Regardless of differing feelings and opinions about the varying political, social, and economical issues that our country is faced with, we, as Americans, often feel a strong sense of unity and patriotism. Something inside of us inherently connects and binds us together, and regardless of the fact that we live in 50 different states with their own identities and governments, we together consider ourselves American. Throughout this journey, we have often found such sentiments to be true. From California to Montana, Detroit to Nashville, we have seen this underlying identity shine through in often unexpected moments.
Still, there was a point in time when this country did not function in such a way; there was a time when one was not solely an American, but rather identified with their state. We were a country made up of Virginians, Georgians, and New Yorkers. As we stood by one another on the former battleground of Gettysburg and walked amongst the graves of our fallen countrymen, we are reminded that this country was not always united as we now stand. It was just South of here that we crossed that infamous Mason-Dixon line and into a part of our country that almost had a very different future.
In many ways that North South line stills exists. Not only is there an actual sign, signally some sort of cultural border, but we too often see these states separated on television as Red States and Blue States, States too stuck in their ways to ever agree on anything. True, the weather changed a bit, and there did seem to be a more relaxed atmosphere south of the line, but our travels so far throughout the Southland has revealed a part of our country not one blob of red, but as varied as anywhere else we’ve been.
Virginia, at one point the most influential colony of the original thirteen, offered a sight similar to many other states we’ve passed through. Corn fields and soybeans lined the highways, people inhabited the small towns lined with brick houses and American flags, and trucks, cars, and commerce crossed the state no differently than any other we’ve passed through. What we did notice differently in Virginia was a change in the speech and attitude of the people. We encountered our first real glimpse of a “southern” accent, and the people were warm and friendly, offering directions and showing interest without little pretension or provocation.
We then crossed through the length of Tennessee and explored the roots of that great American sound of Country music. Like America itself, country music is a product of immigrants. The Irish Fiddle, the German Dulcimer, the Italian Mandolin, the Spanish Guitar, and the West African Banjo all came together to produce a sound as new and long lasting as the country itself. Just as with Jazz and Rock n’ Roll, Country music is an all American creation that came about thru hardship, dreaming, and fresh beginnings. Tennessee continues to be a musical State, with live bands at every bar and traveling musicians at every corner. On a map Tennessee looks like a narrow strip of land in a very big country, but the culture is a pure American one, and its influence not only helped shape an American identity, but forever changed the course of music world-wide.
Though we may have felt like we were in the South in Maryland, Virginia, or Tennessee, from the moment we crossed into Mississippi, we knew we were in the Deep South. As we rode down Highway 61 and along the delta of this massive, foreboding river that we last crossed in Wisconsin, a vibrant change came over the landscape. The air became warm and moist while the southern sun set large on the horizon. The people we met at the gas stations and rest stops were full of life and pride. And, as dusk came, a calm fog rose over the land. When we finally settled into camp in Southern Mississippi, the moon shone bright over a landscape riddled with a quiet, waiting nocturnal landscape. We had finally made it to the South.