The recent banning of the time-honored recording of Kate Smith singing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” and the removal of her statue from a public space in Philadelphia, challenges the reasonable mind to remain calm and not reach for the Hari-Kiri sword. We are told that the banning and statue removal was a result of Kate Smith having sung songs of a racially demeaning character, the one most commonly cited being, “That’s Why Darkies Was Born.” Hmmm… Ah, yes, of course, the use of the word, “darky” in place of “African-American” is terribly demeaning, a priori, we are told by linguistic historians and historians of popular entertainment. Well, no, not really, we are told these things by… well, others. It follows logically then, that Smith must have been a virulent racist, happily singing about those inferior “darkies.”
Of course, anyone with half a brain would see a problem here. Well, several problems. The song was an extremely popular one AMONG THE BLACK COMMUNITY, especially. It was recorded by such legendary black singers as Paul Robeson and Ethel Waters. And lest we forget, Robeson was no struggling poor black entertainer forced to wear blackface and sing “coon” songs by the oppressive white show business hierarchy as he shuffled across the stage. If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Robeson’s accomplishments let me state a few here: Robeson won an academic scholarship to Rutgers College, where he was twice named a consensus All-American and was the class valedictorian; he received an LL.B. from Columbia Law School while playing in the NFL: Mr. Robeson spoke seven or eight languages, and has a successful career as a stage and film actor, both in the U.S. and in England where he starred in three productions of Othello; he had an operatic bass voice.
Okay, so, arguably one of the most accomplished and intelligent men of the 20th century, you think he would have had a clue as to the bigoted and racist nature of “That’s Why Darkies Was Born.” How did that get by him? And Waters? And so many others?
Once again, a person with half a brain might look for the answer IN THE LYRICS OF THE SONG ITSELF. Even a cursory glance at the text reveals that the song does nothing but ennoble the black race, is quite profound and beautiful ways. It is a deeply moving song. If one actually LISTENS to it. Imagine: listening to a song in order to judge its meaning! What a concept!
Here is the text of the song:
Someone had to pick the cotton,
Someone had to pick the corn,
Someone had to slave and be able to sing,
That’s why darkies were born;
Someone had to laugh at trouble,
Though he was tired and worn,
Had to be contented with any old thing,
That’s why darkies were born;
Sing, sing, sing when you’re weary and
Sing when you’re blue,
Sing, sing, that’s what you taught
All the white folks to do;
Someone had to fight the Devil,
Shout about Gabriel’s Horn,
Someone had to stoke the train
That would bring God’s children to green pastures,
That’s why darkies were born.
NOTE: The word, “Darky,” was at no time during its usage a pejorative nor demeaning word. Just the opposite: as with “people of color”, it was used with pride and often with humor as an alternative to the “N” word or anything close to it. It was especially popular with black soldiers during the Civil War.
This guest post was written and submitted by our Closet on the Right Community Member, Joseph Ciolino