The Drive-By Truckers‘ Patterson Hood called for a reclamation and celebration of Southern heritage, minus the Confederate battle flag and all it represents, in an insightful, biographical essay for The New York Times Magazine.
A native of Florence, Alabama, Hood grew up in a traditional, conservative community known as The Shoals that was steeped in the region’s musical history. W.C. Handy called it home, Sam Phillips hailed from a town nearby and Hood’s father, David, played bass in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, which recorded countless soul and R&B hits at FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
“Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, the Staple Singers, Bobby Womack and many other African-American artists crossed racial barriers and recorded classic music with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who happened to be white,” Hood wrote. “Together, they recorded landmark hits that were the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Hood recalled how these experiences shaped his father’s view of the world, and noted the progressive streak of his grandparents and great-uncle. Yet amongst their stories of the Depression were tales about Hood’s great-great-grandfather, a non-slave-owning Confederate soldier who fought at Shiloh to protect his land from invaders.
Despite these stories, and coming of age in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, Hood admitted his young-adult concerns were more frivolous (girls, rock concerts). The Confederate flag could be seen as a backdrop at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, “but beyond that it wasn’t really anything any of us thought much about at the time.”
But as he got older and began writing songs, Hood started dissecting what he called “the duality of the Southern thing” on “The Southern Thing,” off Drive-By Truckers’ beloved 2001 LP, Southern Rock Opera.
“The album,” Hood wrote, “wrestled with how to be proud of where we came from while acknowledging and condemning the worst parts of our region’s history.” Still, his lyrics were often misconstrued, and at DBT shows, fans would wave Confederate flags during “The Southern Thing.” The band rarely plays it now for that reason.
Hood closed out his essay lauding the South Carolina legislature for voting to remove the Confederate flag from the state house after the racially motivated shooting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. He said he hoped other states would follow suit, and that the tired, ineffective argument “heritage, not hate” would fall away, too.
“If we want to truly honor our Southern forefathers, we should do it by moving on from the symbols and prejudices of their time and building on the diversity, the art and the literary traditions we’ve inherited from them,” Hood wrote, adding: “It’s time to quit rallying around a flag that divides. And it is time for the South to — dare I say it? — rise up and show our nation what a beautiful place our region is, and what more it could become.”