At the little town of Old Texas, Alabama I turned onto Route 29. I picked it because it was nothing but a thin gray line on the atlas with no towns. Somewhere around Evergreen I would have to get on a bigger highway, thick red on the map, to take me to the Florida state line above Pensacola but for now I wanted peace and quiet. Boredom can be a balm for the soul.
There is a beautiful song in Time Out of Mind I felt like I needed to hear. My niece sang it at the second wedding of her Dad, my brother. Though she practiced it over and over she became emotional and had a hard time getting the lyrics out at the wedding. So understandable. Good songs create emotion. The song I was thinking of is somewhere towards the end of the playlist. There’s only one bad song on that album and it’s the last one, easy to skip. I planned to let the lovely lyrics of that song and those before it soothe my tired brain.In late afternoon the sun behind the pines lining the Alabama road cast bands of light across the pavement, broken by smooth skinny shadows. Tall old pines shed their low branches as though they are throwing the last of their life into green boughs nearer the sky, reaching straight and tall. The Buick was rolling through shafts of bright light and dark shadow, which flickered onto the windshield, the dash and me. I drank it in. The South is so beautiful, if you don’t think about its past.
But the South, like every place in the world, can’t avoid its past. Too much happened. The atrocities that took place in the South need to be remembered, considered, and dealt with. We’ve never done that. It’s like America’s apartheid without a reconciliation process. I haven’t yet come to the end of the dark story the South that Alabamans, the rest of the country, and perhaps even I would prefer to forget. Turning our back on it would be a mistake. White America’s 21st century defense of “it wasn’t us that did those things” keeps our racist past alive, and keeps the door open to it happening again. Or has America’s mistreatment of African Americans ever really stopped? Consider this from our past.Immediately after the Civil War, in 1865, six confederate veterans formed the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee. Its first leader, or Grand Wizard, was Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is immortalized in monuments across the South. The Klan was initially made up of well-educated and comparatively wealthy white “gentlemen”; planters, lawyers, merchants, ministers, many of whom would go on to prominent careers in politics. The KKK became instantly popular. It developed a complex hierarchy with rules that resembled an army manual. Think Confederate Army. The Ku Klan Klan, and other groups like Knights of the White Camelia and Pale Faces, were decentralized but shared aims and tactics which formed a network of terrorist cells. By the 1868 presidential election those cells were working as a unified military and electoral force supporting white supremacy and politicians who advocated for it throughout the South. Hang on while I take you at break-neck speed through national politics from the end of the Civil War through the 1868 election.
· Five days after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, President Lincoln was assassinated.
· The Republican vice president replacing Lincoln, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, pledged to carry out Lincoln’s lenient plan for Reconstruction.
· Lincoln feared enforcing a punitive policy aimed at Confederate states would lead to the defeat of the Republican party, allowing Democrats to overturn the Emancipation Proclamation. Before his death he vetoed a more stringent plan which was championed by Radical Republicans and passed by Congress.
· Radical Republicans wanted to transform Southern society, disband the planter aristocracy, redistribute land, develop industry, and guarantee civil liberties for former slaves. They led efforts to impeach President Johnson, a President from their own political party.
· After a lengthy investigation the vote in the House was overwhelmingly in favor of impeachment, 126-47 (with 17 not voting). The House delivered 11 articles of impeachment to the Senate, where a two thirds majority is required to remove a president from office. The vote was 35-19 on each of three articles voted upon, one vote shy of removal.
· President Johnson served out his term, pardoning ex-confederate rebels, restoring their rights and property (except slaves) and allowing them to return to government office. He vetoed all civil rights legislation (vetoes overridden) and urged Southern states not to ratify the 14th amendment granting citizenship and due process to 4 million formerly enslaved blacks.The Republican party, after achieving the abolition of slavery, immediately backpedaled on its lenient stance of full black citizenship to remain in power in a newly constituted Congress where Southern states once again possessed important votes. Remember, our democracy was then a collection of but 27 states, 11 of them former Confederate states. Power had shifted back to an earlier time when the politics of the South had to be reckoned with. What was the political interest of the of the South? White supremacy.
My song came up while I was deep in thought about what I had learned in Montgomery. I hit replay on the CD player. Dylan’s piano kicks it off. Make you Feel My Love is a very simple song. Six 4 line stanzas, two different rhyme schemes, an instrumental bridge repeated at the end. It’s musically spare with predominantly piano and some Hammond organ in the background with a little upright bass.
I don’t know if I like the music or the lyrics more. They complement each other. It’s another one of Dylan’s sad but beautiful love songs delivered in that haunting raspy voice. I hit replay again. And again. I wanted to memorize the lyrics. Listen to the entire song if you can, the whole album for that matter. Here’s my picks for the best of Dylan’s writing within Make You Feel My Love.
When evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears,
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love.
The storms are raging on a rolling sea,
And on the highway of regret.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free,
You ain't seen nothing like me yet.
I could make you happy, make your dreams come true,
There's nothing that I would not do,
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love.
How can we as people living together on this earth be both so kind and loving, yet so hateful and murderous? It’s hard to reconcile. As much as we need to examine the dark side of our humanity I'm afraid we'll die out if we don't recognize and take in beauty wherever and whenever we find it. At least I'm afraid I will. I’m going to keep trying to do both.
…to be continued