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  • The Uncanny Keep On Talkin'
  • Regina N. Bradley

When i was a kid, Wednesday nights were reserved for Unsolved Mysteries. A man's disembodied voice warned viewers that we were about to watch something that "was not a news broadcast," followed by a crescendo of synthesizers and Robert Stack's gravelly voice and direct stare into the camera.

"You always get scared by just the introduction," Nana fussed while standing directly in front of the television. "Watch something else before you have to go to bed."

She wasn't wrong.

"But this is my show," I protested. Robert Stack scowled from the screen in agreement. Nana shook her head and went about her business. I was scary, but I couldn't turn away. I watched Unsolved Mysteries in the country, where there were no streetlights, the darkness swallowed me whole, and nobody could hear me screaming if a serial killer made his way to the house or Bigfoot scratched at the bars of my bedroom window. Unsolved Mysteries was the portal to my imagination running wild, and fear was the pilot.

Robert Stack never narrated, but I had unsolved mysteries of my own: why did Paw Paw turn down the radio and whisper whenever we passed a cemetery? Who was really dumb enough to try and steal a Bible from the haunted church on the dirt road by our house that only appeared [End Page 92] under a full moon? How could an oak tree with moss look so damn sinister? What was really the deal with the Broom Man, someone Nana said lived in her neighborhood when she was a girl and could make a broom dance because he sold his soul to the Devil?

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Dollbaby standing in the orchard at midday, by Allison Janae Hamilton, 2015. Archival pigment print, 40 × 60 in. © Allison Janae Hamilton,

courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery.

I didn't know the term for my personal mysteries of living in the South was Southern Gothic.

southern gothic is a catchall for the region's peculiarities and how it exists. The South is not easily translatable, and the Gothic offers insight into how to make sense of the indecipherable. Themes of decay and rot, haunting, and deep-rooted secrets of family and self-betrayal are pathways for understanding the Southern Gothic as it is celebrated in literary and cultural studies. But like so many touchstones for understanding the region, the Southern Gothic heavily leans towards white experiences, including making sense of the half-life of the South's most prominent [End Page 93] obsession: the Confederacy. This mourning for the Old South is captured in stories of the rotting grandeur of plantation houses, the slow death of southern debutantes and their fading gentlemen callers, and the macabre procession of anonymous white mobs inflicting violence on unnamed Black people. In its most ideal form, the Southern Gothic makes the South's most grotesque and unsavory realities palatable without requiring or demanding accountability.

Still, the Gothic is also useful as an entry point for understanding Black folks' experiences in the South. The Black Southern Gothic also builds on the region's peculiarities of race, class, and memory but is far less forgiving of these occurrences. In her book African American Gothic, Maisha Wester observes, "[the] Black literary gothic significantly rewrites the notion of the uncanny." The Black Southern Gothic is a calculated and intentional pushback against the definition of southern Blackness as timid, spineless, or reactionary to the violence of white supremacy. The fear of death or retaliation for being Black in the South is a trope that vibrates throughout social, historical, and cultural narratives of the region. As Trudier Harris writes in her book The Scary Mason-Dixon Line, "If God fears the South, then obviously there is little hope for mere black mortals." However, reading southern Blackness through a Gothic lens demonstrates our agency and resilience. There are plentiful examples of the Black Southern Gothic in Black culture: Charles Chesnutt infuses the Gothic in his collection of short stories The Conjure Woman (1899), set in North Carolina, to push back against the widespread nostalgia of...