We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
The reason he's silent from the bench – a practice that first began during law school – has to do with his formative years, he told The New York Times 15 years ago.
Until he was 6, Thomas lived in deep poverty in the lowcountry in Pin Point, Georgia. Like nearly every black child who grows up in Gullah-Geechee homes in the lowcountry – which includes communities descended from plantation slaves primarily in Georgia and South Carolina, but with roots in northern Florida and southern North Carolina – he spoke Gullah at home.
For years, Gullah was considered to be "pidgin English" – corrupted or badly spoken English that whites generally dismissed as the language of the uneducated. But Gullah isn't that, scholars have proven.
Gullah is a beautiful language, with a rich heritage. Some of the stories from the Gullah tradition have made their way into popular culture in America, though most people don't realize the origin. Br'er Rabbit and his briar patch is a Gullah story. The next time you sing "Kumbayah" proudly, with emotion and feeling, you can thank Gullah at the end of the song.
"In the 1700s, rice plantations flourished along the coastal areas and barrier islands stretching from North Carolina to Florida. Because they required specific skills, slaves were brought here from similar environments in Africa, where rice had been grown successfully for centuries," syndicated columnist Fyllis Hockman wrote in 2013. "In many cases the Africans' knowledge of rice cultivation far exceeded that of their masters. Because the work required a wide variety of skills that only the Africans possessed, they were often accorded more responsibility and autonomy than their cotton-picking counterparts."
"They came with their own language, beliefs and customs — and because they were so isolated in coastal regions that were not connected to the mainland until the 1950s, their Gullah culture flourished and proliferated among the many Africans who came to settle there, and it still endures today," she wrote.
These slaves also had to learn how to communicate with slaves from other parts of the world who didn't necessarily know their West African dialect. They needed to learn enough English to satisfy the demands of their white masters, while simultaneously communicating with one another in ways those same white masters might not recognize.
Gullah emerged from those twin demands. It is a pure example of prevailing in the face of nearly impossible odds and, when descendants of slaves in the lowcountry speak Gullah in their homes today, it is a reflection of their heritage and ability to overcome adversity.
But Thomas doesn't see it that way. All he remembers is what many children from Gullah-Geechee homes learn quickly when they go to public school: You can speak Gullah, the language of your ancestors, in your home. But don't speak Gullah in public schools, especially around white people. If you do, you'll be branded as poor, uneducated and disadvantaged.
So Thomas stopped speaking Gullah in public. And he largely stopped speaking publicly at all, he told the New York Times, for fear that any trace of that former life in Pin Point would somehow work its way into his speech.
"When I was 16, I was sitting as the only black kid in my class, and I had grown up speaking a kind of a dialect ... called Geechee. Some people call it Gullah, and people praise it now. But they used to make fun of us back then. It's not standard English," the Supreme Court justice told the Times.
"So I learned that, and I just started developing the habit of listening. And it just got to be, I didn't ask questions in college or law school," he said. "For all those reasons and a few others, I just think that it's more in my nature to listen rather than to ask a bunch of questions. The only reason I could see for asking the questions is to let people know I've got something to ask. That's not a legitimate reason in the Supreme Court of the United States."
O Death is apparently an Appalachian song. The first known recording came from Moran Lee "Dock" Boggs,who combined Appalachian folk music and blues music, from the 1920s on.
So yes, it was Ralph Stanley's song and also Bessie Jones's song. That is, they both sang it as if it had come from their hearts. But not Gullah.
Just one more example of the eclectic nature of American music. Borrow, steal,and appropriate all you can. Elvis did it. Tejanos took accordions and polkas from 19th century German and Czech immigrants to Texas, and made them their own.