remembering “Song of the South”

I’m thinking of one of my favorite childhood memories, as a result of the post today on Time Goes By where there are mentions of many of the songs that were the playlist for the first decade of my life.

I can remember being about 8 or 9 years old. It is a warm, sunny summer day, and my cousin Dianne and are holding hands, skipping down Chestnut Street and singing
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my what a wonderful day!
Plenty of sunshine heading my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

Mister Bluebird on my shoulder
It’s the truth, it’s actch’ll
Ev’rything is satisfactch’ll

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
Wonderful feeling, wonderful day!

It is one of those days when all seems right with the world. My cousin, ten months younger than I, is my best friend. Our mothers, who are sisters, often dress us alike. We have a close extended family. World War II is over. Rationing has finally ended, and we have just seen the Disney movie Song of the South — the first Disney movie that featured live characters interacting with animated ones.

–the simple, heart-warming story of a boy, a girl, and the person of Uncle Remus himself, who becomes a living personality. Set in the nostalgic memorable days of the late nineteenth century, the story enacted by the living players take place on a lovely Southern plantation. It is a deeply moving, romantic account of a lonely and bewildered boy, left to his own devices when his father, an aggressive Atlanta newspaper editor, is caught between domestic responsibility and political challenge

At least that’s how the Disney camp described it at the time. And, at the time, it enchanted me. Uncle Remus (the live, storytelling character) was a poor man, an old man, and a black man in a post Civil War America that offered few opportunities for him to better his life. Uncle Remus enchanted me with his humor, his compassion, his wisdom, his wonderful animal stories, his optimism.

The animal stories were conveyed in a manner in which they were not deemed as ostensibly racist by many among the audiences of the time; by the mid-20th century, however, the dialect and the “old Uncle” stereotype of the narrator, long considered demeaning by many blacks, as well as Harris’ [the author] racist and patronizing attitudes toward blacks and his defense of slavery in his foreword, rendered the book indefensible to many. Without much controversy the stories became less popular.

Several years back, some people began to think that it’s time to bring back the Song of the South, bring it to a much different audience, an audience that lived through the Civil Rights movement, an audience that celebrates Black History Month, an audience that can view the Song of the South through the lens of history.

Those who have criticized “Song of the South” have claimed that it makes slavery appear pleasant or pretends that slavery didn’t exist at all. Nevermind the film is set in the years following the abolition of slavery. I always have thought the movie offers a good, honest representation of the lives that some black Americans lived in a time that really existed.

I would love to see Song of the South again. I’d love to see it with my grandson, who has grown up without being hampered by old stereotypes. I’ll bet he would love Uncle Remus for the kind and entertaining man he is. At least he is, still, on the disintegrating film locked up somewhere in Disney’s vault.

So, I’m signing this petition to get the film released on DVD.

Here’s a look at Uncle Remus and his pals.

1 thought on “remembering “Song of the South”

  1. I’m with you, Elaine!!! I loved that movie!!!! I remember my mother taking my sister and I downtown on the bus to see it. And yeah we sang Zip-a-dee-do-dah — as did all our friends.

    The Brer Rabbit stories are an important part of our culture that have been ignored.

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