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Weep No More, My Lady
Author: W.E. Debnam
Publisher: The Graphic Press, Raleigh, North Carolina
Discovered at: Thrift store
The Cover Promises: A chivalrous Southern gentleman considers Eleanor Roosevelt’s remarks concerning “poverty and unhappiness” beneath the Mason Dixon Line. Also: It is chivalrous and gentlemanly to depict Mrs. Roosevelt as a hideous bucktoothed crone.
Representative Quotes: “In the case of Harlem and those slums in the back yard of the Capitol in Washington, you can’t escape it even if you close your eyes. They smell to high heaven” (page 11); “No one can visit the south today — that is, no one who keeps his eyes open — and not be profoundly impressed with the economic and intellectual renaissance going on” (page 46).
In 1950, noted firebrand Eleanor Roosevelt penned a newspaper column about a trip she had recently taken to North Carolina. After musing over the charm of magnolias and the “lavender-and-old-lace feeling that still exists there,” the Yankee doyenne rained down with pure rhetorical hell:
But underneath it all, I’m not so sure that there are not signs of poverty and unhappiness that will gradually have to disappear if that part of the nation is going to prosper and keep pace with the rest of it.
Deeply shaken, journalist W.E. Debnam knew he must do what any southern gentleman would: take to the airwaves to denounce a widow-woman. The resulting broadcasts proved so popular that Debnam collected them into this book, Weep No More, My Lady, a polemic railing against those who would dare suggest that life down south circa 1950 was not an egalitarian paradise.
North v. South: Debnam pulls the talk-radio trick of arguing against everything except what his opponent actually said:
She joins instead that great claque of holier-than-thou reformers that persists in painting the South as a backward land peopled in the main by low-browed hoodlums smelling of lavender and old lace and sniffing away on magnolia blossoms and shuffling along the street with a mint julep in one hand and a bull whip in the other going some place to lynch some Negro who, if he got his just deserts, would be elected governor.
From there, he bitches about Reconstruction, complains that “Negros” elect crooks, points out the poverty in northern slums, and insists that any unbiased visitor to the South “can see instances without number of Negro men and Negro women living in peace and dignity with their white neighbors.”
He is adamant that white Southerners aren’t racist, yet he can’t resist asides like this:
[President] Johnson was no match for the diabolical plotting of that evil old man who was Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania, actual head of the Republican party, who spent his days plotting new indignities for the South he hated with a consuming passion and his nights with his mulatto mistress.
In short, this is Randy Newman’s “Rednecks” puffed up to book length.
Shocking Detail: By all evidence, Weep No More struck a nerve, especially . Debnam ran through four printings in just months, and this particular copy contains anecdotal testament to the book’s power: an undated letter from a Joe Pickard to a Mrs. Woodson.
Consider Pickard’s touchiness. “Some of us in the south are a little slow,” he writes, demonstrating that same missing-the-point, anti-elitist bent trucked in by Debnam in the 50’s and most talk radio today. Mrs. Roosevelt never said that Southerners were slow. Or that they were “low-browed hoodlums.” But it was certainly easier to rail at some phantom snobbery than to consider her point… that a tradition of injustice might be causing the hold up with that whole South-will-rise-again thing.
Highlight: Any spin through the AM dial will reveal that the argumentative techniques pioneered by Debnam are still angering up our Woodsons and Pickards. Besides “Attacking Your Opponent’s Social Milieu Instead of Your Opponent’s Argument,” “Pretending Your Opponent Called You Names Your Opponent Never Did,” and “Never Under Any Circumstances Recognizing Your Own Contradictions,” Debnam led the way in:
Pretending Your Opponent is to Blame for the Problem: Debnam blames “poverty and unhappiness” squarely on the North: “Southern economy had been wrecked along with Southern hopes by General Grant and a lot of other men in Federal blue. They ganged up on us and beat us by weight of numbers. The South hasn’t always been poor, Mrs. Roosevelt.”
Then, Pumping the Problem Up With Biblical Overstatement: Debnam claims the South has been ravaged by five horsemen of the Apocalypse. (“You smile, perhaps, when we say ‘five’ and mark us down as just another illiterate Southerner who doesn’t have sense enough to know the Prophet John only mentioned four in his Book of Revelation.”) Besides War, Famine, Death, and the Conquerer, Debnam adds Fear:
“It’s a fear that you and your forebears north of the Mason-Dixon line have never experienced. It’s the Fear of defenseless men facing a foe who strikes by stealth, not against one’s own person, but against the person of his loved ones and the sanctity of his home.”
Then, Pretending There Isn’t a Problem At All: “Did you realize, Mrs. Roosevelt, that since 1939 this South you weep for — this South that makes you sad because it’s so poor and unhappy — has increased its per capita income by 236 per cent as compared to an increase of only 183 per cent by the rest of the country?”
And All the While Ignoring the Real Point In Favor of Pointing Out “Hypocrisy”: Also known as the Al Gore’s Jet Defense. Debnam attacks Congressman Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.:
Junior, so we understand, didn’t go to the public schools in New York State along with the other little white and Negro children. Junior went to swanky private schools where no little Negro boys or girls were admitted.
More interesting is his discussion of Mrs. Roosevelt’s all-black White House staff of almost 20 years earlier. Debnam quotes the Roosevelts’ housekeeper: “Mrs. Roosevelt and I agreed that a staff solid in one color works better in understanding and maintains a smoother-running establishment.” Clearly, this disqualifies the former first lady from criticizing southern poverty.
And Finally, When There’s Nothing Left to Say, Calling Your Opponent a Socialist: To pad things out, Debnam throws in a poem.
We can only surmise that Debnam eventually found his way to the Republicans. Perhaps we’ll find out when your Crap Archivist gets around to his thrift-store copy of Then My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!, Debnam’s 1955 attack on Brown v. Board of Education. (The curious might find the answer in East Carolina University’s Debnam Manuscript Collection.)
Until then, all you real Democrats keep on plowing! And don’t take no guff from uppity widows!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 15, 2009
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