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March 07, 2005 || 1:48 am

Yesterday was another good civic function in Greensboro which passed off to the accompaniment of the Kudzu String Band - the 175th anniversary of the Episcopalian Church, which they were celebrating with a wine-and-cheese do from four to six, followed by a catfish fry. It was quite bizarrely civil, taking place in one of Winnie Cobbs' B&Bs which are all antique furniture, portraits, drapes and impeccably clean crystal. If you can tell a lot by someone's bookshelves, make what you will of 'Confederate Currency' nestling with Simon Schama's 'Citizens'.

The crowd was rather like a drinks party in Suffolk - everyone very jovial from the wine, the upper and middle classes making conversation in their buff jackets and floaty scarves, the rather jolly vicar (sorry, preacher), deacon and bishop trotting around with pink cheeks. I saw only one black face, which belonged to an elegant but aloof older woman. One could have been oblivious to the fact that this is one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the country. But you know you're in the Black Belt when the room falls silent for the bishop to bless the catfish, before it's doled out onto polystyrene plates with baked beans and slaw. It's one of the oddities of the South that every class and race eats exactly the same food and claims it as their culinary heritage.

Afterwards we ventured out to a rather similar event but of a different generation: a party out at the camphouse of a family who, in the words of a friend, own all of the county except the few bits on their map that are marked 'out'. There the younger generation of the old white families was partying hard, having roasted a pig, drunken most of a keg of beer and hitting the bourbon to the accompaniment of music blaring out of someone's flashy SUV. Despite the muddy dirt road leading to the seventy acre lake, the few girls who were there were in little black dresses and sharp heels. It was fun - most of the kids are friendly and harmless, and it's always interesting to meet new faces and observe the Black Belt in action - but, of course, strange to see behaviour that oblivious to the ironies of their position.

Earlier in the day I had taken Chip around some of the Rural Studio projects and we'd discussed a little of the race relations in the area. And it's true to say, as he did, that it's slowly changing, and that the younger generation are not carrying the same level of prejudice. But still, these kids would never have thought it was strange that there was not a black face among them. And one of the strangest comments I heard late into the night was that 'well, I'd rather hang out with a black from round here than a white guy from North Alabama.'

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