Front Porch: Spring 2012

“Satchel,” at the table where Flannery O’Connor wrote, Milledgeville, Georgia. Photo by Rob McDonald.

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Front Porch: Spring 2012

by Harry L. Watson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 18, No. 1: Spring 2012

"What happens to frontier manhood when blacks, women, and gays drink bourbon too—and white fraternity boys get stuck with Smirnoff Ice from time to time?"

The famed southern observer W. J. Cash began The Mind of the South, his classic commentary on southern white uniformity, by admitting that there are also “many Souths.” I began to learn what he meant in the summer of my eighteenth birthday when I broke out of the scrubbed affluence of my Piedmont suburb and took a summer job selling dictionaries door-to-door in rural south Alabama. This venture introduced me to the Deep South and serious poverty, and many of my customers should probably have held on to their money. The job was also tough and involved riding all over three counties on a bicycle. I was determined to finish what I started, however, so I tried not to think about the moral or physical discomforts and pressed on. I soon faced a special challenge. Freedom Summer had come and gone, but in this corner of the South, itinerant strangers still faced the legacy of outside agitators.