Arrested Development is one of my all-time favorite music groups. During an age of cultural bliss via clothing, music, art, and television, Arrested Development embodied the whole gambit. I remember attending Greenwood Middle School in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1992, the year the song hit the airwaves. The school was predominantly African American. It was also full of teachers who believed in us and injected into us a sense of pride as we entered the classroom each morning. My favorite teacher was Ms. Kendall, may God rest her soul. Years later I learned the Principal, Mr. Roberts, is my cousin.
In a state dominated by country music, the song “Tennessee” uniquely combated musical norms. I am sure some felt unnerved by the sounds of African rhythm and soulful tones from these artists as they embraced atrocity and spiritual rebirth in “Take me Home.” As an African American Tennessean, I accepted this song to be my “state anthem,” a calling to delve deeper into my own family roots and to gain a greater appreciation for Hip-Hop. These goals became more important after learning that the same year the KKK originated in Pulaski, Tennessee.
The areas mentioned in the song, Dyersburg and Ripley, are located in the western part of Tennessee. The main cash crop, before and after emancipation, was cotton. In 1917, an African American farmhand named Ligon (or Lation) Scott was lynched in Dyersburg for an alleged rape. Like most places in the south, Mr. Scott’s lynching attracted a large audience of adults and children. In her book Lethal Punishment: Lynchings and Legal Executions in the South, Margaret Vandiver describes his lynching as “the most ghastly of all those I researched” .
In the second verse of “Take me Home,” Speech, the group’s lead singer, speaks to God:
Lord it’s obvious we got a relationship
Talkin’ to each other every night and day
Although you’re superior over me
We talk to each other in a friendship way
Then outta nowhere you tell me to break
Outta the country and into more country
Past Dyersburg and Ripley
Where the ghost of childhood haunts me
Walk the roads my forefathers walked
Climb the trees my forefathers hung from
Ask those trees for all their wisdom”
Perhaps Speech is a relative of Mr. Scott. Maybe he speaks in general terms for those hung due to oppressive laws, unspoken rules, lies, or just the color of their skin. For some Tennesseans, “Take me Home” is just a song. I hope the song brings clarity to this travesty and illustrates how artistic expression, like Speech shares in this song, provides a voice for many. Brother Speech, I am glad your ancestors directed you back “from whence you came,” back to Tennessee.
Peace and blessings to you all! #HistoryBeforeUs