What It’s Like to Grow Up in the South & Write About It
In the 1980s, which is when I first noticed “C.S.A.” in film credits at the end of a movie, I asked myself, “Why is someone from the Confederate States Army consulting on this film? In any case, they’re all long dead—the last Confederate veteran died in the 1950s. … Maybe for D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which came out in 1915. … But now?”
I now know that C.S.A.—in addition to meaning Confederate States Army—can also mean: Casting Society of America—the casting society of more than 700 casting directors for film, television and theater. And I’ve discovered that The Free Dictionary on the Internet lists 352 alternative meanings for “CSA.”
So why, from all of these, did I pick Confederate States Army as the meaning for me?
The first time I saw C.S.A. was on the bronze plaques that had been placed on the graves of the Confederate veterans who were buried in Llano Cemetery in Amarillo, Texas, where I grew up. The Daughters of the Confederacy put them there to honor the founding fathers of the City of Amarillo, all of whom were veterans of “The War of Northern Aggression” (a.k.a. “The American Civil War”).
When I was growing up in Amarillo in the 1940s and 1950s, Memorial Day was always on May 30. And the people of the Panhandle of Texas still appended “Confederate” to the name—calling it, “Confederate Memorial Day.” And on that day, when I went with my family to Llano Cemetery to place flowers on the graves of family and friends, I always beheld a sea of Confederate Battle Flags—the “Stars and Bars”—marking the graves of scores of veterans of the C.S.A. … No Yankee “Stars and Stripes”—no American flags—were to be seen anywhere!
In my novels, I explore the ways in which the symbols and memories of the Old South have influenced me—to this day. How do I see people as a result of growing up when and where I did? How do I interpret American history? How to I see people who are not white like I am? Where do I stand on the issue of removing Confederate flags and Confederate statues from public places? (There is still an imposing granite statue of a Confederate soldier standing guard over ten-acre Ellwood Park in the center of Amarillo.)
I have lived in California since 1971. But when I began writing my novels in 2014, why did I automatically set them in the Texas Panhandle in the 1950s—pondering the issue of interracial marriages, among other issues that are so important to white Southerners?
In addition to my reading “C.S.A.” as “Confederate States of America,” what other things are buried in my subconscious mind from having grown up in the South before the Civil Rights Movement?