Hate the River-Rat!

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I gotta say, I’m really enjoying Will Percy’s 1941 autobiography, Lanterns of the Levee. I’d heard of it for years but never bothered to buy it, much less read it.

The prose is beautiful, if a bit ornate by today’s standard, and he brings up topics that seem terribly antiquated in today’s world, with opinions and sentiments that are hardly politically correct, but not necessarily “Twitter wrong.” They’re just different, things that probably don’t arouse much animosity or admiration today.

It’s not too often one finds a strong opinion on something that doesn’t arouse emotion in today’s polarized world.

This portrait of the “river-rat” person really cracked me up for some reason:

Where he comes from no one knows or cares. Some find in him the descendant of those pirates who used to infest the river as far up as Memphis. . . Illiterate, suspicious, intensely clannish- blond, and usually ugly, river-rats make ideal bootleggers. The brand of corn or white mule they make has received nation-wide acclaim. They lead a life apart, uncouth, unclean, lawless, vaguely alluring. Their contact with the land world around them consists largely in being haled into court, generally for murder. No Negro is ever a river-rat.

Like I said, strong opinions but on topics that I doubt many people have a strong opinion on.


Another example, this time about the poor whites in the Delta:

The poor whites of the South: a nice study in heredity and environment. Who can trace their origin, estimate their qualities, do them justice? Not I. Some say their forefathers served terms in English prisons for debt and were released on condition that they migrate from the mother country to the colonies. The story continues that they congregated in Georgia. The story may or may not be true; it is unpopular, needless to say. This much, however, it is safe to assert: they were not blest with worldly goods or mental attainments. . .

If it was ever good, the virus of poverty, malnutrition, and interbreeding has done its degenerative work: the present breed is probably the most unprepossessing on the broad face of the ill-populated earth. . . .

I can forgive them as the Lord God forgives, but admire them, trust them, love them—never. . . .

But then Percy says something about the poor whites that is relevant to today’s world, making an observation that would rankle both white supremacists and BLMs:

Intellectually and spiritually they are inferior to the Negro, whom they hate. Suspecting secretly they are inferior to him, they must do something to him to prove to themselves their superiority. At their door must be laid the disgraceful riots and lynchings gloated over and exaggerated by Negrophiles the world over.