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Dear Southern Cousins, we didn’t forget our manners Up North…

Dear Southern Cousins, we didn’t forget our manners Up North…

Black Southern hospitality came up North a time or two. Some of our southern cousins would find it hard to believe that the thing they pride themselves for having…just didn’t show up the same way in northernmost urban centers. The kinfolk are hospitable. The kinfolk are also different.

A couple of weeks ago or so, I asked a friend – a southerner who lives Up North – did we Black Northerners seem rude. She explained yes and no. Yes, because it looked like we weren’t genuinely hospitable by southern standards. No, not really, because southern hospitality is, well, southern. “Who’d expect it to survive up here?” 

I had to tell my friend, it didn’t die. It is not extinct. It survived. It just evolved.  

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My young life was in the hands of both southerners and northerners. I was raised to be polite to all, respectful of elders, to offer visitors something to eat and drink, and leave a room when the activity and conversation took a turn to “grown.” We had ‘nice’ china and crystal as well as everyday plates and glasses. Now, we also had those plastic tablecloths with flannel on the backside but in my grandma’s chest were dozens of crocheted tablecloths and linens with matching napkins and doilies. We had the things and ways but we had something else.

Kindness. I’ve said it many times over, I come from kind people. 

Our hospitality appeared in an open door policy. We accepted drop-bys, because both of my grandparents were raised by people who didn’t mind it when family and friends just dropped by. We had family and friends who could drop by and stay as long as they wanted. They could join us for dinner. Pull up a chair. There’s room for one more. Sometimes the peace in the house allowed a relative or close friend to fall asleep, in which case, they’d be offered a bed or a blanket and pillow to catch that nap. In hindsight, my family was not only kind, they were sweet people. 

Marjory Collins Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

But they were also wise. 

We had rules. 

  1. I couldn’t let strangers in the house if no adult was there to supervise. 
  2. You could sit on the stairs of the porch, sit on the porch, but if we didn’t ‘know’ you, you were not coming inside for any reason. 
  3. When a family member died, someone from the family or church or longtime family friend sat at the house on funeral day. 

We didn’t want anyone to case our house. We would not advertise a new TV, stereo or other expensive items. My granddad would destroy the boxes beyond recognition before setting them outdoors for trash pickup. And I wasn’t allowed to talk about any new gadgets in public. 

In a nutshell, once our people moved North, they had to move differently. Generation by generation moved away from the same close circles of fellow southerners who were both family and friends. It became harder to tell who could be trusted in our homes and who could not be trusted. 

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Who’d have thought that the values of kindness and being neighborly could make you a mark and potentially get you robbed, harmed or killed? 

What worked Down South had to be adjusted Up North. 

So while we’d all love to have everyone over for lemonade and sweet tea, we know we can’t. We can’t anymore. 

That’s the evolution.

(Previously published on Sept. 09, 2022, Fresh & Fried Hard)

Robin Caldwell

Robin Caldwell is the blogger behind freshandfriedhard.com and academic researcher focusing on Black history, heritage and culture. Public historian primarily in Black American historical foodways: antebellum and regional.

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Robin Caldwell is the blogger behind freshandfriedhard.com and academic researcher focusing on Black history, heritage and culture. Public historian primarily in Black American historical foodways: antebellum and regional.

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