Robertson should keep on talking

Published 10:12 am Monday, January 6, 2014

By John Railey

Preach on it, Phil. It’s your First Amendment right.

And your bizarre ramblings have caused native “swampbillies” like me to realize all that’s right about our South, even if our perception of it is very different from yours.

Yep, I refer to Phil Robertson, the character on the TV show “Duck Dynasty” who was suspended for his outspoken remarks, starting a culture war, as reflected in millions of comments the nation over, ranging from many of our readers to potential presidential candidates. Robertson, who was reinstated to his show Friday, referred to gays as sinners, linked their behavior to bestiality and suggested that blacks were happy in segregation.

Some of the most frequently referenced quotes from Robertson’s interview with GQ magazine’s Drew Magary make him seem relatively mild, a guy who is just taking the Bible literally on homosexuality, indicating that he doesn’t condemn anybody. But consider what he said about gays while preaching from the book of Romans at a wild game supper in Pottstown, Pa., in 2010:

Women with women. Men with men. They committed indecent acts with one another. And they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant God haters. They are heartless. They are faithless. They are senseless. They are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.

And read the whole GQ interview, and Robertson comes across as something less than Christian, as in these lines about growing up in segregated Louisiana:

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

I get the part about poor whites often having it as hard as poor blacks. But in the segregated South, skin color was everything. Anybody who thinks blacks were happy in that time of hooded terrorism is either ignorant or something worse. If these blacks really were his neighbors, he wasn’t loving them as himself.

And the article reveals him as falling short on repentance:

During Phil’s darkest days, in the early 1970s, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after he badly beat up a bar owner and the guy’s wife. Kay Robertson persuaded the bar owner not to press charges in exchange for most of the Robertsons’ life savings. (“A hefty price,” he notes in his memoir.) I ask Phil if he ever repented for that, as he wants America to repent — if he ever tracked down the bar owner and his wife to apologize for the assault. He shakes his head.

“I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me.”

I stand up for Robertson’s constitutional right of free speech, and I’d oppose any government body trying to censor him. But as a proud Southampton County native, I’ve always resented “Duck Dynasty.” It stereotypes us. Many of us, me included, love our guns and our Bibles, but most of us don’t look like rejects from the band ZZ Top. Some of us do, and we love them, too — because they come by their style naturally, and not for some “reality” TV show that’s actually scripted, a show that makes Robertson and his clan millions of dollars.

The rural South isn’t perfect. But the folks with whom I grew up, living together in small communities in rural Tidewater, get along for the most part. They are gay and straight and black and brown and white and GOP and DNC and independent.

I grew up in Courtland, a town of approximately 1,000 souls. Blacks lived on one side of town and whites on the other. White supremacy lingered with segregation, and we — even us children — often fought it out on those issues.

White leaders progressed, albeit slowly, on race and other issues. In my home county today, there are gays who are openly accepted by their families and friends. Blacks and whites work and play together, and openly discuss the wrongs that long divided them. Not always, but often.

We children of the rural South still have differing opinions on the big issues, but we get along because we honor basic principles such as common respect.

Phil Robertson, in exercising his right of free speech, has encouraged us to tell that to the world. Keep talking, Phil.


JOHN RAILEY is a Southampton County native and is the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal. Contact him at This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Winston-Salem Journal.