I reviewed Bess Lomax Hawes’ memoir, Sing It Pretty, in an earlier post but saved this bit for today. She was one of the organizers of the Bicentennial Festival in Washington DC in 1976.
       “My private and particular memory of the summer, though, was the Fourth of July—Independence Day—which was celebrated by a major opening-time hoo-ha down at the Lincoln Memorial. A crowd of important speakers was supposed to herald the occasion, and major press coverage was predicted. I had been to such affairs before, so I kept to my usual routine of festival program-visiting, starting at the less crowded end, the Regional America area, where that week the traditional arts of the southern states were being presented. I walked up to its outdoor stage and saw nobody on the stage or in the audience, but then I began to hear a thin piping and a couple of drums. I had heard this distinctive homemade music before on several Caribbean islands and in some southern states.
        “Then three black gentlemen, in their clean work clothes, walked in line out onto the big stage, one playing a battered bass drum, one a snare drum, and the third a cane fife that he had carved himself back in northern Mississippi, where they had played mostly at country dances. They had been at the festival several days, and I had heard them often. But this morning they looked incredibly like the Spirit of ’76, and they were playing not their usual dance tunes but “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” They stood all by themselves on the big stage, and I sat all by myself in the empty audience seats with tears running down my face while they played—in good African American style—that grand old song over and over and over again until they decided it had been well and truly played. Then they marched back to the place where they had come from. I had been the only person to hear them, but I don’t think they especially cared. And I sat there thinking: you know, the folks really always know what to do. I have never forgotten that.”
From Sing it pretty: a memoir by Bess Lomax Hawes, 1921-2009. University of Illinois Press, 2008.
The book is full of great stories. I recommend it to anybody interested in folklore,  children, singing, or feisty women.
And here’s a letter from my father to the editor of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, March 3, 1954.
Dear Sir:
    With the emphasis on statistics that is the rage today in some of our journals--so many tons of steel, so many bathtubs, telephones, kilowatts and so forth--to elevate us by comparison with the “lesser breeds’ of earth, it might be well to take a second look at our history with relation to these gadgets.
    Before our first ton of steel was produced in 1887, we had pretty well hammered out our national philosophy, established our traditions, produced nearly all of our saints and some of our very best sinners, and established our nation as one of the most loved and respected among those who enjoyed or cherished liberty and democracy. At this benighted time in our history there were no phones, kilowatts, movies, refrigerators, radios, television sets, airplanes or deep freezes, and plumbing was very scarce, and very, very primitive.
    I lived at the edge of this disappearing hardy America a half century ago, and have always treasured our early American history. So it occurs to me, reasoning from our national experience, that some of the poeple now struggling, without benefit of bathtubs, against endless oppression and abysmal want, may be reenacting those episodes in our own history by which we established our nation with revolutionary action, and hammered out our concepts of freedom and law with internal strife sometimes mounting to civil war.
    And Mr. Dulles notwithstanding, these peoples may be in that grand age in which nations produce their Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Lincolns.
    Consecration may not be, in 1954, as much an America monopoly as are deep freezes and television.
        Yours sincerely
            William Reynolds
©2010 by Nancy Schimmel
“The Spirit of  ‘76” by
Archibald McNeal Willard (1836-1918). The painting was first called “Yankee Doodle.”
Sunday, July 4, 2010