By JP Davis
I was born into a very privileged life. Many people are unlike me and do not have it as easy as I do. This is very important to recognize.
Before me, and before most of my white family, there was a particular white man named Henry Taunton, or Ellaway, son of Anthonnie, born in Bath, Somerset, England, 1627. He settled in North Carolina and had a son when he was 89. He named this son Henry Taunton II.
Henry II had Henry III, and Henry III had Henry IV.
Henry IV had Henry V, aka Henry Jackson “Jack” Davis Taunton. Coincidentally, my first family dog was named Henry and my second family dog was named Jack. More so, my last name is Davis.
So there were a lot of Henrys. The Taunton family moved to Talapoosa, Alabama, where they started being more creative with their names of their male children. Joe Cephus Taunton was born in 1881.
Joe Cephus was the grandfather of Nellie Joe Greer, my sweet grandmother who still lives in Alabama. She says she once remembers as a kid watching her grandfather pack for a trip. He placed his neatly folded Klansman robe in the suitcase first and all his other clothes atop.
It is not much of a surprise that her grandfather was involved with the Klan since he came from a family of soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War
My grandmother said that life growing up then was far different than it is today. She grew up in a small house with her parents and siblings. There was no indoor plumbing and not even an outhouse. They had to use the horse stall.
My grandmother said she once went out to use the stall and the family rooster started to attack her.
“Roosters attack with those big ole tallons comin’ at you first. I was in a vulnerable situation in the stall so I just started screaming,” says my grandmother. “My momma came out and hit that rooster with a pipe, and needless to say, we were having rooster for dinner that night.”
Even though my grandmother’s family was poor — relieving themselves in horse stalls and bludgeoning roosters for dinner — they still could afford help around the house.
They had a maid who was a white woman with a learning disability and a driver who was a black man.
This was considered normal.
Nellie Joe talks highly about Southern hospitality, saying her family treated their maid and driver with upmost respect.
“Everyone in the South is just nicer,” she said. “When I call my bank sometimes I get transferred to a branch in New Jersey. When that happens I hang up and call the one in town because the people in New Jersey don’t think my jokes are funny and they are mean to me.”
My grandmother has not always shown the upmost Southern hospitality toward my grandfather, as he is often at the receiving end of her rage.
“We are not going to bicker anymore,” she said. “We are just too old at this point and you really start to value every day that God gifts to you. There’s no point in fighting.”
When I asked my grandmother what she thinks about immigrants and refugees coming to the United States, she said that she loves the U.S. and thinks that it is the best country to live in.
“I just love my grandkids so much, though, and I worry about them getting shot by someone from a different country,” she said.
I think about this sentiment. I think about my grandmother’s experiences and how she said there is no point in fighting anymore. I think about the racism that is deeply engrained in my family’s roots. It is important to recognize where I came from, to further break the cycle of hatred.
I think about Southern hospitality and what that should actually mean.