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COLUMN: Our call to song of expression

Deck Cheatham

Deck Cheatham has been a golf professional for more than 40 years. He lives with his family in Dalton.

I grew up in Orangeburg, a small town in central South Carolina — cotton fields, mustard sauce barbecue, hash on white rice, pigskins, Gullah brogues, spit-worthy gnats, sour weed and shirt-ruining heat.

If you are white, living in the big “O” means being a minority. The town is 75 percent African-American. It is home to not one, but two historically black universities. The major one, South Carolina State, boasts the Marching 101, one of the best bands in America. I am weaned on the black culture.

Though I have long lost my Gullah brogue, the ancestral sounds of the Gullah language (a Creole dialect) still resonate within me. Gullah was the language spoken by slaves brought to the coastal sea islands along the South Carolina and Georgia coast. The language may soon die, but the rhythm still sings in me.

As a young man, before habit could take hold, years after slavery ended, I discerned the descendant, discordant, Pavlovian, master and slave responses between blacks and whites in my hometown. Both exhibited the learned words, behaviors and attitudes passed down through family generations and societal relationships. Though these relationships are complex, permeating my memory is a mindful and emotional confluence. I have witnessed hate. I have witnessed love.

Too simply do we inhere judgment when we are void of experience. Too easily do we simplify complexity. We never really know a person’s bones, just the clothes. We cannot casually judge.

My formative years were influenced not just by family and friends but also by those slave descendants who shaped me into me, and the observations (perhaps God) that accompany me. I love them equally because they first loved me.

Thoughts on my experience run deep. The cleft between humans derives its source not simply in differences, but also suppression.

And, what do we suppress but God’s call to a living faith, to the calling to express our faith?

If anything was clear in my youth, I was going to leave Orangeburg. My hometown could not fulfill my goals and dreams. The disease on my journey has been the effort to suppress God’s constant nudge urging me toward expression. I confess expression did not serve my self-interest. This flaw has withered. By his love, God forgave.

As Abraham was called out from the land of Ur, so too are we called from the mire of suppression to the light of expression.

I hear beating within my heart those youthful observations that recall the soulful, Gullah sounds and rhythm, that summon me now to expression’s song.

“Oona wa got yea fa yeh, oona mus yeh wa A say!” (Matthew 11:15; Gullah translation).

Deck Cheatham has been a golf professional for more than 40 years. He lives with his family in Dalton. Contact him at