I envy the Southern Nationalist who is well rooted in the land of his fathers and who knows his storied family history from the somber voices and wistful eyes of his grandparents. To know the story of one’s people – to hear it directly from a dearly loved family elder – is to know who you are with a down-to-your-bones certainty. It is the anchor of folk – the blessing of knowing precisely who you are in relation to a people. I will never know that certainty for myself, and though the thought does not comfort me, I suspect that I am not alone. The dark pall that came over all of our Southern families during the Civil War galvanized some and sent others into the kind of deep despair that only a defeated people can know. For some the anchor chain linking us to our identity as a people was severed completely.
As near as I can tell, my family arrived in Georgia in the 1740s. We evidently thrived, and by 1820 my family held at least a thousand acres in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Yet, by the time of the 1870 census, my family was living in Louisiana as modest-scale farmers. I don’t know how the war impacted my family to any degree of specificity, or what horrors they may have witnessed. I don’t know who served and who died. But I do know that that the indelible stories that I received from my own grandparents stretch back only as far as Louisiana and our postbellum Louisiana farm. The resounding silence of anything before my family’s time in Louisiana leads me to believe that the chain was broken by grief and defeat. When my grandfather brought our family to Texas in the late 1940s, our family place in Louisiana was passed to new owners, but I now consider that patch of farmland outside Shreveport to be the place where my family’s oral history died, and grief dare not disturb it. What I know through genealogy and through a handful of historical records should have been handed down to me by family members and family stories. But I cannot blame my ancestors, for I cannot know the depths of their grief. Paradoxically, I even find myself longing to assure them that their stories, even the painful ones, would have been invaluable to me. Though it is hardly rational, I’ve come to share in their grief. But I will not continue to wear their sackcloth and ashes. To paraphrase the grieving King David, I will go to them, but they will not return to me.
Is my sincere hope that those Southern Nationalists who are fortunate enough to have been given an identity by their parents and grandparents – those for whom the anchor chain was not broken by Northern treachery – that they would cherish those bonds of kinship and ancestral memory. As for those of us – like myself – who were sent out into the hostile world unmoored: carry onward. Gather what links you can find and forge a new chain that stretches back to our folk as the ancient anchor, for our children face uncertain seas and raging storms. We must see that they are well anchored.