The Deep South is a place I haven’t explored before. In my mind, it was a backwards place where the heart of slavery existed and the mindsets were still Ante-Bellum.
But something changed for me and it started with place names – warm, deep, rich, moist, mysterious, place names: Okefenokee, Mississippi, Iuka, Okeechobee, Tallahassee, Chickasawhay, Yockanookan, Tallapoosa, Tombigbee, Alabama, Palatlakaha, Econlockhatchee. The names reflect the place and are all names from the Indians* that lived there and understood the land. And I realize now that the people who live there have also come to reflect the landscape: warm, richly-accented (to me), mysterious, and not without its dangers, be they undercurrents of racism or my own prejudices.
It’s fascinating how names can reflect the landscape. Go further North and the Indian place names are harsher, more full of consonants and sharp edges: Massachusetts, Narragansett, Connecticut. And aren’t the people of New England similar? Still wonderful people, but the style is less expansive and more direct up North than down South.
There’s probably a longer chapter on this waiting to be written – but for now, I am realizing that my earlier impressions of the Deep South were biased and short-sighted and I delighted in the Southern hospitality and rich, warm accents that I encountered while I spent time in Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia. I want to go back.
* I’m not sure if the Native people prefer to be called “Native American” or “Indian,” and probably they would prefer to be called “Cherokee” or “Seminole” but I don’t have enough understanding to be that specific, so I’m going with the name of the Smithsonian Museum: Museum of the American Indian. I welcome more information.