In my JOUR318 Literature of Journalism class, I gave an in-class writing assignment that Rick Bragg once brought into my class when I was teaching in New Orleans. It starts with the prompt “I come from the kind of place where. . .” Here’s what I wrote:
I come from the kind of place where the boys would gather after school behind the billboard draped in kudzu to watch two toughs settle matters between them. One of the toughest I knew showed me a switchblade he owned, but this wasn’t the type of fellow any of the rest of us wanted to imitate or accept. With grease-combed hair and leather jacket, he was an apostle of a figure we had all listened to, the angel-eyed Eros of Tupelo. But the rest of us were limited in fashion and fate by our two-parent Southern families and their sound investment in Coca-Cola stock and membership in Rotary and the Junior League. The neighborhood was the kind of place where the secret violence of alligator snapping turtles lay hid in the muck at the bottom of the duck pond across the street from our magnolia-enshrouded Depression-era house, the way the dismemberment of Sam Hose 50 years earlier by a Coweta County lynch mob lay hid beneath our Buckhead pleasantries. When Flannery O’Connor lived one year in Atlanta at age 13, she lived at 2525 Potomac Ave. in my neighborhood, walking past that duck pond to Christ the King Catholic Church. It was the kind of place, in the 60s, where our public schools remained leprous white well-nigh until the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the deployment of armored tanks in the streets of burning American cities. No such trouble here in Atlanta’s Buckhead, although by the time I graduated from North Fulton High – where O’Connor and James Dickey once walked the halls around the same time circa 1938 – a single black face appeared in the 1969 yearbook on the page of seniors on which my wry smile and black-tie pose appeared.