". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reading Wednesday: William Faulkner and Southern History by Joel Williamson + The Second Amendment

The debate over what it means for a state to have a well-regulated militia got started around 1876 and has escalated in fire eating rhetoric, personal, corporate, political and legal, ever since.

However, after studying the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the historic, colonial background to the construction of both, what it means is 1) clearing Indians from lands white migration wanted; and 2) terrorizing slaves to keep them from either escaping or mounting revolts.

For example, in the context of tracing Faulkner's forebears, and where and when they settled in Mississippi, William Faulkner and Southern History (1996), frequently invokes both Indians and slaves in terms of the state militia:
Happily for their future prosperity, the Butlers tied their fortunes to the incipient town of Oxford, the place that would become the county seat and, in a dozen years, the site of the state's university. Early in 1836 the state legislature created nine counties out of the Chickasaw cession, including Lafayette. On March 21, 1836, the governing body of the county, which was called the board of police, held its inaugural meeting. One of the first things the board did was to draw lines establishing four political subdivisions.5 In Mississippi counties these were called “beats,” probably because the state was virtually conceived in slavery and the policing of slaves by jurisdictions labeled beats was the most important single function of government at the local level. This police function was carried out by the “patrol,” a sort of posse comitatus to which every adult white male of military capacity was required to belong. In Mississippi, the patrol in each beat was organized by county officers, and it was the duty of these citizen-policemen to enforce the slave laws. For the most part, this meant riding the roads at night to insure that slaves stayed in their place. Generally in the South, the patrol had the power to arrest, try, convict, and punish slaves on the spot. In  (p.79) Lafayette County, the patrol was recalled vividly by a black woman, Polly Comer, in an interview in the 1930s. Polly had been a slave in the Woodson's Ridge community in northern Lafayette County, and she stated succinctly the role of the patrol. “Dat's what dey keep de patrollers fur,” she said, “to keep de niggers frum runnin' ‘round at nite an' from runnin’ away.”6 The real, if sporadic, threat to black people posed by the patrol was caught, folklore-style, by blacks who sang a popular ditty that declared: 
Run, nigger, run,
Or the pater-r-olle will get you.7
 Ultimately, the patrol was the first line of defense in the event of a slave insurrection. In some counties of Mississippi where the slave population amounted to 70, 80, and even 90 percent of the total, this was a vital function. In Lafayette County, where the slave population soon rose to about 45 percent, the patrol was very important, tying nonslaveholders to the institution of slavery and heightening the significance of race. In Lafayette, Beat One occupied the center of the county and included Oxford. Beats Two (to the northeast), Three, and Four, (and, later, Five, created by dividing Beat Four), were ranged around Beat One in counter-clockwise order.
This book also made clear what the differences between Percys and the Falkner-Faulkners consisted of. These differences have nothing to do with Delta - not Delta residency.

The Percys were wealthy planters of the aristocrat class of the South, who planter aristocracy reaches back at least into the early years of Virginia.  However, Faulkner's family evidently began as prosperous mercers back in England, and never were planters.  They made their very comfortable livings by trade in just about everything, including slave and land dealing.  Running a plantation was not of interest to them, while filling their pockets and bank accounts with cash, instead of a planter's credit, was.

Tellingly, during the Civil War, the writer's grandfather, William Clarke Falkner (the "Colonel"), after mustering out of the army due to alienating his men, began land privateering, running Mississippi cotton via mule train out of Tippah County along the Mississippi*, up to Memphis, to sell it to Union dealers -- which was as illegal for the Union dealers as it was for Confederates.  Then he brought back luxury goods to sell in Ripley.  The two sorts, though both southern and confederate through and through, nevertheless, possessed very different ways at approaching their world.  For another instance, that vaunted paternalism of the Walkers is not evident in Faulkner's forebears (not that it went so far back in the day for the Walkers either when they needed hard cash, or a "Negro" just would not behave).


*  Mule train because by then the Mississippi was held and patrolled and held by the Union all the way down to New Orleans.

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