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A Hurricane Barrels Up The Suwanee River
By Yoichi Shimatsu
Hurricane Idalia stormed out of the Gulf like a dark horse blazing past the herd at the Kentucky Derby. Then it was gone nearly before it was here, leaving news cameramen dazed in its wake and the national media without a stunning death count to report on to top the festival of death in Hawaii. Out to sea in the Atlantic after two days of destruction, the speed of passage enbaled coastal residents to evacuate in an orderly procession and return to assess property damage, in sharp contrast to the confusion that doomed the residents of Maui.
An untold narrative is how news-casters anticipated visual images of mayhem whereas the non-lethal passage of Idalia did not result in lethal destruction. (Greek-origin name translates as the temple or image of the mind, referring to the ancient Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love on the island of Cyprus.) Ever hopeful for a greater than lesser death toll, the major news corporations were in search for an means to discredit Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis. Unfortunately for the liberal scare-mongers, a non-lethal Idalia swept past innocently, unlike the firestorm that discredited the Democrat governor of Hawaii, a staunch Obama-Biden ally for his mishandling and negligence that worsened the destruction of Lahaina, Maui. The Biden lackey media pundits failed to get their cheap shot at DeSanto, thanks to the adorable Aphrodite!
As Idalia churned along its northward progress like an old paddle-wheel boat, the news channels posted their camera crews on the anticipated impact zone at Florida’s Big Bend, which on the map visually looks more like an armpit. Early on, landfall was anticipated at the densely wooded Cedar Key peninsula, location of a national wild bird sanctuary. As Idalia steered a degree more toward the north, D-Day was relocated to Keaton Beach. These spots are ideal for video scene of angry waves pounding the shore, terrifyingly dramatic footage. Unfortunately, the newsroom producers were clueless, or deliberately evasive, as to the coming storm surge along the most important national legacy located between those two blips on the GPS map.
That hallowed site is marked by a sheer white sandbar, the last stop for kayakers and boaters at the mouth of the legendary Suwanee River. Upstream after the bend is the village of Suwanee with its front-yard tie-ups for fishing boats. Once a prime attraction on the Gulf of Mexico for sport fishermen, the town has diminished into obscurity due to the devastation caused by the legendary Hurricane Andrew in 1997 and later the local economy was hit by the tourism hiatus during two years of lockdown.
In terms of meteorology and weather science, the mouth of the Suwanee had scientific importance in relation to Idalia because from there an observer could witness the hurricane-driven rise of the river as the stormy waves plowed in reverse, moving upstream. Then again, the global warming ideologues have no genuine interest in actual environmental phenomena because they are propagandists of the global warming scam and lobbyists on the payroll of the global nuclear-energy industry. Besides, a river flowing backwards lacks the entertainment value of the property destruction cherished by the major TV networks in the ratings race and also by the major real estate interests.
By contrast, my memory of the waterway better known as the Swanee in the song “Old Folks at Home” is of a River of Music beloved by billions of people worldwide. My own awareness of that tune, also known as “Swanee River”, was due to the Kentuckian General Douglas MacArthur, who ordered the Armed Forces in Japan radio channel to broadcast it, along with “My Kentucky Home”, to millions of Japanese struggling for basic survival in the wake of a devastating Pacific War. To heal broken hearts, the corncob pipe-smoking wartime victor knew that songs of the South could ease the pain of loss for the defeated Japanese, thereby establishing an emotional bridge of understanding with their erstwhile enemy, the American people. The pre-Civil War songbook of composer Stephen Foster remains to this day the most familiar musical lyrics to the global public on all continents and islands worldwide.
Up River without a Paddle
In reverse direction from “way ‘down’ upon the Swanee River”, a northward journey upriver (as I’ve driven several times) crosses I-10, meanders past a summer camp dedicated to group singing of Foster’s songs in chorus and by a campfire. The wilder stretch past the town of Lee reveals a riverbed that is tangled with gnarly roots and weeds due to the region’s rural population decline.
During the era of Spanish control of Florida, the riverine region was once the most inhabited part of the peninsula. That now-obscure native Indian tribe was, however, forcibly removed by the colonial-era friars to serve as gardeners for the abbey at Saint Augustine, the old fortress port midway between today’s Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. Then following a plague in Cuba, the entire Suwanee tribe was dispatched to Cuba to work the sugarcane fields, never to return to their homeland. In the actual historical record, as well as Foster’s fictive account, the Suwanee was reduced to a dream of a magical stream of melody.
Other than the Rio Grande in Texas, the Suwanee is the southernmost major river in the USA, slightly below the latitude of the mouth of the Mississippi. Its remote geographic reach into the Deep South and exotic name comprise the probable reasons for why Foster chose it for the song’s title against better-known southern rivers plied by riverboats. The vision of a secret stream passing a special sanctuary in the heart still resonates in the lyrics: “All the world is sad and dreary, Everywhere I roam, O dear ones, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home.” This memorable song has had significance for my own geographic exploration of Foster’s legacy, particularly in connection with “Camptown Races” discussed further along in this essay.
Hurricane Idalia ran true to the spirited song when its upstream swell pushed through the banks of the Suwanee into Georgia’s Okefernokee swamp. To have been on a storm-propelled canoe while whistling the Camptown tune, what a thrilling ride that would have been! Worth every bit of the risks involved, but not every idle dream comes true, sadly. My outdoors adventures on the run as a rude and intrusive investigative journalist are more in tune with the banjo-plucking theme of “Deliverance”.
The Kentucky Home
Foster, a native of Pittsburg, PA, never traveled farther south than Bardstown, Kentucky, (slightly south of the Ohio River and Louisville) to visit socially prominent relatives who owned a plantation there (Bardstown is also the bourbon distilling capital of America), one reason why a present-day woke academia has scrubbed Foster’s society-challenging lyrics off the historical record. For the self-appointed censors, the simplicity of silence or the noise of hiphop is far better than a complicated truth. Yes, to the horror of the BLM arsonists and rioters, there were slaves on that plantation, OMG!
The curators of the Old Kentucky Home make no attempt to hide the facts and have preserved the site of the slave quarters, which convey the sense of community among the black cooks, maids, liverymen and farm-workers, who drew the admiration of northerner Foster for their social solidarity and sense of kinship, the essential human qualities.
In the same lyrical vein as “Old Folks”, the Kentucky home is recalled in the memories of a former resident who is sold as a laborer to a sugarcane plantation, presumably in Louisiana, where the sweaty humid weather and dark skies are dominated by frequent storms much like Idalia. “The head must bow and the back will have to bend, Wherever the darky may go; A few more days, and the trouble all will end, In the field where the sugar-canes grow.” Could that have been a protest against enslavement? Your college history professor probably claims it’s an endorsement of the Confederacy.
The fear of impending death by overwork and exposure to a harsh climate weighed heavily on the minds and souls of black folk due to the brute labor required for sugar production in contrast to the family-involved activity of picking cotton and feeding their community. There was a wide difference between working for a genteel household versus harsh labor exploitation in industrial agriculture. (For today’s politically correct academic know-nothings, who’ve never done a lick of agricultural work, it’s all the same sin of slavery.) The contrasting experiential impressions between different types of jobs was also a factor for white sharecroppers, industrial workers and even those in the entertainment trades, for instance between a talented piano player and a cook sweating over a wood-fired stove. And this is why Foster’s lyrics drawn from the misery and hopes of black slaves, the lowest of the low, so resonated among the working-class whites across antebellum America. Labor conditions and contract terms were the major grievance of a majority of the population during an era of technological change and movement of laborers across the continent. (This still holds true, even under conditions of relative privilege, as seen in the actors strike against Hollywood producers.)
False Abolitionism of the North
Generations of Americans have been drilled in school and by recent Hollywood movies on the moral goodness of an abolitionist North versus and evil slave-holding South. This one-sided sentiment led to a de facto censorial ban against Margaret Mitchell’s novel “Gone with the Wind” and the Zanuck movie of the same title. The removal of GOTW from library shelves is, indeed, the “ethical” standard of woke mind-cleansing for librarians, bookstores and even university literature departments, which in my humble opinion after traveling extensive throughout the South, is fascistic suppression of truth-telling from radically different perspectives about the American past.
The novel by a post-bellum female reporter for the Atlanta Journal does explain the loyalty felt by many slaves to their patrons and the tenacity to the old order even during Sherman’s devastating march to the sea, which brought starvation, deprivation and premature death to thousands of black slaves, a fact conveniently omitted from the pro-northern historical account. In every major upheaval since Homer’s tale of the Trojan War, there have been two sides to every legend, if we are to be truthful about decisions, events, circumstances, personalities and memory.
The hypocrisy of the industrializing North in its civil war against a rural South can still be blatantly seen in those parts of Georgia where the victorious Union partitioned entire regions into cantons separated by demolished roads and barriers of man-made forests, the same sort of divide-and-rule social reorganization as attempted at the Berlin Wall in the latter days of the Soviet Union.
America’s woke generation is as brain-washed, indeed more than fanatic Chinese youths during the Cultural Revolution, the latter which to its credit did not encourage the castration of boys for gender transformation. What’s happening in American education is arguably the most extreme social engineering in human history, brain-washing aided by technological violence, and it is certainly not based on economic necessity or moral aptitude. I personally keep minimally five hard-bound copies of Gone with the Wind on my bookshelf to prevent in some small way its disappearance from world literature and also to read in amusement after tiring from the liberal tripe on TV.
Certainly no moral pontificator, Stephen Foster started out in early life as a hell raiser, an adolescent drinker, gambler and suitor of older women. The facts about his adolescence were methodically censored after his death by doting upper-class Pittsburgh family members. His carousing was noticed by the police, resulting in exile to a juvenile reform facility in the rural hinterland near Towanda, PA, in the forested region southeast of Elmira, New York state. Towanda is a short distance from the small and scattered community of Camptown, where I met an elderly local who possessed a local history guide from the 1970s that disclosed Stephen Foster to have been in the custody of a local juvenile detention center. Due to the benevolent philosophy of state founder William Penn, Pennsylvania’s prison system was founded on the principle of reform through work experience, so that a prison term might be socially remedial rather than a punitive condemnation of the violator.
That finding put Foster’s bouncy lyrics into clearer focus. The songwriter’s lyrics were based on his youthful experience as a prison-laborer for the log mills of Camptown. The elder resident Joe recalled his own youthful decades as a traditional logger, swinging an ax and long saw to fell hardwood trees. The massive trunks were pulled downhill one at a time by a small horse of a type that was also used for liveries, horse-drawn taxis. At the base of the hill, the logs were piled onto wagons drawn by huge Belgian horses, similar to the Budweiser teams, to one of the local sawmills.
The Camptown saw-mills were located along the Susquehanna River, where the logs were further trimmed and numbered and then pushed into the river current for the downhill journey to Scranton for allocation as railroad ties, to build canal barges and house-building. On holidays, it was the local custom to assign the smaller horses to trotting-races along the riverbanks, which were watched from the hill, by then shorn of trees, on the right bank opposite the main river road. Today, only the east-bound road survives, and I learned that the location of the remainder of the track remained a mystery, since the river’s south bank is too steep for a path due to the mountain slope.
The clue to the missing track is right there in the song: “De long tail filly and de big black hoss, Doo-dah! doo-dah! Dey fly de track and dey both cut across, Oh, doo-dah-day! De blind hoss sticken in a big mud hole, Doo-dah! doo-dah! Can’t touch bottom wid a ten foot pole, Oh, doo-dah-day!”
Aside from disclosing the familiarity of the lumberjacks and their horses, therein lies the solution to the missing road puzzle. The neck-and-neck horses “cut across” the river over a distant bridge 5-miles downstream, the halfway point in a “10 mile heat”. Then the bigger horse falls down into the caved-in track on that far-side bank to a depth of three meters, presumably below water level.
Those lyrics indicate the opposite bank of the Susquehanna was then being eroded due to the activities of the logging mills, probably from the increased pressures caused by the waterwheels that pulsated the flow, increasing erosion of the embankment, along with with further damage by logs that rammed into the slightly curved opposite bank, which tunneled into the embankment to open the vertical 10-foot hole. Doo-dah! doo-dah!
The southern black dialect, which made “Camptown Races” a standard number in the black-face Christy’s musical stage performances aka minstrel shows (a taboo subject nowadays), indicated that many of the loggers were indeed African Americans sent by their southern owners to the North on labor contracts with the northern mill owners. The Camptown experience exposes a hidden fact about indentured labor aka forced labor aka slavery in the Quaker state of Pennsylvania, the very heart of the self-proclaimed Yankee “Abolitionist” North. Labor historians, including the dominant Marxist school of antebellum studies, have studiously ignored the unashamed slavery practiced by hypocritical do-gooders in the Union stronghold states, which is all the more disturbing given the dangers of serious injury and occupational death in the logging sector. It’s high time to open the actual record on Northern enslavement of black laborers, which explains the belated issuance of the much ballyhooed Emancipation Proclamation.
Foster disclosed the positive attitudes of black slaves toward the traditional familial structure preserved on many and probably most of the plantations (which in many ways was a holdover of the tribal communalism in their native Africa). A contrast should be drawn with the ever-threatening social isolation in the post-bellum emerging industrial order, which ripped the individual from the group to perform evermore exploitative types of repetitive work. Enslavement in its former sense as a group activity, which enabled blacks to maintain a sense of familyand solidarity, was being threatened by isolation, alienation and labor competition in the emerging industrial order, which chewed up men’s strength and then spat out their broken bones like plugs of chewed tobacco.
Reconsidering Civil Rights
From this labor-based perspective on slavery, the modernizing Civil Rights movement, guided as it was by pro-industrial Marxism (The Reverend M.L. King was a pawn of the Communist Party USA, the left wing of the reforming Democrats versus its earlier Confederate manifestation), was a cog in the anti-agrarian machine, which was transforming rural America of the 1950s and ‘60s into an urban society partitioned into displaced suburbs where competitive individualism and conspicuous consumption banned and eliminated the web of social and familial relationships across American society for both blacks and whites. That displacement and new urban alienation were the essence of Maynard Jackson’s Atlanta as de facto capital, as in capitalism, of the “New South”.
The dread of rural “isolation” and the rise of individual competition in the urban economy based on salaries and purchasing power (as opposed to shared kinship relations) put blacks onto the same course of fragmentation and alienation as workingmen in the larger white society. The drive to “succeed” by gaining status symbols, from bling jewelry to new cars along with sexual exploitation of women, boys and the surgically trans-ed, is brazenly expressed in the rise of hiphop, which puts personal greed aka conspicuous consumption as the primary goal in life. When someone uses the term “black culture”, the proper response should be: “which one?”
The trend toward extreme individual competition has culminated in rampant gun violence, a permanent condition of social warfare and predation against society by looting sprees and random violence along with rape and car theft. The degeneration of community relationships into a self-centered struggle for status is celebrated by the hate-driven cancel culture, which openly promotes rioting, torching and looting at seen during the height of the Black Lives Matter criminal enterprise. The hypocrisy was ultimately expressed in the misappropriation of corporate sympathy donations that enabled the three female organizers of BLM to purchase million-dollar mansions as safe-houses for getaway from their crimes of false advertising, fraud and incitement of violence.
Idle talk about black unity has been reduced to a hustle, a sneaky scam and the new big lie, a world apart from the friendly banter and ritualized games that Stephen Foster encountered in the late stage of a slave economy. What’s evolved in the New World is not social progress but instead a reversion to the early black-on-black slave trade in colonial West Africa, selling brothers and sisters to the highest bidder, as similarly done by envious brothers to the young Jewish boy Joseph in ancient Egypt. By comparison with today’s urban mayhem, blatant robbery and murder, Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara of whites and blacks working together seems like Paradise Lost.
A close reading of Camptown Races explains the enigma of why Stephen Foster was a friend and admirer of his fellow black workingmen yet chose not to engage in the hypocrisy of abolitionism, as proven in the post-Civil War migration of poor black bachelors to the northern industrial factories, coal mines and steel mills, the death camps of the Industrial Era. (I worked at legacy steel mills aka butcher shops in Chicago’s Southside and Gary, Indiana, and survived by being aware of the extreme risks; whereas most of the other hirees were not aware or so lucky, ending up injured or dead.) Legal exploitation and extermination of expendable workers was arguably worse than the mutual obligations of plantation-owning families to provide for the well-being of enslaved families and for the Old Folks among the laboring group to ensure individual protection of unmarried slaves and polite behavior.
Reform of African American studies
What’s so absurd about ethnic studies and academic condemnation of the historical past is that moral judgement is coming from spoiled “intellectuals” who’ve never done a lick of hard work in their entire lives and certainly never toiled alongside minorities at a real down-in-the-dirt job. From this realistic perspective, the current effort by Governor Ron DeSantis to reform academia’s ideological hothouse of African American studies and other ethnic history courses is long overdue, bringing the element of economic reality into a smug, self-serving and stagnant theory, which more often than not is a justification for anti-white and anti-Asian reverse racism, which in turn promotes violent crime.
Being of Asian descent and after spending my early schooldays at at black dominant public school in the Los Angeles ghetto (experiencing a fist-fight nearly every school-day, which I had to win brutally or risk being killed), blacks are far more racially biased and prone to violence than whites, insanely hateful down into their empty souls, which doesn’t say much for what has passed for the black elite’s self-serving Civil Rights movement, sycophancy to a corrupt Democratic Party and support for countless riots and attacks on the police, including the lasting race-based damage done to Minneapolis by Black Lives Matter and the brazen store robberies by punk looters that wrecked downtown San Francisco, a devolution of civilization into the Planet of the Apes.
In Praise of Black-Face Theater
As for the black-face theater prior to and after the Civil War, which was so popular with northern liberals due to the likes of E.P. Christy and Al Jolson, a Ukrainian immigrant of Jewish origin, black entertainers would today not be enjoying the high salaries and public acclaim from American audiences, which can hardly be deemed as “racist”. Black “talents” who hypocritically profit from their own stereotypes about themselves don’t say a peep about their cowardly kinsmen’s horrific violence against the Asian elderly. Why not show how tough you are by assaulting a kung-fu club in Chinatown?
Racial pride is a double standard that cuts both ways, brother and sister, and so it’s high time to end the privileged favoritism and reverse racism by imposing a level playing field for deserving talents from all social and racial groups, without favoritism for some against the others. The same goes for Jewish domination of white roles in Hollywood. As for a black beauty like Whoopi Goldberg or her favorite public prosecutor in south Georgia Fani Willis, can anyone resurrect Al Jolson to use the crook of his cane to yank them off the national stage? Enough is enough is enough, meaning a backlash against the woke culture is brewing and coming on strong, if you haven’t noticed lately, in the prelude to another civil war.
It all boils down to family and society, as told to me while I helped an aged black gardener at tree-trimming during my residence in Orlando. While we were up on branches with saws, he lamented that his gardening truck was stolen by his own son and a cousin to commit a robbery. “The boys pushed me aside and ran past me to take the truck without permission for their plan for criminal activity. I need that truck to pay the bills for the family. What’s this world coming to?” The old fellow, of course, had to post the bail bond and the boys, of course, never apologized for their contemptible violation against a hard-working elder. Some black lives matter while others don’t in this new world of cannibalistic predation.
Later, in the wake of the BLM riots, I volunteered to serve as the security guard for a doctors’ office complex, a prime target for looting. I spotted two pairs of spotters, two girls and two dudes, scoping out stores for that night’s planned looting spree. While I and a friend tailed them closely in a slow-moving van, neither pair dared to look sideways, disclosing their evil intentions. Our intervention scared off their controller, a big tall gangster who was cursing furiously. Later that night a station wagon stopped in front of the medical complex, and a black woman’s head popped up several times from the back seat to assess the situation, whereas I stood still as a statue while holding a six-foot long steel pipe in plain sight. When the stoplight turned green, the despicable cowards were gone for good. Appeasing punks does nothing for their proper social education or for society at large since criminal intentions should be discouraged, if only for their own benefit because what comes next on the punitive list just might be the final verdict from Saint Peter.
From the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico, our cue for racial tolerance and cross-cultural understanding should come from the soulful legacy of Stephen Foster, whose “Old Folks at Home” aka Swanee River, was the official state song of Florida until 2008, when it was replaced by a boring politically correct tune that’s never sung or even recognized by the public. It’s come time to turn back the clock to the saner norms of mutual respect, courtesy and genuine tolerance in these United States. Indeed, American culture is at stake at this desperate hour.
More important than security issues, however, is effective moral leadership as shown by the widely respected Republican governor. Ron DeSantis has proven that a policy of protection for all Floridians, regardless of race, has averted a lethal toll during the passage of Hurricane Idalia. His personal sense of social responsibility and disaster preparedness contrasts admirably as against the slow and ineffective actions of Hawaii’s Democrat governor who flubbed the Maui rescue operation that resulted in a massive loss of life and destruction of property. Little known is that DeSantis’ home in Tallahassee (the state capital) was damaged by a tree knocked down during that passing storm, but the governor remained at his post overseeing the evacuation and rescue effort for Florida residents. Foresight and courage of character during disaster is proof of genuine leadership, moral qualities sorely absent during the gloom of the failed Biden presidency that hopefully will soon be gone with the wind.