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I am a product of my environment, my history, my culture, my family. All that I am has been formed by who I have known, where I have been and what I have seen. This is true for all of us but I feel that I have been privileged to have walked through a time of great change in our world and our society and to have been touched by people from many ways of life. My family has lived in the South for hundreds of years. On both sides of my family, I trace my ancestors back past the Civil War and to the Revolutionary War.

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Part of the Southern culture is knowing who you are “kin to” and where your place is in the long genealogy of your family. Part of my upbringing also was observing the attitudes and interactions of my extended family with those of other backgrounds and watching the way these attitudes and interactions have changed and evolved from one generation to the next. Older members of my family looked on people from the North as “damn Yankees” and didn’t care for their rapid speech and aggressive manner.

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They also were suspicious of any “foreigners” and were paternalistic and dismissive in Charlotte Hutto Gonnering their attitude towards African-Americans. “Colored folk” or “Nigras” were often treated as young, simple children who needed to be instructed and talked “down to” or were simply ignored as if they were invisible. My parents’ generation took a step further. My parents eventually had colleagues that were not from the South and/or were black. We still were in the old South, though, and the only black people who ever came to my childhood home came to the back door and never came inside.

The first black person who came to our church caused such a controversy that it split the congregation for years to come. I was fortunate to grow up in the time of the Civil Rights movement as well as the time of women’s liberation, gay rights, protests of the Vietnam War and the realization that our leaders were not perfect but human just as we all are.

I went away to college bringing with me a mixture of the Southern manners and acceptance of the eccentric, my own curiosity about different kinds of people not seen in my small town, my own rebellion and a philosophy ingrained in me by my parents. That philosophy was that those who are fortunate in this world have an obligation and a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. Charlotte Hutto Gonnering

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