I missed being around during the Civil War, but like millions around the globe, I felt like I was there during that era, watching the epic film, Gone With The Wind. A depiction of life in the South, during the 18oos.
I grew up in the South, where many of those traditions of the 1800s were carried over into the first half of the nineteenth century. I grew up on a farm in Northeast Georgia, and the first fifteen years of my life lived in a house built by my great-grandfather, who fought in the Civil War. Over the kitchen door of the house, hung a Civil War musket, belonging to him.
From my paternal and maternal grandparents, I heard stories about life during and after the Civil War. Southern folks were slow-talking, polite, hardworking, and mostly Baptist. In my growing up years during the Great Depression, Southerners were a people that cared about neighbors, their children, their farms, and a way of life that was self-sustaining. Talked about Northeners as though they were foreigners, because they talked faster, more industralized, and many Catholic.
I think it was 1939 when the epic movie depicting life in the South came out in movie theaters, and a great many of the traditons portrayed in that movie, were carried over in a way of life among Southern families. A lot of pride in the Principles America was built upon. A love of the land, a proper manner of dressing, tremendous respect for the privacy of others, but there to help any neighbor in need.
Despite the fact blacks were still considered a sort of sub-culture, they were treated well by my parents and grandparents, as workers living in their shacks scattered across the farm land.
However, many changes in a way of life in the South, took place during the thirties of the Roosevelt era, as he ushered in Socialistic programs, which changed the way farming was conducted.
The big change started taking place at the beginning of World War Two in 1942. Young men were drafted into the military and manufacturing plants geared to production of war goods sprang up, particularly in the Atlanta area of Georgia. The most noted was the Bell Aircraft plant in Marietta, near Atlanta in Cobb County. Thousands left the farm to work in this large plant, building B-29s.
Before that, about the only industrialization among the vast farmlands were a few cotton mills and no one knew anything about building airplanes, and had to be trained in a new way of life. I was one of them.
After high school, working a couple of years for Sears Roebuck mail-order house in their accounts payable department, I went to work for Bell Aircraft. My first assignment was operating a copying machine, which was so boring, I requested a transfer to another department. Because I was untrained to do anything, the company sent me to engineering school, to learn how to interpret blueprints. When I finished the course, I was re-assigned to the engineering department, and my job was going out on the assembly line to explain blueprint deviations to the assembly line workers, and I loved that job.
The thousands of employees hired at Bell Aircraft were Southern-farmer types, totally ignorant in airplane construction, and had to be taught. Consequently, it was like a second invasion of the South by Northerners, hired by Bell Aircraft to train all the Southerners about building airplanes. As I recall, there was a sort of class warfare attitude, between Northeners and Southerners, as the industrialized trained Northerner taught all these dumb, untrained Southerners how to build airplanes.
However Southern workers were very patriotic, happy tohave a good-paying job, and determined to make contributions to winning the war, which resulted in rolling out a finished product of B-29s and contributed greatly to winning the war.
More and more Northerners moved into the area, and integrated into a Southern lifestyle, while locals discovered more about Northerners as neighbors. It was an era which brought about major changes in Southern living. Consequently after the war, thousands remained in the South, as two different cultures merged and lived together.
The ending of the Civil War brought about changes in Southern living, however it was World War 2, that brought about greater changes than the Civil War ever did, in my opinion. In time, more changes took place, because the political climate changed as the Northern Liberals began living in increasing numbers among Southern Conservatives.
After the war ended in 1945, and soldiers returned to integrate back into civilian life, many went to school on the GI bill, and obtained an education.
Life in the South has changed dramatically, as well as life in these United States. Georgia elected a peanut farmer as President, then switched from a Democratic State to Republican. The change has been economical, political and social. Even electing a representative who moved here, established residency, and after term expired, moving back North as Newt Gringrich did.
Most of the manufacturing mill jobs have closed, farming has decreased, and has become a sort of melting pot for all kinds of foreigners. Until recently had one of the largest populations of illegal immigrants in the U.S. Families have split up, moved to other places, as others migrate to Georgia.
As I look back in retrospect, a lot of soft-spoken Southern charm was still evident through the fabulous fifties. Returning here after four years in Japan in the early sixties is when I experienced a big change in a way of life here. Since that time, many many changes, politically, economically and socially. The biggest change as I view it, is in the attitude of Southerners. Generally not so accommodating, most so absorbed in their own world and life, not so interested in their neighbor and well being of others as I experienced growing up in the South.
Five years ago when I moved from the big city of Atlanta, living on Peachtree Street, to a small North Georgia town, I was hoping to enjoy some of the nostalgia of a small community, and quickly realized it is no more, and much in Southern living is really “Gone with the Wind.”
So much in our lives has changed for the better, at the expense of losing a way of life referred to as “Southern Charm.” Some try to recapture it in different ways. For example, a real estate agent trying to sell a house, may refer to it as having Southern charm, however that way of life in bygone days did not emanate from things but reflected in the attitudes of the people. On rare occasions, I do experience small remnants of it and love it when I do.
Let Freedom Ring
Just me AC