Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Books Recommended About The American South


April 9, 2010

Must-have book: Hudson’s Southeastern Indians

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Ethnohistorian Charles Hudson’s book The Southeastern Indians is still in print.

That’s saying something; it was originally published in 1976. Mostly, it indicates that this readable, data-filled volume remains relevant and important.

In other words: save your pennies and get your own copy!

Yes, archaeologists and historians have gathered significant new information since this book was published, but what’s between the covers means this title is worth having in your own library.

Hudson’s writing is both lyrical and factual. Consider the initial paragraph:

The native people of the American South—the Southeastern Indians—possessed the richest culture of any of the native people north of Mexico. It was richest by almost any measure. At the time Europeans first came to the New World, the Southeastern Indians lived on the fruits of an economy which combined farming with hunting and gathering; they organized themselves into relatively complex political units; they built large towns and monumental ceremonial centers; and they possessed a rich symbolism and an expressive art style. But hardly any of this has left an impression on our historical memory. The average American has some notion of the Powhatan Indians of Virginia and of the role they played in our early colonial history; he has a clear but stereotyped concept of the Indians who lived on the Great Plains; he may know something about the Navajo and Pueblo Indians of the Southwest; but he knows little or nothing about the Southeastern Indians.

Remember, Dr. Hudson wrote this in 1976. Still, many “average Americans” know little about the native peoples who lived in Georgia. If you want to learn about them, this book, with its maps and black-and-white photographic plates, is an excellent place to start. It remains available in paperback at a reasonable cost.

What other volumes do you consider must-have for your own library on Georgia archaeology? Log in and comment!

Charles M. Hudson, 1976, “The Southeastern Indians,” University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville. 573 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0870492488.

Cracker Culture is a provocative study of social life in the Old South that probes the origin of cultural differences between the South and the North throughout American history. Among Scotch-Irish settlers the term “Cracker” initially designated a person who boasted, but in American usage the word has come to designate poor whites. McWhiney uses the term to define culture rather than to signify an economic condition. Although all poor whites were Crackers, not all Crackers were poor whites; both, however, were Southerners.

The author insists that Southerners and Northerners were never alike. American colonists who settled south and west of Pennsylvania during the 17th and 18th centuries were mainly from the “Celtic fringe” of the British Isles. The culture that these people retained in the New World accounts in considerable measure for the difference between them and the Yankees of New England, most of whom originated in the lowlands of the southeastern half of the island of Britain. From their solid base in the southern backcountry, Celts and their “Cracker” descendants swept westward throughout the antebellum period until they had established themselves and their practices across the Old South. Basic among those practices that determined their traditional folkways, values, norms, and attitudes was the herding of livestock on the open range, in contrast to the mixed agriculture that was the norm both in southeastern Britain and in New England. The Celts brought to the Old South leisurely ways that fostered idleness and gaiety. Like their Celtic ancestors, Southerners were characteristically violent; they scorned pacifism; they considered fights and duels honorable and consistently ignored laws designed to control their actions. In addition, family and kinship were much more important in Celtic Britain and the antebellum South than in England and the Northern United States. Fundamental differences between Southerners and Northerners shaped the course of antebellum American history; their conflict in the 1860s was not so much brother against brother as culture against culture.


Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South.  By Grady McWhiney. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988)

According to Grady McWhiney, the North and the South were destined to develop incompatible lifestyles because of each regions’ unique ethnic roots.  Whereas the North came from the stock of industrious hard working Englishmen, the South spawned from the pastoral and primitive society of the British Isle’s Celtic people. Written in 1988, Cracker Culture presented the broadest attempt at surveying the common white man of the Old South since Frank Owsley’s Plain Folk of the Old South published almost forty years before.

The book examines the culinary, agricultural, herding, and entertainment activities of the Old South and compares them to McWhiney’s understanding of pre-capitalistic Celtic society.  He continually asserts that these practices made Southern lifestyle incompatible with the more Anglo oriented activities of the North, and that the Civil War was almost preordained to happen because the societies must eventually come into “mortal combat” to solve their differences (269).

            McWhiney formulaically arranges his book into comparisons between Northern and Southern lifestyles and then English and Celtic.  The book does rely heavily on primary sources to further McWhiney’s thesis, but he fails to engage the numerous critics that arose to argue against him when he stated his “Celtic Thesis” in 1984 with the book Attack and Die.  He also never expands his argument to examine other pre-capitalist agriculture societies to see if the activities of McWhiney’s “Celts” are actually unique to that ethnic groups at all, or rather a function of being a pre-capitalist society in general.  The other major issue with the book that McWhiney fails to address by sticking so close to the primary sources is just how he is defining who a Celt is.  Even by the time of American Revolution, significant integration had begun to occur between English and “Celts” in numbers that would have made a pure distinction possible.  Ironically, McWhiney has as hard a time defining “Celts” in the Old World as much as some southern urban centers had defining “Blacks” in the Old South. 

            The book does contain a number of enlightening observations on the Old South though, despite its controversial thesis.  One of the most important is the emphasis on cattle and swine herding.  Previously, historians of open range ranching in the United States have written about that agricultural pursuit’s development in the Southwestern United States following the Mexican-American War and especially after the American Civil War.  They argued that it was rural Anglo-American’s interactions with Mexican vaqueros that helped develop open range ranching in the United States, but McWhiney skillfully highlights that there was a longstanding tradition already in the South and that it was that tradition that moved out west with Southerners as they emigrated. 

            Cracker Culture’s thesis will invite argument and debate for years to come, but it does have some features that recommend it for use in the existing historiography.  There are specific sections that historians of the Old South can use as a springboard for further investigation, and the overall narrative of the book would be useful for sparking heated intellectual debate at the graduate level.  Unfortunately, the controversial nature of the book’s thesis would tend to detract from its use at the undergraduate level.  The book is an important addition to the historiography of the Old South in a unique way.

Joe Stoltz


Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South.  By Grady McWhiney.  Tuscaloosa:  University of Alabama Press, 1988.

Dr. McWhiney is a retired Texas Christian University History Professor who held the Lyndon Baines Johnson chair for several years.  In his work, he puts forth the argument that the cultural lifestyle of antebellum southerners in the United States had a strong similarity to the cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales regions of the British Empire.  The author details these similarities in chapters noting settlement patterns, heritage, herding styles, tendency towards hospitality, pleasures, violence, morals, education progress and, worth.

In this work, Dr. McWhiney argues that the markedly distinctive characteristics of Southern culture is an extension of Celtic traits transplanted to the United States during the migration of that populace in the eighteenth century. McWhiney contends that while the South became the receptacle of the Celtic traditional society, the North became home to the more urbane, worldly, strict, White Anglo Saxon Protestant English who followed the Protestant work ethic. 

This continuation of the habits morals and, values from the two disparate cultures allowed the propagation of certain conceived bias, prejudices and resentments to carry over into the newly settled lands.  McWhiney states, “This Cultural conflict between English and Celt not only continued in British North America, it shaped the history of the United States” (p. 7).  In this argument, he also states that the Celtic southerners openly despised hard work and felt that the more important aspects of life revolved around the leisurely pursuits of drinking, gambling, fighting, hunting and all types of sports.  While in the North, more traits that are useful came to the front such as hard work, attention to detail, thriftiness, education, and civilized behavior to one another. 

Most of the book details the similarities of the Celtic culture and the Southern populace by extensively using personal accounts of travelers from the North and foreign countries.  The points that Dr. McWhiney makes about the Southern culture involve the issues of the laziness of Anglos, also known as Crackers.  In his book, McWhiney states, “Nobody seems to have worked very hard in the Old South” (p. 47).  This statement also pertained to slaves who, according to the author, also had a tendency towards idleness (p. 45-6).    Would the slaves feel differently if they could state their own case on labor and work ethics?

There are some problems with the author’s work; the attempt to deny the importance of wealth and status among the southerners is laughable.  The remarks of slaves also becoming lazy and insolent appear false; after all, slave owners would not have tolerated such insolence and after working in the cotton fields all day, would slaves feel the same way? Dr. McWhiney also leaves out the very important voice of the slaves in the Southern culture.  He also states that the Native Indians were lazy, slothful and lacking in work ethic while not truly exploring or understanding the native culture that they come from.

While interesting to the average reader, the book has flaws tend to detract from the effort that Dr. McWhiney devoted to his book.  His arguments on the surface are plausible and many readers will chuckle when specific examples are familiar to the reader; however the lack of a bibliographical section and the extensive use of long footnotes also detract from an otherwise interesting book.

Texas Christian University
Thomas Walker

Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South. By Gradey McWhiney.

This book argues that a Celtic culture developed and existed in the antebellum south.  Author, Gradey McWhiney, affirms that Celtic natives brought their culture to southern colonies in British North America, and that their decedents (Crackers) passed on ancestral ways and daily traditions that became rooted in the south.  According to the author, this Celtic culture was anti English and developed into anti Yankee sentiment before and during the Civil War.  His thesis explores and describes similarities between Celts and Crackers.  By exploring the accounts of southern travelers, the author denotes their characterizations of these Celtic culture’s attitudes and he classifies them as Scottish, Irish, and Welsh culture characteristics.  He will note how both Celts and Crackers held similarities in values of hospitality, education, wealth, and most importantly violence.

The author will claim that these southerners were lazy, idle, illiterate herders, who would rather fight, chew tobacco, hunt, play music, and loaf rather than toil in agricultural pursuits.  The rural attitudes that developed in the south from these Crackers were not shared by their northern counterparts and McWhiney will claim that, “Celts and Southerners were simply too lazy, too unstable, too migratory, and too committed to sensual pleasures to be yeomen.”  This thesis based solely on the accounts of traveling observers is a bold claim and its debate continues today.

McWhiney’s evidence is disputed in several ways, for example his claims that a people could not change after several migrations, technological advances, wars, and economic influences seems weak and unsubstantiated.  It appears that the author is creating a romantic idea of southerners and their culture in the nineteenth century and does so without referring to the anthropological scholarship.  However, by exploring the cultural heritage of southerners and their ancestors, he paints an interpretive snapshot of those middle class travelers in the antebellum south.  It looks as if McWhiney defines this culture as completely unchanging and with it their ideals of daily life.  The authors’ denial of the importance of wealth by these southern Crackers and Celts seems absurd.  Surely many white males desired the dollar, even among the Cracker Culture. By surveying travelers’ accounts and perceptions of the southern people, one must question their accuracy and definitions of the accounts or expressions of the Cracker Culture.   McWhiney interprets these travelers’ accounts well in order to support his thesis and it only demonstrates a biased view rather than a multifaceted historical account.

This book is very entertaining reading although the evidence seems weak at times.  The author seems to dismiss those southern gentry who did not follow the Cracker or Celtic influences.  While reading the book one is easily swayed that, all southerners who established themselves in the south were Celts or Crackers and such was not the case.  It is a significant historical account of a unique culture because it tries to define a exclusive class of southern white men – the Cracker.  The important debate of this cultures’ attitude on violence, slavery, religion, racism, paternalism, and daily cultural lifestyles that according to McWhiney, always resisted human and environmental influences is worthy of the historical exploration.

Jeff Tucker

Cracker Culture:  Celtic Ways in the Old South. By Grady McWhiney with Forrest McDonald. (Tuscaloosa:  University of Alabama Press, 1988) Pp. 290.

In a very controversial but undeniably interesting book, Grady McWhiney takes a hand at explaining why the north and south differed so much before the Civil War.  In short, he points to the settlement patterns of the Old South.  Predominately, he claims, Celts from the fringes of Britain settled the southern colonies, while the more puritanical English settled the northern ones.  Each side carried with it their culture, and the same oppositions that existed in the Old Country took root in the new.  Historians should look to Celtic culture, rather than slavery or cotton, to explain what made the south southern.

The book is mainly a comparison between southern "cracker" culture and that of the Celts in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.  McWhiney hold the two up side by side intending for his readers to be shocked by the similarities between them.  He follows a single basic formula throughout the book, using a topical approach.  He deals first with settlement patterns to prove that Celts did indeed make up a majority of southern settlers.  He also employs surname analysis to this end.  Next, he examines the Celtic culture as a whole to show exactly what sort of culture the settlers took with them.  Here, he shows the Celts to be lazy, illiterate, warm-hearted drunken shepherds who loved poetry, song, fighting, hunting, gambling, etc.

Succeeding chapters take each area separately and make the thrilling discovery that southerners seemed to like all those things too.  There was a basic underpinning that allowed southerners to live as they liked:  the vast majority of them engaged in free range herding.  This in itself might be one of the more controversial points of his book, as it denies the knee-jerk stereotype of the south and king cotton.  Still, crackers put a premium on spare time for leisure, and herding allowed them just that.  They simply turned their cows or hogs loose into common pasturage and picked them back up when they needed them.

As for hospitality, McWhiney argues that they certainly had more than their share of it, like the Celts themselves.  Yet, it sometimes seemed less so to northerners, who often seemed less impressed with the spirit of the moment than they did repulsed by the fare that accompanied it.  Like the Celts from whom they inherited their generosity, southern hospitality was more spontaneous than planned, and usually did not plan for guest ahead of time.  Not surprisingly, McWhiney also argues that the southern population also inherited its love for certain pleasures, such as hunting.

His chapter on violence is of the most interesting.  Visitors to the South often declared its inhabitant's love for violent play simply barbaric.  To southerners, however, flirting with danger was an enthralling pastime.  Also, like the Celts, would duel at the drop of a hat.  Some managed to get particularly gruesome, and the law rarely intervened.  In fact, in both areas, in order to be fully accepted as a man in society, a boy must prove himself in a fight with another.  Yet, strangely, theft was not a real issue.  This is partially explained by Celtic culture once again, as they considered thievery lower than low, while violence, committed honorably, just another fact of life.  McWhiney finishes out his book with chapters comparing Southern and Celtic views on education, morals, progress, and various methods of judging value and worth.

Quite a few historians turned their guns to bear on this book after it appeared in 1988.  Their criticisms are, in some part, deserved.  The idea that the South's Celtic origins are the panacea to all that ails antebellum historians seems more than a bit simplistic, to say the least.  McWhiney also needs to do more than simply point to a series of amazing similarities in order to prove his point.  They could, after all, be mainly gigantic coincidences; surely Celts and Southerners are not the only people groups to act in the manner he describes.

Other attacks miss their mark by a country mile.  In a review for the Journal of American History, Elliot J. Gorn of Miami University takes issue with the idea that a culture can remain static enough to have the kinds of effects that McWhiney wants to ascribe to it.  This may be true to a certain point, cultures do indeed change, but it is not at all evident that McWhiney literally intends to argue that Celtic culture remained unaltered for over the centuries.  Rather, he alleges the Southerners inherited their cultural forms from their ancestors, proving it by showing their similarities to their forefathers.  Another odd assault comes from Michael P. Johnson of the University of California, Irvine.  Here, he complains that McWhiney fails to focus sufficiently on women and blacks.  Though he might have spent more time on women, he does make clear that they tended to fall into line with the men, liking the same things and looking at them in largely the same way.  As to the latter half of his objection, from the very beginning it is abundantly clear that this is a book on cracker culture.  McWhiney simply stayed on topic by focusing mainly on whites.  Though he may criticize the book as "malarkey", Johnson seems to be spinning a few half-baked yarns of his own if he actually means to suggest that significant numbers of blacks should be grouped as crackers, and therefore included (1).

Though the ultimate utility of the book may be open to question, it is still an interesting and informative read.  The similarities between the two cultures seem to be too strong to simply dismiss off hand, but whether McWhiney's conclusions are fully correct remains to be seen.
Texas Christian University

Brian C. Melton

Why I Write On LinkedIn And How Blogging Can Boost Your Career By Karthik Rajan

January 6, 2016

I have a secret to share.

Many people write to spread their thoughts, some want to make a difference, some great ones build tribes. My intentions were neither as noble nor as chivalrous.

Instead, I was propelled by these words, “Why don’t you write? You are a good writer.” I found it uplifting that my correspondences - personal letters/emails, going back in time, cast a thought on a family member whose writing skills I hold in high regard.

Until then, I never fancied myself as a writer. The closest – I loved words.

Early Days: The Challenge

Encouraged and inspired, I wrote my first few blogs with gusto and sent it to publications like HBR (they used to have a separate blog section). My blogs were politely rejected. I was like a college student looking for the first believer who would extend him a credit card.

Late 2014, LinkedIn Pulse happened – the doors opened. I decided to start afresh with a different first question, “How to orient my blogs?”

  • I chuckled when I first read, “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” - ounces of truth by Ben Franklin.

All the cajoling and inspiration were great. Except, I could not make up my mind on what to write. So, I just started writing on an impulse giving my left brain a reprieve.  I never imagined “a go with the flow” feel would create awesome experiences. Few below.

1)  The Less Obvious: On Content

LinkedIn offered my first “publishing” credit card.  Readers like you provided me something even more valuable – lively interactions in the comments section that refined my writing. In Pulse, I found a hybrid between a professional social platform and a publication. The quick feedback loop benefited me immensely in iterating what you found worth reading.

2) The Nuanced: Aha on writing style

When I started, I had implicitly assumed the same qualifier word before "writing style" and topics - professional. As I interacted with you all more, I had an aha moment - my constraint on the writing style was self- induced. You warmly embraced a first person writing style for professional topics – littered with personal experiences.

Encouraged, I looked for a guiding light for personal writing style. I found it in Wu Qiao’s words,  "When you write in prose, you cook the rice. When you write poetry, you turn rice into rice wine….. Cooked rice makes one full so one can live out one's life span . . . wine, on the other hand…. Its effect is sublimely beyond explanation."

“What happens if we merge the two? Poetry of words as prose. That thought became my aspiration.

 3) The Unexpected: What blogging could mean for your career

I started to blog for purely personal reasons. G S Seda’s comment in another blog best illustrates #whyIwrite (why I started to write), “It is a given certainty that we see our own worth when it is reflected back to us in the eyes of another loving, caring person.”

Yet, blogging brought new vistas I never contemplated - interviews with firms that were not in my area of technical expertise! We hear about portable skills, writing can create the visibility to make it happen.

Steve Jobs, in his formative years, entered a calligraphy class on an impulse. Little did he know that it would become integral to the first Macintosh.

If you are on the cusp of penning your thoughts, here is my biggest aha, the dots I connected after the fact:

"What Apple is for products, a blog is to your career. Both employ a pull strategy – drawing people to what you have to offer. 
A resume is a push strategy. Think different by writing." 

4) The Absolute Best For Last

Family, work and commitments - life can roll by fast.   As I wrote, I came to realize that the blogs can do something that I often wait for a better day - share a heartfelt thanks with context. That provided me the drive to write regularly. 

Beyond my family, blogs became my conduit to share my deep-seated regard for my teachers, friends, fellow bloggers, colleagues, well wishers, “sheepdogs” who rally when trolls surface and many more. 

It is often said, “A tribute is a high form of gratitude.” I share this blog as a tribute to worldwide LinkedIn readers – for every single comment, for every single share, for every single like.

Your time has made a world of difference to me, personally and professionally,
Thank you.

Karthik Rajan

More about blogging on LinkedIn: One for right brain and one for left brain
How LinkedIn Can Change Your (Professional) Life: A village experience
Want to have a Pulse? What data tells you about blogging on LinkedIn Pulse

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Salary And Benefit Discussions Among Employees By Texas Workforce Commission


How many businesses have a policy like the one below?

Confidentiality of Salary and Benefit Information

Employees are prohibited from discussing their salary or wage levels and company benefits with other employees. Such information is confidential and may not be discussed in the workplace. Any employee violating this policy will be considered to have committed a breach of confidentiality and will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and possibly including termination of employment.

Look familiar? Chances are good that most companies have either a formal policy similar to the one above, or else have a tradition or practice of responding to pay and benefit discussions with disciplinary action. Those same companies would likely be surprised to learn that such policies generally violate federal labor law. Indeed, the National Labor Relations Act contains a provision, Section 7 (29 U.S.C. § 157), that gives all employees the right to "engage in concerted activities", including the right to discuss their terms and conditions of employment with each other. Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA (29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1)) makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer to deny or limit the Section 7 rights of employees. Based upon those two provisions, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has taken the position for decades now that employers may not prohibit employees from discussing their pay and benefits, and that any attempts to do so actually violate the NLRA. Courts have basically uniformly supported that position. Moreover, those particular sections of the NLRA apply to both union and non-union employees, so there is no exception made for companies where the employees are non-unionized.

Despite the seeming inflexibility of the NLRB's position regarding policies against pay and benefit discussions, there are some limits, as explained below.

One limit involves the manner in which employees exercise their rights to discuss wages or benefits. The law entitles employees to have such discussions, but does not require employers to allow employees to do so during times they are supposed to be working. However, singling pay discussions out for prohibition, while allowing other types of conversations unrelated to work, might be evidence of intent to violate employees' Section 7 rights, so employers should be careful in that regard.

Another limit would concern the content of such discussions. Certain employees may have benefits that could potentially involve privacy issues under other laws, such as the ADA or HIPAA. Discussing such benefits in a way that involves releasing information that should be confidential under such laws, particularly in the case of two employees talking about an uninvolved third party's medical conditions, could potentially lose the gossiping employees the protection otherwise afforded under the NLRA. The NLRB would consider whether employees were on notice that releasing such information violates company policy and the law, and also the extent to which the employer actually keeps such information confidential.

Finally, it is clear that it makes a difference under the law as to how employees obtain the salary and benefit information they are discussing. Employees discussing their own information are protected, as are employees discussing the pay and benefits of others if they obtained that information through ordinary conversations with others. However, if in order to get the pay and benefit information they discuss with others, they access offices or files known to be off-limits to them, or cause others to break access restrictions and give them confidential information, and the company has clearly taken steps to restrict the information and uphold its confidentiality, then they may well find themselves unprotected by the NLRA if they are disciplined, even discharged, for participating in the access violation. A major case on point is that of N.L.R.B. v. Brookshire Grocery Co., 919 F.2d 359 (5th Cir. 1990).

Practical Tips

As an alternative to flatly prohibiting employees from discussing their pay and benefits, consider the following:

  1. In the context of a general discussion about the importance of devoting oneself to work during work hours, counsel employees that it is all right to discuss various things at work (keep it general - do not single out pay and benefits as topics), but that as in most things, moderation usually works best, and there is a fine line between being informative or conversational and being a busybody, a time-waster, or perceived as self-important. In discussing such a thing, take care not to do it in a threatening manner, such as implying that anyone who talks too much about their job conditions will be shunned by coworkers. That could easily be perceived as promoting a chilling effect on employees exercising their Section 7 rights.

  2. Do not be afraid to promote what is right in your company. Make it easy for employees to know that your pay and benefit practices are competitive with other companies within your industry, and promote your company's practices regarding advancement opportunities, merit increases in pay, and open-door policies. The more that employees know where they stand, and the more they feel that they have a stake in the company and its success, the less need they will feel to spend time talking about their pay and benefits.

Use Caution!

Many employers use sample policies that they have found on the Internet or in collections of policies in popular office software, and some employers simply draft their own policies. With some areas of employee relations, that can work. Concerning pay and benefit discussion policies, though, it is not a good idea at all to "roll your own". This area of the law is so little-known by most employers and employees and so fraught with potential problems that any employer considering writing or enforcement of a policy restricting discussion of pay and benefits should definitely consult an employment law specialist who is knowledgeable about NLRA issues before taking any actions.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Garden State of Mind [New Jersey] (MP3s) By WFMU Station Manager Ken

Map Source


November 11, 2006

These come from former WFMU DJ KBC's compilation A Garden State of Mind.

(All links are MP3s - right-click to download)

The Chordblenders - I'm From New Jersey   |   Billy Murray - My Old New Jersey Home

Gabrielle - New Jersey   |   Stan Gilmer - Atlantic City (That Big Time Town)

The Treniers - Everything's Wild in Wildwood   |   Al Alberts - On The Way To Cape May

Billy Murray - Over On The Jersey Side   |   NJ X-Cops - Welcome To New Jersey

Junior Demus - New Jersey Drive   |   John Gorka - I'm From New Jersey

Edie From Ohio - No Left Turns In Jersey   |   JC O'Connor - Space Ace From Jersey City

Tiffany & Rocco - I'm A Jersey Girl   |   Johnny Marvin - Jersey Walk

Tommy Facenda - High School USA   |   Cliff Eberhardt - Summers In New Jersey

Bob D'Fano - New Jersey   |   "Robert" - New Jersey

John Pizzarelli, Jr. - I Like Jersey Best   |   Jim Albertson - Jersey Devil

John Linnell - New Jersey   |   Dave Van Ronk - Garden State Stomp

A long drive for the N.J. song


September 3, 2014

He has worked for years to get it OKd. A new film may help.

By Kevin Riordan, Inquirer Columnist

Red Mascara, 92, with his music sheet. He has campaigned for 54 years to have his song made the official state song. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff)

After Red Mascara, 92, wrote "I'm From New Jersey" in 1960, he started campaigning for it to become the official state song.

After 54 years, the effort "needs a spark," says Red, who was born Joseph Rocco Mascari in Phillipsburg, Warren County, where he still lives.

"Maybe this is the spark."

"This" is an almost-finished documentary by Daniel Goodman. His film also is called I'm From New Jersey, and its hero is a gentlemanly, self-taught tunesmith who refuses to give up.

I'm from New Jersey / and I'm proud about it / I love the Garden State

"I realized that his song really is all about what I was trying to talk about in my film," says Goodman, 30, who's raised $48,000 for the project through the Kickstarter online funding platform.

Goodman grew up in Teaneck, Bergen County. He's inspired by the power of his state's pugnacious image - and by Red's homespun, seemingly quixotic quest. New Jersey's would-be anthem has had to fight for respect, just like the state it celebrates.

I'm from New Jersey / and I want to shout it / I think it's simply great

Red got part of his nickname - which sounds like it might belong to a RuPaul Drag Race contestant - because "I used to have red hair."

Later, a secretary in the Brill Building, that legendary locus of midcentury Manhattan song publishing, wrote "Mascara" instead of "Mascari" when she took down his name.

Thus was born a moniker that comes in handy when Red drives to Trenton to lobby lawmakers.

"You've got to give the guy credit for perseverance," says state Sen. Richard Codey (D., Essex). "I've been [in Trenton] 41 years. He was here when I got here."

A retired chemical factory worker and great-grandfather of two, Red regularly makes the rounds of the Statehouse, giving out CD copies of the song, receiving smiles of support that don't amount to much. Legislation making the song official did reach Gov. William Cahill's desk in 1972, but he declined to sign it into law.

"I'm actually helping" Red's campaign, says Goodman. "This is an activist documentary."

I meet the two collaborators at Red's apartment, where the piano in the living room displays sheet music for "I'm From New Jersey." Frank Sinatra - Red's idol - is on the cover; a company owned by the singer published the song.

Red arranged to get it recorded by the Chordblenders in 1961 with the help of a $2,000 loan from his father. A variety of versions, some with lyrics customized for the state's cities (Camden included), are available on, his website, for free.

"I've never made a dime from the song," Red says.

All of the other states throughout the nation / may mean a lot to some

Imagine a marching band song sung by a glee club. That's "I'm From New Jersey," which was retro when it was first recorded.

"It does sound a little bit old. But I really like it," says Christopher Matera, 16.

He's among the students in Lauren Schreiner's Delran High School English class who since 2012 have gotten behind "I'm From New Jersey" in a big way - and whose efforts are included in the film's trailer (

Delran students wrote letters to legislators, and last spring, they hand-delivered petitions signed by more than 500 people supporting the song to Gov. Christie's office.

"The kids have put their heart and souls into it," says Schreiner, a veteran teacher who lives in Mount Laurel.

Red hopes Goodman's project will put him over the top. He feels great, and has no plans to quit.

"When you have a dream and a goal, you don't give up. It sounds cliched, but Red is the living embodiment of that to me," Goodman says.

Prospects of state anthemhood for "I"m From New Jersey" remain uncertain, however.

"I can't wave a wand and say, 'This is the song.' I can't guarantee this will get done," Codey says. "But I sure hope and pray it can, for his sake. Because the spirit and class he's shown is a tribute to him. And to our state."

But I wouldn't want another / Jersey is like no other / I'm glad that's where I'm from.

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