities (and worse) our black neighbors had to suffer every day because of their color.

    But there was incredible courage to be seen, too.  Of course, it has to start with Rev. King, but Ralph McGill, Gene Patterson, and NC gov. Terry Sanford stood strong and tall against dangerous hate and ignorance.

    With leaders like these, the south and the whole country made great strides, though clearly far short of perfection.

    Now we seem to be going backwards.  Where are leaders with the clear vision, stong leadership, and, yes, unbounded courage, who can take on the ignorance and hate that are rampant today?  The best we've got, while undoubtedly knowledgeable and intelligent, seem to be political triangulators, not courageous leaders.

    Perhaps they're out there, working near-anonymously in their communities, but have no opportunity to extend their influence.  Perhaps the fragmentation of our mass media has made it impossible for anyone to command the attention of a large fraction of the electorate and inspire them to fundamental but necessary change.  (I presently live in Italy and this phenomenon looks exactly the same in the western European democracies, too.)

    Whatever it is, if we can't fill this gap, I fear for the future of civilized life (or life at all) on this planet.

    •  We're here (12+ / 0-)

      But we don't get a lot of support; tragically it is often from communities like this.

      As I indicated in my post, too often the Progressives on this board and elsewhere simply write off the whole region. We need the national party to compete down here.

      It won't be a wasted effort, and if you study the national voting trends it is not a farfetched conclusion that Georgia may be in play nationally in 2016.

      How quickly the South abandons conservativism is as much up to the DailyKos nation as it is up to those who live here.

      •  I don't. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        prettygirlxoxoxo, worldlotus

        I suspect that Texas will flip soon. Most of the major cities do not vote Republican; state demographics are such that Texas will soon be majority minority. The real issue is voter suppression. For how long can Republicans suppress the vote?

        •  Texas is minority-majority now, skywriter. (6+ / 0-)

          The gerrymander alone keeps such illustrious Congresscritters as the  Honorable Randy ("Baby Killer!") Neugebauer in office.

          We have no national Democratic leaders who give a 2nd thought to Texas, or Oklahoma, or Louisiana, or Mississippi, or Georgia. Some make noise about Florida, few about Alabama, nearly none about the Carolinas (should we blame John Edwards?) or even Maryland.

          There's a sort of "it's the South. To hell with it" vibe going on -- and that flies in the face of JFK and Dr King and makes the assassins who gunned them down successful, IMO.

          LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

          by BlackSheep1 on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 11:44:04 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You are absolutely right (6+ / 0-)

            It's often forgotten that the Civil Rights movement was actually a Southern movement. While there were some courageous people from the North who sacrificed themselves in the battle, it was Southerners like King, Lowery, Jackson and nameless others who bore the brunt.

            When the Kennedy brothers, and other national figures put their life on the line, things got done. But all these sacrifices have been surrendered to the national strategy of a national party that has segregated themselves from the South.

            The greatest demonstration of the power of progressivism would be the liberation of the South from conservativism.  
            We NEED the unity of the party focused on this region, because if we can bust the gerrymander here we can bust it anywhere.

            •  Kennedy Bros. did not put their lives on line (0+ / 0-)

              for civil rights.

              The historical record demonstrates that as attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, resisted change and did little until he was forced to, by demonstrations in the streets, at lunch counters, at schools and elsewhere, to enforce federal law. RFK advised to go slow on civil rights too and JFK did go slow.

              Yes, both of them were assassinated but that had zero to do with their political stand on civil rights or on stopping segregation.

              .

              •  Oswald notwithstanding, JFK had some mighty (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                GarySeven

                powerful enemies -- and while I'm not about to offer an alternative theory of events in Dallas 50 years ago come November, I will simply point out that the man who slew Martin Luther King has at least partly succeeded in stopping the spread of equality. The South used to be a Democratic stronghold, called "the Solid South."

                LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

                by BlackSheep1 on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 06:57:05 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  I'd forgotten that, BlackSheep1 (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BlackSheep1

            Whether through gerrymandering or making it more difficult for people to vote -- this is a strategy that will not prevail in the long run if the US is to remain a democracy.

            Here's a link from May 2012 to Texas having arrived as a majority-minority state.

      •  RE: We're Here (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Illinois IRV, myboo, GarySeven, greenalley

        Yes we're here.  I agree with you so much.  I voted for Terry Sanford in my first election and rabidly opposed Jessie Helms but we were vastly outnumbered.  Despite how it seems we've made progress.  I remember the "Colored Only" drinking fountains and restrooms and separate waiting rooms in bus and train stations.  I remember the part of Asheville that was called "Nigger Town" and the separate but not equal colored high school.   I remember a billboard outside of Goldsborough that said "John Birch Country love it or leave.  I remember when WRAL TV in Raleigh's editorialist was Jessie Helms before he went to congress and that same TV station signed of not with the National Anthem but with Dixie.  (Yes TV stations once signed off usually at midnight.)  I first met and shook the hands of a black person for the first time when I was 19 and had gone to college.  Not because I had anything against backs, just because the there were none around in the rural area where I lived.  Blacks lived in "Nigger Town" and God forbid a white teenager should go there.  No telling what would happen to you for god's sake.  

        So OK the South still has lots of problems but ladies and gents it ain't as bad as it once was.  I no longer live there but I did grow up in Western NC and all the ragging on the stereotypical south and southerners grieves my soul so very much.

        Without making excuses there are historical and cultural reasons the South is more authoritarian oriented which translates to conservative and maybe it will never be as liberal as the Left Coast where I now reside but it's where I come from and I know for a fact that not everybody south of the Mason-Dixon line is a racist, homophobic, fundamentalist cracker.  The south is worth redemption which is a slow process but either we are all Brother's and Sister's or not.  Either we are a nation united or not and I thought the blood of 600,000 settled that question.  

        White Southern progressiveness wasn't born with Eugene Patterson although he was a bright and shining star and it won't die with his passing.  If all you look for are fools and foolish things from the South that's what you will find.  

        You know, we could learn to get along, at least better, and it can begin just the way it did with me when I shook the hand of a fellow black teen and learned that Walter and I could actually be friends and accomplish some wonderful things together.   How about maybe looking for some Southern hands to shake instead of relegating them all to "Southern Town" if you get my drift.

        A bad idea isn't responsible for those who believe it. ---Stephen Cannell

        by YellerDog on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 03:01:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  A great tribute and reminder that there are many (9+ / 0-)

    men and women of good conscience and reason in the south.  We southerners need help if we're going to win the battle against ignorance and predujice and it doesn't help that many ignore us because of their stereotyped convictions.  I like to remind people that some of the biggest bigots in Washington are NOT from the south.  

    The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

    by Persiflage on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 10:38:02 AM PST

  •  My mother-in-law was a strong Southerner with a (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, Chi, Southern Lib, sawgrass727

    shrewd understanding of human nature.

    Years ago we had this conversation:

    Me: "Do you think Southerners, on average, are crazier than other Americans?"

    MiL: "I hate to say so, but yes."

    Me:  "Why do you think that is?"

    MiL:  "I hate to think so, but I believe it is because of religion."

    I have concluded since that the craziness has its roots in generations of attempts to reconcile Christianity with slavery/Jim Crow/segregation.

    Fiscal conservative: a Republican ready to spend $5 to save a dime--especially if that dime is helping a non-donor.

    by Mayfly on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 02:05:56 PM PST

  •  Thanks for the obit (5+ / 0-)

    Patterson will be missed.

    And I think one reason northern and western progressives write off the South is because it's easier to demonize the South than to see their reflection in it.

    As an antiracist activist and a civil rights scholar, I'm painfully aware of the way the movement hit the brick wall of northern prejudice.  It was all well and good to fight and hate racism when it was "down there," but not to confront it in Boston, Los Angeles, Denver and New York.  

    In my opinion, the most productive work the Democratic party could do, and that U.S. progressives could do, would be to go down and organize in the South. Give resources to local progressives.  Make meaningful connections with poor and working class white and black southerners.  I think that the most foolish thing we can do is cede the white South to Republicans, and, by doing this, sell the black (and increasingly brown) South down the river. It wouldn't win us national seats in the short-term, but it's a crucial long-term strategy, and would help us earn more seats in local government in the short term.

    But instead, all I hear is hatred and contempt when northern and western progressives talk about the Southern Red States, which weren't always Red -- they seem to forget that.  I hear a lot of class-based contempt from northern and western progressive sophisticates. We should be horrified that secession is common talk in the South, rather than cheering it on or laughing it off.  But it's all so much easier to pretend to be better than the folks down South and to quit before we start...

    "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

    by hepshiba on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 02:23:23 PM PST

    •  Very well said, hepshiba! I remember late '60s & (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GarySeven, Southern Lib

      early '70s when white Southerners were the only ethnic/identifiable group in the country that could be stereotyped with impunity in the media.

      When the TV drama came on, and some slovenly guy crossed the street to kick a dog, you knew he would deliver his lines with what was supposed to be a Southern accent.

      Fiscal conservative: a Republican ready to spend $5 to save a dime--especially if that dime is helping a non-donor.

      by Mayfly on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 02:52:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Having lived through a 1960s-1970s rife with (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mayfly

        offensive stereotypes of virtually every flavor, I know that white Southerners weren't the only, or even close to the worst victims of negative depiction.  But it's true that the stereotype -- which is always tied to lower class, deeply offensive "trailer trash" references -- continues to be commonly used, and often by "progressives" who should know better.

        "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

        by hepshiba on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 02:59:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Haven't you seen "Buckwild"? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mayfly

        Or Honey Boo Boo?  The rest of the country still use us for their entertainment punching bag.  If you need a villain for your movie, or an idiot, just give him a Southern accent.

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