21 Aug 2023

THEY DID IT IN A SMALL TOWN: Henry Choate & Small Towns in the USA

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: American Empire, Bobby's World, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Kingdom, Music, Race Relations

(I wrote this on July 25 and placed it on Facebook. I have been asked to make it available in a more permanent way. So I post it here on my blog unchanged. I have added the photos. I believe in “free speech” even for those I disagree with that includes Jason Aldean. What follows is, to the best of my ability, an engagement from a kingdom of God perspective with a song. I am a proud Southerner. See my blog, “Southern Heritage to Be Proud Of …)

Some people I love dearly will not like this blog. I grew up in a small town. Cloverdale and St. Florian outside of Florence, Alabama. I confess, just a few days ago, I never heard of Jason Aldean. I’m not a Country music fan and probably never will be. Johnny Cash is about as Country as I can get. But I was asked a couple days ago about Aldean’s song, “Try That in a Small Town.”

I was not going to comment on this song. But I have since been literally flooded with “I stand with Jason Aldean” memes; memes thanking God for Jason Aldean; etc on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram. So, I have investigated. I went to YouTube and watched it a few times. I printed out the lyrics so I could make sure I was getting it all.

The song in some ways pulls the old heart strings.

Sucker punch somebody on the sidewalk;
Carjack an old lady at the red light;
Pull a gun on the owner of the liquor store;
Ya think its cool, well act like a fool if ya like.

I’m like, Yeah, I hate that!

It continues,

Well, try that in a small town;
See how far ya make it down the road;
Around here we take care of our own;
You cross that line,
it won’t take long for you to find out,
I recommend you don’t try that in a small town

The song next mentions the gun “granddad” gave and the “good ole boys raised right.” I watched the video a few times. Read the lyrics several times.

Apart from the opening lyrics, that do express things I detest, the song as a whole, I found misguided at best and plainly ignorant at worst. Now, Jason Aldean will not be the first artist to write and perform a song with questionable moral values. [edit: Aldean did not write the lyrics but he has claimed them as representing his beliefs]. At the bare minimum it is extremely difficult to deny the lyrics are talking about vigilante violence performed by “good ole boys” who are envisioned as the protectors of the “small town.”

I want to reflect on the message in those lyrics, taking care of our own, seeing how far you make it down the road, and the good ole boys raised right.

What IMAGES come into my head when I hear and read those lyrics? Well, the video itself provided something of a interpretive grid for them. Unless Jason Aldean is a complete idiot, or his producers are, the choice of venue for that video WITH THOSE LYRICS is telling indeed.

The video is shot in Columbia, TN. In fact the Maury County Courthouse seems to be the center of gravity in the video. I’ve been all over Columbia. I’ve even stood at that Courthouse. Columbia is a small town. It used to be even smaller.

Three Hundred and Fifty “good ole boys” lynched 18 year old Henry Choate at the Columbia Court House in the small town of Columbia, TN

But at THAT Courthouse when hundreds of “good ole boys” with their guns that “granddad” gave them made sure a line was not crossed when they publicly lynched 18 year old Henry Choate. All those scenes of violence pictured in the video already took place IN COLUMBIA as literally hundreds of white folks seized this 18 year old kid, chained him to a car and dragged him through the streets. Then came to the courthouse and hung him from that very building with the flag behind Aldean in the video.

Now I confess, again, either Aldean is an idiot or this was a “message” that was not and is not so subtle. I say they did it in a small town. And they did it a lot.

Emmett Till, TODAY would be Till’s birthday. At 14 he was lynched by the “good ole boys” in a small town, Drew, MS. He would have been 82.

5,000 small “sundown towns” in the USA which this song clearly evokes

– the KKK‘s reign of terror ruled the small town

Colfax, LA small town obliterated by white mobs killing over 100 people of color

Rosewood, Fl small town wiped off the map

Mary Turner, eight months pregnant, lynched, shot a hundred times, body doused with gasoline and burned in Lowndes County, GA by the “good ole boys raised right.”

Greenwood, small neighborhood by Tulsa blown off the map in 1921 with hundreds killed by white mobs

Oxford, MS all hell broke loose when James Meredith tried to attend the University of Mississippi

Grenada, MS 1967/68 middle school children beaten with bats, chains, bricks by white mobs as they attempt to go to school

El Dorado, Ark people of color slaughtered in 1896 and again 1910

Elaine, Ark, 1919, several hundred black sharecroppers slaughtered for days (Sept 30-Oct 2) for attempting to for a union for improved wages

– Longview, TX; Vicksburg, MS; Lake City, FL; E. St. Louis; etc

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. IT ALREADY DID HAPPEN IN A SMALL TOWN. White Supremacy ruled the day in each of these small towns.

I have to ask both Aldean and his producers, why was that site chosen as the location of the video? If they did not know, then again they are ignorant in the extreme. I knew the story of 18 year old Henry Choate long before I heard of Aldean. Someone, Somewhere in the Aldean organization had to know. Does that venue interpret the lyric “Around here we take care of our own; You cross that line, it won’t take long for you to find out.”

Maybe you have never heard of Henry Choate or Sundown Small towns. Maybe you never heard of the litany of riots (dozens more can be listed). But ignorance is not bliss. It is just ignorance.

But I have to be honest. What bothers me as much as Aldean’s ignorance (and given his love for the Confederate battle flag and wearing black face, I cannot say he did this in full ignorance) is that THIS song has instantly become like an anthem for many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. This song is where the stand is to be made. Only white ones however.

But there is nothing Christian about the song. It is difficult to reconcile anything Jesus ever said about loving (even enemies) with good ole boys chasing people down with granddad’s gun. Christians need to read the Sermon on the Mount more often.

Again, I hate old ladies getting carjacked.

I despise sucker punches on the sidewalk.

But if you claim to be anti-crime then be pro-justice. Be pro-righteousness. This song promotes a vision of Sundown Town “justice” that already was practiced in a small town in the exact spot Aldean sings.

You claim you “ain’t racist,” then don’t make a song that is literally performed on the exact spot where an 18 year old black kid was violently lynched by a mob of hundreds of white people (“good ole boys”) in small town USA your anthem. Jason Aldean will never see your meme of support but every black person you claim to love and not be bigoted toward DOES see it. What message are you sending to them?

If you want an anthem then I suggest Bob Marley One Love or Buffalo Soldiers. If you want an anthem then I suggest U2’s In the Name of Love. If you are daring then Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of. If you want an anthem then I suggest Don Moen’s Instruments of Peace.

Let me say, there are lots of questionable songs. I confess there are dozens of questionable songs on my play list. Questionable on many levels. Van Halen’s Running with the Devil comes on and I crank it up. But don’t make it my anthem and say Van Halen is standing up for me. I hope this makes sense.

God is on the side of the oppressed beloved. If you even halfway believe the Bible then you have to believe that.

Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed

(Isaiah 1.16-17)

With Much Love and for Shalom.

2 Responses to “THEY DID IT IN A SMALL TOWN: Henry Choate & Small Towns in the USA”

  1. dcg83 Says:

    Couldn’t agree more.

  2. Pete Says:

    Love your posts on the Hebrew Scriptures. Not so much this one on one man’s opinion presented in song. I heard the song once and was not impressed with it’s musical qualities nor moved by his effort to present a small town view. Nonetheless, it struck a nerve with you, I get it. These worldly moments will come and go but the word of the Lord remains forever.

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