This South
A Poem by Ramona Hyman

(1)

Angular in vision
Feminine in aura
Masculine in concept
Fundamental in landscape

A pointed land
Language folk speaking
Tongues of a secret ambiguity

(anchored)

On a fragmented landscape

(a canvas)

Layered on a black man’s hands crooning
‘Cause white boys churning blues from guitars now.

This is the South
Green grass
Stretched like lace along a
Mississippi trail
The men
The women whose slurred speech
‘Whipped the back of
My grandpapa’s papa
My grandmama’s mama
Wave to me as if
I am their own

It is a choral of waves
Miscengenated voices
Of boys and girls she milked
Of boys and girls she birthed then sold.

(2)

Parlay on a promise
The orange rind feet
Making tracks
Peel sweat
Into my palms

I still see them hanging,
Dried leaves
Dripping from trees

death be like life, you know
but turned backwards
like smiling when your heart be frowning

I still feel them wading,
Swans paddling towards
A Northern star

death be like life, you know
but turned backwards
like smiling when your heart be frowning

I still smell them burning in Mississippi
The stench of people whose graves are etched
In cotton balls
Call out to me
Because I am their own

They tell me:
"wear de South
on your lapel for honor child
I earn it for you. "

By Ramona L. Hyman


Today is January 31,1999. Tomorrow, 12:01 a.m., February 1 begins the month-long celebration of African-American history. As I sit leafing through my journals, I realize I am old enough to have memories. I remember the story, though beautifully silent, of how my parents conceived me. I remember how they patiently nurtured me, how they taught me to be gracious to strangers, to be fair, to be human. And too, I remember how in wisdom they taught me to cherish my history, and so today as February 1 approaches, I find myself in a glorious state of remembrance. I am of remembering Alabama’s jagged moments in history, moments that scroll the wall of the American historical narrative.

I am remembering the Scottsboro boys. Those boys were accused of raping two white girls in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. Them boys, as history has recorded, didn’t rape them girls. They were just riding a train; they were just having them some fun, but they didn’t know that black boys couldn’t have no fun down in Alabama in 1931.

I am remembering Johnnie Carr. She is a woman who lives in Montgomery, AL. She is one of the icons of Alabama’s Civil Rights history; she marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For me, southern mothers like Johnnie Carr and Rosa Parks (the mother of the Civil Rights Movement) and Virginia Durr (Caucasians were part of the Civil Rights Movement also) are portraitures of the black woman Taylor Branch describes in his book Parting the Waters. They are symbols of the African-American women and men who said during the Montgomery bus Boycott of 1955 ". . .I’m gonna keep on walking and if my feet get tired, I’m gonna crawl.. . ."And they did crawl. Even in moments when they did not know that bus segregation in Montgomery would be abolished.

I am remembering the four little girls murdered (yes they were murdered) at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on a Sunday morning in 1963. I think of them often: Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, and CaroleRobertson. How ironic! They were dressed in white ". . .from head to toe." on the Sunday they were burned. Their innocence was demonized because they were born with the beautiful hue of my own skin: brown.

I feel them burning, brown leaves dripping the agony racism causes as they scream...and I hear their voices shouting to all of us:

Wear out memories on your lapels Alabamians.
Do tell the children our names.
What happened to us must never happy again.
Do tell the children our names...

Today I am remembering an icon of Alabama’s literary history, the late Margaret Walker Alexander. A Birmingham girl, I see her walking into the classroom of another literary icon, Sonia Sanchez. I watch her smile as she gracefully begins to read from her poem "For My People."


"...for my people..." I am one of Margaret Walker’s people, so are you.

I am remembering how Alabama has played a critical part in framing the African-American historical narrative. It’s a didactic narrative of sturdy struggle and ultimate survival. It is who we are as Alabamians. It hasn’t been all good. But it is who we are. It has taught us lessons; it has given us the desired decency to live together, to dream the dreams that Martin Luther King articulated, to pray the prayers shivering from my grandmother lips. It is the thing that keeps us singing those freedom songs. It is the thing that keeps us drinking lemon; it is the thing that keeps us walking barefoot in the red clay.

I am proud! I will wear Alabama’s history -all of it- on my lapel for honor. I hope you all do the same.

I am remembering the lyrics sung. Lyrics like "What a fellowship; what a joy divine" I am humming "We Shall Overcome." And we did. That is stream of silver in this jagged history: As Alabamians we have and are overcoming.