A New Look at My Childhood Songs

On a trip south we visited the Stephen Foster Museum.

The house and museum is located in the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center Park on the banks of the legendary Suwannee River. This river was made famous by Foster’s song “Old Folks at Home.”

The grounds are beautiful with majestic old trees.

As wandered the grounds we headed down to see this famous river.

Getting closer to the water I saw the sign warning of alligators and beat a hasty retreat.

Inside the building were many beautiful old pianos and paintings depicting many of Foster’s songs.

Foster wrote over 200 songs and was called the “Father of American Music.”

His song “My Old Kentucky Home” is the official song of the state of Kentucky. It is believed he wrote his famous song “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” as an attempt to win back his wife who had left him. While many of his songs are about the South he never lived there and only visited it once on his honeymoon.

While I grew up singing many of Foster’s folk songs both at home and in choir at school, I doubt that many of his songs would be used today. They clearly depict a world of southern white culture and its ties to slavery.

As a child I sang “Oh Susanna” but it was only when I did more research of Foster that I heard the second verse. On my!

“Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground” talks of how the “darkeys” are crying because their master is dead and how he made them love him because he treated them so kindly.

The State of Florida’s official song is “The Old Folks at Home.” Thankfully they have changed some of the offensive words;

Original words: All up and down the whole creation, Sadly I roam. I’m a still a-longin’ for the old plantation, Oh, for the old folks at home.

New version: All up and down this whole creation, Sadly I roam, Still longing for my childhood station, And for the old folks at home.

Original words: All the world is sad and dreary, Ev’rywhere I roam. Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home.

New version: All the world is sad and dreary Everywhere I roam. O dear ones, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home.

On the grounds there is a 97-bell carillon and his songs are played throughout the day. This carillon is one of the largest musical instruments ever produced in the Western Hemisphere, and the world’s largest tubular carillon in number of bells.

The park itself is beautiful with hiking, bicycling, canoeing and wildlife viewing for visitors. There is also a full-facility campground and cabins to rent.

While I enjoyed the beautiful grounds and recognized many of the songs from my childhood as I took a closer look at many of the lyrics I left with mixed feelings about the place.

14 thoughts on “A New Look at My Childhood Songs

  1. Enjoy them, my friend, the past cannot be changed. It is what it is, today and the tomorrows are our now determining factors. You did not make the rules of the day, but with wisdom we can now be better. I enjoy the information you bring


    • I didn’t mean to judge him. I just meant I grew up in a very prejudiced home and it surprised me to take a look at some of his lyrics and realize this was the environment in which my parents were raised. It explains to me some of their very prejudiced ideas about black men and women. My parents were appalled when a black family moved across the street from them and immediately moved. I just grew up in a very, very prejudiced home and these lyrics do bother me because they show the standards by which my parents lived and tried to raise me. And, sadly, while we like to think we have moved on to 21st century standards, in my family they still believe in the 19th century standards.


      • I understand. I grew up in a lily-white suburb, and as a child I almost never saw black people in my everyday life — usually only when we went into the city for some reason. I was nearly in my teens before I got to know any black people personally. My childish prejudice had been rooted in ignorance, and was very easy for me to shed… but for some people, ingrained racist attitudes are much harder to dislodge. My parents were a mixed bag in that regard. My mother (who was from the deep south and descended from slaveholders) was not at all racist, while my father (a lifelong northerner) was what I would call a benign racist — he didn’t hold a very high opinion of black people in general, but he would never have treated a black person unkindly or unfairly. So while his ideas on race were rather benighted, at least he didn’t allow them to influence his behavior.

        Anyway, we can be thankful that it’s no longer socially acceptable to be racist, the way it was when we were kids.


  2. It sounds like an interesting place to visit. I have mixed feelings about the cancel culture. I agree the words are insensitive. But those were different times. Is it better to eliminate all that we find offensive now, or is it better to shine a light on it and discuss it? I don’t like the rewriting of history. I appreciate your post as I had not heard of this place. And I appreciate your disdain for prejudice.


    • I would never suggest eliminating this place. In fact, I think it is good that people can see our history so that we can shine a light on it and discuss it. While we should never rewrite history I am not sure that it is wrong to erase some things that may be offensive. I can’t imagine the nation of Israel enjoying walking past a statute every day of Hitler (although he is part of their history) and when we obtained our independence from England, no one wanted a statute of King George in Washington DC (although he is a part of our history). I remember how we celebrated when the statutes of Saddam Hussein were torn down. The cancel culture is going too far I believe, but there is an argument that we need to be more aware of our history. Thanks for your thoughts.

      Liked by 2 people

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