Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be

Steven Hale
5 min readFeb 14, 2020
Bryant’s Minstrels (without blackface). Photo: Library of Congress

Unless you’re a white southerner.

Have you ever returned to a place from your childhood? Chances are, the present reality seemed smaller, duller, less magical. Thomas Wolfe told us “You Can’t Go Home Again.” But he was wrong, and as a white southerner, he should have known better.

You can go home again — if your present and your past are both illusions.

My sixth-grade music teacher, Miss Brownie Brown (her nickname had nothing to do with her pinkish-white skin tone — after all, the South is the Land of Illusions) would visit once a week. She’d preface our singing with a simple catechism: “Who was the greatest composer who ever lived?” And the auditorium would echo with “Stephen Foster!” Then we’d launch into a festival of his tunes, like “O Susanna,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” and “Ol’ Black Joe.” Little white children indoctrinated with songs about places, times, and people they never knew — and that never existed, at least as portrayed.

One song from these performances (not by The Greatest Composer Who Ever Lived) stayed with us through high school, the “unofficial national anthem of the Confederate States”: “Dixie.” If you grew up south of the Mason Dixon Line, you’ve probably heard it a few million times, but probably not in the original dialect Miss Brownie Brown taught us. Here’s the first verse and chorus (I won’t persecute you with the other two verses):

I wish I was in de land ob cotton,
Old times dar am not forgotten,
Look away! Look away!
Look away! Dixie Land!
In Dixie Land whar I was born in,
Early on one frosty mornin’;
Look away! Look away!
Look away! Dixie Land!

Den I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand
to lib and die in Dixie;
Away, Away, Away down South in Dixie;
Away, Away, Away down South in Dixie.

Source: from The Assembly Hymn and Song Collection: designed for use in chapel, assembly



Steven Hale

Music: Discovering the lost and forgotten. Politics: Exposing injustice. Screenwriting: Emotional storytelling.