The In the Dark crew spent a full year on the ground in central Mississippi and they talked, at length and in depth, to everyone associated with the story. And there are dozens and dozens of people to talk to, each one more captivating (and disturbing) than the last.
By Alan Bean
Chris McDaniel, a Mississippi Tea Party candidate vying for Thad Cochran’s senate seat, wants to turn back the hands of time.
“There are millions of us who feel like strangers in this land, an older America passing away, a new America rising to take its place,” McDaniel said this past week. “We recoil from that culture. It’s foreign to us. It’s alien to us. … It’s time to stand and fight. It’s time to defend our way of life again.”
This revealing remark is the frontispiece for an AP story that was picked up by the Huffington Post and Breitbart.com, suggesting that conservatives and liberals attach significance to McDaniel’s words, though for different reasons.
We often distinguish liberals from conservatives using an economic metric: liberals think capitalism works best when checked by government regulation supplemented by public projects and a robust social safety net; conservatives think capitalism works best without regulation and see unrestricted free markets as want to privatize every public initiative, with the partial exception of the military.
On the surface, Chris McDaniel’s rhetoric fits this pattern. He says the government has no constitutional right to educate the nation’s children. On the stump, he sounds like a typical small government, low tax conservative.
But there is more to the Tea Party phenomenon than low tax-small government conservatism. (more…)
By Alan Bean
The University of Mississippi just can’t outrun its association with bigotry.
In 2012, a crowd of angry white students expressed their displeasure in the wake of Barack Obama’s re-election.
And just last week, a small group of freshmen wrapped an old Georgia flag bearing the Confederate stars and bars around the statue of James Meredith, the man who integrated “Ole Miss” in 1962. In case somebody didn’t catch the symbolism, the students then wrapped a noose around the statue’s neck.
None of this bears a passing resemblance to the massive riots sparked by Mr. Meredith’s arrival on campus in 1962 that left two people dead. But the mix of sophomoric immaturity, alcohol and Old South pride can still be toxic. According to a CNN story, Kiesha Reeves, a black Ole Miss Senior, told police that, days after the statue incident, someone in a passing car carrying several white students threw alcohol on her and shouted a racial slur.
Mississippi, and its flagship university, have come a long way in the past 52 years; but Old South bigotry continues to smolder, largely because the folks in charge of institutions like Ole Miss routinely fail to denounce the hate with sufficient sincerity. Everybody knows that racial resentment, in various degrees, continues to stalk the campus and that a small but significant minority of the white student body is working hard to keep the spirit of ’62 alive. So, what can you do but make the best of a bad situation. After all, things aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be.
Recent reports suggest that federal charges may be filed against the alleged perpetrators. Is that really the answer? If these students are a symptom of a larger social malady, (and they are), sending them to prison for six months or a year will simply create a scapegoat and sweep the nasty business under the rug yet again.
The problem here isn’t overt racial hatred. The kids who defaced the Meredith statue may have black friends for all I know.
These kids just don’t want to let go of the Southern pride they imbibed with their mother’s milk.
They want to feel good about being white southerners.
They don’t want to reckon with the past or chart a fresh course. (more…)
By Alan Bean
It is easy to be critical of this Baptist Press story. It reflects a rather superficial understanding of racism, and is written from a distinctly white perspective (there is little interest, for instance, in learning how Black Baptists experienced the racist past of Oxford, Mississippi).
On the other hand, the apology issued by First Baptist Church is commendable and remarkably rare. Although the congregation voted to exclude non-white worshipers in 1968, pastor Hankins correctly observes that most Oxford congregations wouldn’t have felt the need to put the matter to a vote. This is a small step in the direction of racial reconciliation, but it is a beginning, and for that we should all be thankful.
OXFORD, Miss. (BP) — When First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., passed a resolution apologizing for its 1968 decision to exclude African Americans from worship services, it opened the door for racial reconciliation in its city.
“I had never seen a church or any organization move that seriously toward repentance and then apologize without any excuse,” said Andrew Robinson, pastor of Oxford’s historically black Second Baptist Church, a National Baptist congregation that accepted the apology and granted forgiveness. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Three Mississippi stories grabbed my attention this week. Will Campbell, the white civil rights activist and renegade Baptist preacher from Mississippi, died this week after a long and painful decline. Chockwe Lumumba, the erstwhile Black nationalist attorney, was elected as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Finally, Paul Alexander, the former TIME reporter who has written for The New York Times, the Nation, Salon, the Daily Beast, Paris Match and the Guardian, will soon be releasing Mistried an eBook on the bizarre railroading of Curtis Flowers in Winona, Mississippi.
Taken together, these stories capture the rich contradictions of the Magnolia State. Campbell and Lumumba represent opposite poles of the civil rights movement. Lumumba ran for mayor of Jackson as a centrist candidate who cares about economic development and job creation as much as civil rights; but there was a time when the lawyer-politician was so disillusioned with White America that he advocated the creation of a separate, predominantly Black, nation in the Southeastern United States.
Campbell, by contrast, insisted that God’s grace was offered to the Klansman as well as the oppressed. “Mr. Jesus died for the bigots as well,” he famously said. Acting on this belief, Campbell regularly engaged with violent white segregationists over a glass of whiskey. (more…)
In 2010, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against GEO Group when reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility located near Jackson, Mississippi. Earlier this year, a settlement in the case required the state of Mississippi to remove all youth from the Walnut Grove facility.
Unfortunately, the damage was already done.
One of the kids at the facility, Mike, suffered from severe brain damage from youth-on-youth violence incited by a prison guard. Dozens of other kids at the facility were also severely injured. Last fall, Friends of Justice had the opportunity to meet with Mike’s father, Michael McIntosh, during a trip to Mississippi. He told us the tragic story of his son’s experience at Walnut Grove. You can read more about Mike’s story in the article below. MWN
By Booth Gunter
Michael McIntosh couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had come to visit his son at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Miss., only to be turned away. His son wasn’t there.
“I said, ‘Well, where is he?’ They said, ‘We don’t know.’”
Thus began a search for his son Mike that lasted more than six weeks. Desperate for answers, he repeatedly called the prison and the Mississippi Department of Corrections. “I was running out of options. Nobody would give me an answer, from the warden all the way to the commissioner.”
Finally, a nurse at the prison gave him a clue: Check the area hospitals. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Those who felt “The Help” whitewashed the social realities of civil rights-era Mississippi will welcome “Booker’s Place” a new film that debuted on the film festival circuit over the weekend.
In 1966, Booker Wright was a waiter at Lusco’s, a restaurant in Greenwood, Mississippi with an all-white clientele. This brief quotation from theNew York Times gets to the heart of the matter:
His feat: He dropped his mask of servility in a 1966 television documentary about the state, admitting that he was “crying on the inside” as he kowtowed to customers who sometimes denied him tips and uttered racial slurs. “The meaner the man be, the more you smile,” he explains.
Booker Wright stood on the sidelines during the Greenwood Movement in 1962-63, but he spoke out when he had the opportunity, and paid dearly for it.
Hodding CarterIII, the journalist and former member of the Carter administration, grew up and worked in Greenville, Miss., and said his first reaction upon seeing the documentary was that Mr. Wright was a dead man.
“In one person, in one interview, in one place, you have personified what it was black Mississippi was saying to white Mississippi after all these years,” he says in “Booker’s Place.”
The words uttered by Mr. Wright in that NBC broadcast led to a beating by a local police officer. He lost his waiter’s job at Lusco’s, which he had held since he was 14. His own restaurant was vandalized.
A beloved and respected figure in a town that was a major center for the segregationist Citizens’ Council, he reopened Booker’s Place and bought a school bus to transport children in the Head Start program. He was shot to death by a black customer in his restaurant in 1973, which raised some conspiracy theories.
How could such an innocuous comment spark consequences this dire? If you have to ask the question you don’t know much about the social world of Mississippi during this period. “The Help” was set in Jackson, MS, but was largely filmed in Greenwood, a town that has changed very little since the mid-60s. If this project makes it to mainstream theaters I will be the first in line at the ticket window.