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GUEST COLUMN: Crackers we are, and Crackers we’ll remain

Mike Ragland -Cotton in my Blood

Mike Ragland, Guest Columnist

I seldom write anything with or about politics in the column. Now on the internet I carry on a pretty lively conversation with the Liberal Left. Their beliefs are theirs, just like mine are mine. Most of us are entrenched into our own thoughts and beliefs. But to be honest, I’ve often wondered where they came up with some of theirs. I remember in the fifties when “Ike” was president we didn’t have all this turmoil. Now Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan all had their problems, and were not liked by many for different reasons. So I’m guessing the hatred of the Southern male was brought on by Obama and Trump. I couldn’t be more wrong.

I remember in high school where we were told the distinction of Cracker had something to do with being a teamster and cracking a whip over a mule. I accepted that and let it go, didn’t faze me in the least. As time went on the term “Cracker” went from being a term of a working class teamster to something ugly, and it was used to belittle the recipient. So it is a new term, or the way it’s used in our language now is different from the past. I’ll let you decide.

While researching for an upcoming book, “Still got Cotton in my Blood,” I found an article in Century Magazine from 1891 titled “The Georgia Cracker in the Cotton Mill.” It’s not flattering.

Here we go:

“‘Crackers’ in every mood and tense past, present and future they are; “crackers” in dialect, feature, coloring, dress, manner, doings, and characteristics, Though sprung from the vigorous Scotch-Irish stock so firmly rooted on the Atlantic slope, they have lapsed into laziness, ignorance and oddity. In Georgia they choose as dainties chalk, starch, and the gum from pine trees to barter; in Virginia the natives eat clay, in the Carolinas they are wild, unkempt ginseng hunters; in Tennessee they are often desperadoes, cunning and treacherous, murdering their foe from ambush. Everywhere they use snuff and tobacco and subsist on a scanty innutritious diet. Yet they form at least a quarter of each state’s population. They are crushed between the upper and nether millstones of popular scorn, the victims of reactionary ethics; their condition in the New South is deplorable (I’ve heard that before).

“Rarely intermarrying with the gentry, breeding in for generations, the cracker grows more sharply defined by selection and is less plastic to civilization than any other race in America. What these inhabitants were before the war they remained after the war and are now the butt of ridicule, shiftless and inconsistent, always poor though always working. To get a better example we look at factory life.”

I’m not here to say that millworkers didn’t have a hard time, because it was basically being able to survive. Many never attended any school whether they were working in a mill or on the farm. The column is right about the life span being shortened by no medical care and hard work from before daylight to after dark.

I know what my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles went through in the 30s and 40s. I got a firsthand look at the 50s. And I was fortunate to walk into the weave shop in the early 60s. Yes, at the time I hated every minute of it, but wouldn’t trade it now for anything.

The column talks about the long hours. The mills were abiding by Georgia law and working the men no more than 66 hours a week. They thought it was pretty good, because most had been working 80 plus on their little farms. When they went to eight hour days, the men almost rioted. Their salaries were being cut by nearly a third.

As kids growing up in the mill village we thought we had everything, and I’m still convinced we did. What I think, and my friends and classmates thought, is irrelevant for this article. My point is that the Northern Media has been making fun and ridiculing the South since the country was founded, although I’m not sure it was ever as bad as it is now.

One woman was recently giving me her educational background, to imply she was way superior to me. When I told her I had a degree from Berry, and did my graduate work at West Georgia, she simply replied, “Berry and West Georgia failed you.” Nothing will change the mind that still believes you’re the uneducated creature mentioned in the magazine article. A lot of it is they don’t like the present president. I understand that.

I have many friends that have liberal beliefs. And they are entitled to their beliefs, just like I am. I don’t see them putting anybody down. But watching the cable shows and listening to the media, there is still a segment of the population that lumps any supporter of the president into the inferior mold. I guess that’s what upsets me, and it seems to be channeled southward.

So yes, I’m a Cracker, and I intend to stay that way. I’m stubborn, set in my ways, and won’t budge an inch until you prove me wrong. I believe in a strict interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.

I’m not one of the lazy shiftless skunks mentioned in the magazine article that sits around whittling all day chewing tobacco, while women toil in the mill. In fact, neither of my grandmothers worked in the mill. One had five kids, the other had seven. They had a job.

“Crackers” … We even had a baseball team in Atlanta called the Crackers, and I went to several games.

Mike Ragland is a former Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com.