Thursday, April 11, 2024

Web Log for 4.10.24

Glyphosate Awareness 

Certainly subject to criticism for being too general; still, a serious scientific report:

Local Stuff 

When you ask about fare and schedule information for most US cities, you are asked for the state, because so many US city names have been used more than once. Bristol used to be especially annoying in my travelling days. "Bristol is on the Virginia-Tennessee border. I don't know which side of State Street you're on this year. Bristol is Bristol." "Do you mean Bristol, Tennessee, or Bristol, Pennsylvania, or..." One reason why I'd failed to form the habit of always specifying which state a city is in may be that I grew up near Kingsport, Tennessee. There is only one Kingsport in the United States. Though arguably the better known town of that name is in the gross-out horror fiction that inspired "transhumanism."

The king of England never claimed a particular port, it seems, possibly because his official titles referred to five ports. The name of Kingsport was registered only when one or more of the early residents whose name inspired my screen name had a vision of the territory around the Netherland Inn becoming a city some day. At the time river shipping was the most efficient means of transportation, and small ships could go as far up the Holston River as the Netherland Inn, where goods used to be auctioned off from the balcony. Including slaves. 

Hill farmers did not have a great need for slaves. There was still a good deal of wilderness for slaves to hide in, if they wanted to try living on their own. There were Cherokees who had defied orders to move west, some of whom were rumored to help slaves escape just to spite the White government, and hill farmers who agreed with most of the world that ten years, if not seven or even five, was long enough for anybody to be a slave. The Gibson and Collins families on Newmans Ridge, a few days' backpacking from Kingsport, notoriously didn't care what people looked like. Records were easy to lose. 

Today Kingsporters of any ethnic type...probably have no ancestral connection to any of this, because Kingsport was still a few hill farms separated by wilderness into the early twentieth century. Very few of the families in Kingsport are "old." If current residents' ancestors were in Kingsport before 1860 they probably prefer not to discuss the history of slavery in detail. Oral history tends to blur when documents would have disproved a story that was working for somebody and were, consequently, lost. Sources disagree; one seems as reliable, or unreliable, as another. 

Many Black and White Americans used to believe that interracial sex was a perversion.  Some claimed to believe it was specifically forbidden by the Bible, though in Bible days the concern was about intermarriage with people who looked and spoke very much like ancient Israelites, who belonged to the cults that "passed children through the fire"; when people actually wanted to join the Israelites, the book of Ruth tells us, they were accepted; Ethiopians, who looked different from the Israelites, were seen as exotic, and respected--Moses himself married an Ethiopian. In the United States there were several documented "triracial communities." Even outside those groups a lot of people in the Southern States have a biracial or triracial look. Some memorably bad fiction has been written exaggerating what happened when a White person ignored warnings that "that friend of yours may look White, but s/he's not White." In historical fact it seems not to have been very difficult for multiethnic people to pass as White, or as Black, depending on which side of town they wanted to move into. I know of no nineteenth century precedent for the song linked below, but in the early twentieth century such a thing could have happened.

How much has this to do with Bob Dylan's peculiar choice of a storyline for this song? Dylan wrote songs for a living and probably got the plots from novels or movies, and used the names of real historical characters in songs that were fiction, too. The historical question here is not whether this song is historical fact--it's not--but whether Dylan knew anything at all about Kingsport in the real world when he wrote it. I don't know. Maybe some reader knows.

No comments:

Post a Comment