Sunday, June 29, 2008

Whitewash



Sometimes, you really have to sit back and marvel at how life works out. Over a month ago, I told you about a documentary film I’d seen called The Uprising of ‘34. One of my readers sent a copy of that blog entry to a guy named Frank Beacham. Frank wrote me and asked if he could send me a copy of his book -- Whitewash. I said yes, of course.

As an added little twist, when Frank’s book arrived, I was in the middle of the book you see on the left -- Lies My Teacher Told Me. Well, your teachers didn’t lie about this one. They just didn’t tell you about it. Period.

From the second I picked up Frank Beacham’s book, I couldn’t put it down. I read it is less than 24 hours. These are the opening words from the preface:

What if you awoke one morning and, out of the blue, learned that many of your memories of your childhood were based upon an illusion ? That the pleasant recollections about the quiet community where you spent the first eighteen years of your life were laced with carefully constructed myths. That your hometown was a facade -- like a movie set -- that masked terrible secrets, deep suffering, and unimaginable despair.

I was hooked. I’d had my “out of the blue” moment. It wasn’t as profound -- or as terrible -- as Frank’s but at the time, it was quite the revelation. I was on the phone with my mother, talking about something or other I was doing with the union (NATCA), and my mother blurted out with some exasperation, “Your grandfather was a union man.” I knew this wasn’t a compliment. And in that I was hearing it for the first time -- when I was 28 years old -- I knew something profound had just happened.

I adored my grandfather. He passed away when I was young -- much too young to realize what might lie behind some of his peculiarities. I knew he was a difficult man. He never went to my grandmother’s family functions. And he never went to church with her. For those that grew up in the South, you know how odd that was for the time. Watching The Uprising of ‘34 several years later, my suspicions were stirred. Reading Whitewash pretty much confirmed them.

”Chiquola’s management expressed no remorse for the killings. To the contrary, the company continued its aggressive anti-union stance by promptly banning funerals for the slain workers at any of the mill-owned churches.”

Before I get carried away, it’s important to note that Whitewash isn’t just about the Textile Worker’s Strike of 1934 and the subsequent shootings at Chiquola’s mill in Honea Path, South Carolina. It's also about the Orangeburg, SC Massacre and the birth of a dance called “The Shag” in Myrtle Beach, SC. If those three diverse events leave you scratching your head in puzzlement, you need to read this book.

I was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1958. Although my family moved away, I was raised in other towns in South Carolina and Georgia before moving back to Spartanburg when I was 16 years old. I know South Carolina. I know the South. But I don’t. And neither do you. Even if you were raised here.

Whitewash is about the systematic suppression of the past -- of the truth -- by an entire culture. Bear in mind that it is the same culture that stubbornly clings to the memories of The Old South. The same culture that stills seems to want to fight the Civil War. Yet, it is the same culture that repeatedly warns it’s children, “Those that don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.” Let’s hope not. Because this history is shameful. Which is the reason, I suspect, it’s been buried for so long. You should know it. You should read this book.

Frank’s preferred retailer is Book Locker. You can purchase Whitewash at this link. I personally don’t care where you buy it. I just hope that you do.

Don Brown
June 29, 2008

No comments: