I gather that there is a debate in process as to whether to re-release the 1946 Disney movie, Song of the South, which features the kindly African American, Uncle Remus, who relates Br’er Rabbit stories to white children. One of the unforgettable songs from that movie was a prize winner — Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. The following websites detail the specifics:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncle_Remushttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncle_Remus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncle_Remus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah_%28song%29

Hearing an npr discussion last night of the pros and cons of bringing back this considered to be racist movie took me back to the time of my earliest memories when I was 2 through 4. At that mid Depression time my parents had moved from New York to Connecticut, first settling into a two family house on Pleasant Street in West Hartford — the last built up street to the west prior to a reservoir and then Oakland Gardens, a poor folks village, that preceded the more prosperous Farmington (home of fashionable Miss Porters School for Girls and my grandmother Kent and her cousin Bess Luce — mother of Henry, co-founder of Time Inc.) where we eventually moved.

Back to our first home on Pleasant Street, which must have been built up as a series of homes just prior to the Depression, an anomaly in our back yard between Pleasant Street and the previous one to the east was what must have been an original house — more a shack in its simplicity where lived Bert, an elderly African American. He, as well as the house, was anomalous, as Hartford, itself, was a segregated city with its African American ghetto buried in its depths — as I discovered a few years later as a boy scout delivering bundles of collected newspapers to a warehouse in it for the WW2 war effort.

Bert I met while exploring as a 3-year-old our back yard which connected with his garden and he became a kindly figure in my life as he worked on his plantings there. He told me stories and once bandaged my dog, a Boston bull terrier, which had cut it leg on a broken milk bottle. Bert gently urged me not to tease my dog — I would tie him up in odd places under a chair or whatever. My life-long sense gained from Bert was of kindliness and wisdom about the way life should be lived — a lesson that impacts on 3-year-olds who are just beginning to be socialized. One time Bert teased my mom as he was digging up worms in his garden by suggesting to me that I tell her that worm pies were absolutely delicious — she demurred.

Jumping into other worlds, my mother-in-law was one of my dearest friends as well as a college dean and a civil rights activist. Near the end of her life I found her one evening on national news TV protesting the murder of a civil rights leader. She had been the last child of seven of a FFV (First Families of Virginia) which had held various political offices in Virginia and other states and her family had owned a few slaves. I remember her telling us that the older African American woman who had cared for her as a child had persuaded her by her example and kindness that racism was wrong.

And so it goes — the uncle Remus and Br’er Rabbit stories are totally engaging, if racist from an adult perspective. For children, perhaps they carry an entirely different message? Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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