Category: Southern History (Page 1 of 4)

Pioneering conservationist Fannye Cook was truly a Mississippi hero

By Jim Ewing. Special to the Clarion Ledger Sunday print edition (November 27)

fannye cookFor many outdoors enthusiasts in Mississippi, Dorothy Shawhan’s book Fannye Cook might be described as one about the most influential person you never met.

The term “hero” is often overused, but in this case, Cook lives up to the label, as Shawan details.

Approximately 150,000 people (mostly children) annually stream through the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, says former director Libby Hartfield, who contributed to the book. And that is directly due to Cook, who founded it and served as its director until her retirement in 1958.

Of import to hunters, fisherfolk, birders, conservationists, and others, however, Cook was instrumental in creating what is now the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

Her impact goes even beyond that.

As Shawhan describes, Cook, a graduate of what is now Mississippi University for Women, began her lifelong study and promotion of Mississippi’s natural resources in 1926. The wildlife population in Mississippi—including its most popular game species—was threatened by lack of habitat, overhunting, and overfishing.

“The forest resources that had covered 95 percent of the state in 1800 were practically gone by 1930,” Shawan reports.

Cook, with the help of the federal Depression-era Works Progress Administration, conducted a comprehensive plant and animal survey in Mississippi that she designed. Traveling across the state speaking to local groups and schools, she spearheaded a successful effort for public education and scientific research of wildlife resources.

The results of her efforts were twofold:

  • After her pushing for seven years, the state Legislature approved creation of a state game and fish commission in 1932 to regulate and conserve natural resources;
  • To house the enormous data she amassed, she was instrumental in opening the state’s first natural science museum in 1939 for the survey’s “28,732 fish, reptiles, birds, plants, amphibians, and mammals collected.”

It was an incredible turnaround in the public’s appreciation and support for habitat that lives on today.

Subtitled “Mississippi’s Pioneering Conservationist,” the book delves into the obstacles that stood in Cook’s path both personal and professional, as a woman in a “man’s” field, as well as her achievements and friendships along the way.

It’s full of recognizable names, including author Eudora Welty, with whom she lived as a boarder in Welty’s Jackson home, and Aldo Leopold, considered by many the father of wildlife ecology in the United States, with whom she collaborated.

Cook serves as a role model not only for women, but for all who have a dream and are willing to work tirelessly to achieve it.

Cook’s work and memory live on with the museum, the state’s largest, that now houses more than 1 million scientific specimens, along with creation of the 2,600-acre Fannye Cook Natural Area in Rankin County soon slated to open to the public. It’s the brainchild of Wildlife Mississippi, which also helped underwrite this book.

Shawhan, a Delta State University professor, died during course of writing the book and the manuscript was completed by Marion Barnwell, professor emerita at Delta State, and Hartfield. It’s a fascinating account of a most extraordinary Mississippian.

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at the Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books, and serves or has served on numerous state, regional and national boards involving wildlife conservation, forests, agriculture and food.

Marion Barnwell and Libby Hartfield will be at Lemuria to sign and read from Fanny Cooke on Sunday, December 3, at 11:30 a.m.

Author Q & A with Carter Dalton Lyon (Sanctuaries of Segregation)

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (November 26)

A strategic program that was begun to awaken Jackson’s segregated white churches to the idea of opening their doors to their African-American Christian counterparts in the 1960s will be commemorated with several public events next weekend that will honor that struggle.

More than 50 years later, that effort has been documented in Carter Dalton Lyon’s Sanctuaries of Segregation: The Story of the Jackson Church Visit Campaign, published by University Press of Mississippi.

sanctuaries of segregationWhat began for Lyon as a doctoral dissertation while he was a history student at Ole Miss more than a decade ago eventually resulted in his debut book, which unfolds in meticulous detail why activists and students at Tougaloo College acted on what they believed was a necessary element in advancing their goal of racial integration in the capital city.

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Lyon now teaches and chairs the History Department at St. Mary’s Epsicopal School in Memphis. He and wife Sally Cassaday are the parents of two daughters.

Your new book, Sanctuaries of Segregation: The Story of the Jackson Church Visit Campaign closely examines a 10-month effort by Tougaloo College students and activists who set out to integrate what you called “the last sanctuaries for segregationists” in the city–white churches. Why was this an important goal of the civil rights movement in Jackson in the early 60s?

One thing that I found early in my research was that segregationists throughout the South had been worrying about the potential desegregation of their churches for many years and that organized groups of students had been testing the attendance policies of white churches as they were challenging other segregated spaces. They would, in effect, conduct a sit-in at lunch counters on Saturday and try to attend white churches on Sunday. This had been done in other cities in 1960, but not in Jackson until 1963.

The idea for these “kneel-ins” was to tug at the conscience of white Christians, especially those moderates who favored a more voluntary approach to desegregation or who didn’t really appreciate the immorality of segregation. Being barred from church would make visible the reality of racial discrimination in the house of God. Activists in Jackson in 1963 had a more specific reason as well: they had tried mass marches and sit-ins, but the local movement had fractured a bit, and there were those, like Rev. Ed King, who wanted to give the Jackson community another chance to shift course–and appealing to white Christians seemed like a logical approach.

Although the participants in this movement faced a great deal of resistance from congregants and church leaders, the effort slowly began to gain some ground with white ministers and members. What was the trigger that finally broke through the resistance?

For the churches that were “open” to black visitors during the campaign, it took a combination of ministerial and lay leadership to sustain that. Even if the minister had ordered the doors to be open or favored open doors, the extent to which they would in fact be open really had to do with logistics–who was at the door and who was organizing them. The minister really needed the backing of a majority of lay leaders to make this work.

For those who began to change or who opened the doors in the years after the campaign ended, it would be nice if I could say that i was because of a change of heart, but there’s really little evidence to that effect. The Jackson church visit campaign forced their regional or national denominational bodies to clarify the open-door policies of the denomination, and so these churches needed to consent to this, especially if they wanted to call a new pastor. Some church members didn’t and formed break-away churches and, in the case of the Methodists, formed a new denomination.

Ultimately, what did this movement accomplish?

The Jackson church visit campaign made the reality of racial discrimination visible in these sacred spaces and forced white church people to confront the essential question of these activists: was racial exclusion following the will of God? These visits sparked internal debates within congregations throughout the city and certainly led to turmoil and division in many churches. But I see the church visitors as exposing a fatal flaw in these churches. They had retreated into these sanctuaries of segregation, but their practices contradicted their faith and were in defiance of the stated beliefs and policies of their own denominations. As a result of this campaign, you see denominations moving to clarify their attendance policies and become more deliberate in examining segregation within their bodies.

You write that many ministers secretly agreed with the students and activists who attempted to join in worship services in their churches, but believed they could not share their feelings with their congregations for fear of losing their jobs and/or causing a split in the church. From your research, how did these ministers ultimately deal with their mixed feelings?

Each minister dealt with it differently and there really isn’t a general way of answering this, but I can say that all of the ministers who fit this description certainly battled with the feeling that they had been called by God to this particular church and they were determined to remain. Some had been at their churches for at least a decade and even when their lay boards voted to bar African-Americans, the real moment of truth came when black visitors were in fact blocked at the church doors. For those who held onto their positions as activists were being rejected outside, I see a real sense of exasperation on the part of these ministers, that their message, and the Gospel’s message of inclusion and brotherhood over the years, had not gotten through to their congregations.

As a Kentucky native, why did you decide to bring this topic to light about Jackson’s past now, and how is it relevant in today’s social, spiritual, and/or political climate?

Carter Dalton Lyon

Carter Dalton Lyon

This book has been germinating for a while, but when I began researching this, I frankly noticed a dearth of analysis on the white church response to the civil rights movement on a local level. In the last decade and a half, historians and theologians have been doing great work filling in that gap, and I hope my book adds to that body of scholarship. The great Mississippian Ida B. Wells once wrote that “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them,” and my hope is that this book helps in some of the truth-telling that is happening in Jackson.

Your research for this book is extensive–with 65 pages of notes and bibliography. How did you go about your research, and how long did it take to put this book together?

This book grew out of my thesis and dissertation work in graduate school at the University of Mississippi, so the bulk of the research was conducted during those six years, and I’ve spent the last six years of so refining and getting it into book form. I should say that it was very important to me to try to capture all sides of this struggle and to track down as many people who were a part of this effort as I could. I realized early on that there were folks who wanted to sweep this story under the rug or deny it outright, so I aimed to be as careful and extensive as I could in documenting this and getting the story right.

Although you mention several Catholic and Protestant houses of worship, much of the book is devoted to how the “closed door” policy was carried out by Methodists. Why was that?

In the early months of the campaign, the visitors cast a pretty wide net and attempted to attend churches from a variety of denominations: Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Unitarian, Church of Christ, and Catholic. For those that routinely barred their entry, such as First Presbyterian and the Baptist churches, they reasoned that they would have little hope of cracking open those doors, so they began to focus more on the churches with regional or denominational bodies that they could use as a potential wedge against these churches.

Then about midway through the campaign, the police arrested three students outside the Capitol Street Methodist Church, and made a total of 40 arrests on subsequent Sundays, and that suddenly brought national attention on the problem of segregation within the Methodist Church ahead of the 1964 General Conference. Methodist ministers and, later, two bishops from across the country began joining students on their weekly visits for their own reasons, but certainly to expose a problem that they hoped (the conference) would solve.

Carter Dalton Lyon will appear at Lemuria to sign and read from Sanctuaries of Segregation on Thursday, November 30, at 5:00 p.m.

‘Goat Castle’ revisits Natchez murder

By Jim Ewing. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (November 12)

In fiction, it’s not uncommon for an author to go back in time to solve a mystery, often with shocking results. Less common is for a nonfiction book to do the same, but with a searingly honest view that’s sadly revealing today.

Karen L. Cox does so with her book Goat Castle (University of North Carolina Press).

LogoAddressing the Aug. 4, 1932, murder of Natchez heiress Jennie Merrill at her antebellum home Glenburnie, Cox peels back the layers of sensationalism surrounding the case to reveal the hard truths of racism and Jim Crow justice of the time.

Subtitling the book “A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South,” Cox details the lurid aspects of the case that transfixed the nation with its depiction of a South in ruins and the remnants of Southern aristocracy in squalor in the decades following the Civil War.

The headlines of the time focused on Merrill, called an aging recluse, allegedly killed by a black man and her black housekeeper, with her white neighbors as possible accomplices.

The neighbors lived in a falling down mansion they shared with goats and other livestock wandering the halls (hence, the name “Goat Castle”).

“Murder, aristocracy, recluses, and goats,” Cox notes, “these were the subjects more likely to be found in a Southern Gothic novel, and in fact journalists immediately drew parallels to the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, and later, William Faulkner’s novels about the social decay of old Southern families.”

It was the type of news story that kept Depression-era Americans grossly entertained.

But Cox dives deeper than the headlines, through excellent historical and journalistic investigation, to bring to light a horrible injustice.

Whereas, Merrill’s white neighbors, Dick Dana and Octavia Dockery (she, the daughter of a Confederate general; he, of a family of a famous authors and journalists) got off scot-free, the two black suspects were either killed or imprisoned.

Cox details the lives of Merrill and her alleged paramour and cousin, Duncan Minor, who discovered her body. And she recounts the often bitter and ongoing disputes of the aristocratic Merrill with Dana, called the “Wild Man” who was known to wear only a burlap sack while living in the trees on his property, and Dockery, called the “Goat Woman,” who was glib, clever, and vengeful, albeit living hand to mouth.

The new knowledge of the case is Cox’s painstaking research into the lives of the two black suspects, Lawrence Williams, the alleged triggerman who was gunned down in Arkansas while making his way home to Chicago, and Emily Burns, who received a life sentence at the notorious Parchman Prison farm at Camp 13–the Women’s Camp.

Burns’ sentence was indefinitely suspended after eight years because even in the Jim Crow South that saw black men imprisoned or killed for allegedly improperly looking at a white woman, Gov. Paul B. Johnson Sr. said he was “thoroughly convinced of (her) innocence” and that she was convicted solely upon “circumstantial evidence.”

As Cox details, Burns’ treatment was based on a coerced “confession” and included the belief that unless someone was held accountable for the crime in a court of law, white citizens might have taken matters into their own hands and she might be lynched.

“Emily was presumed guilty because of her race.”

Filled with astonishing photographs and copious notes, Goat Castle is sure to invite attention anew to an old crime in the Bluff City and reinvigorate current debates about racial justice.

Jim Ewing, a former Clarion-Ledger writer and editor, is the author of seven books including his latest, Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them.

Karen L. Cox will appear Wednesday, November 15 for the History is Lunch series at the Old Capitol Museum at 12:00 p.m. She will appear at Lemuria at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday to sign and discuss her book, Goat Castle.

Author Q & A with Stanley Nelson

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (July 23)

As the editor of his hometown’s weekly newspaper–the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, La.–Stanley Nelson didn’t set out to become a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting. He didn’t plan on his investigative journalism becoming the basis of a blockbuster fictional trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Greg Iles. And he never dreamed his efforts would build a crusade for justice that would draw dozens of willing supporters from around the country.

devils walkingBut it was Nelson’s tough investigative reporting that led to his book, Devils Walking: Klan Murders along the Mississippi in the 1960s (LSU Press), in which he describes not only the difficulties of pursuing decades-old cold cases of racial injustice, but the remarkable successes that he and his collaborators were able to achieve–even when the FBI could not.

As a testament to Nelson’s tenacity and courage to take on this topic, Iles dedicated Natchez Burning, the first installment of his fictional trilogy, to the Ferriday reporter who, with the help of a large team, stopped at nothing to find answers to so many questions that had lingered for 50 years. Inspired by Nelson’s work, Iles used pieces of the massive puzzle that was unraveled as a basis for some plot material for his trilogy that included The Bone Tree and Mississippi Blood. In fact, it was Iles who wrote the forward to Nelson’s book, offering high praise for the journalist’s accomplishments.

At the heart of Nelson’s book is the story of one man–Frank Morris of Ferriday–whose tragic fiery death at the hands of the notorious Klan cell known as the Silver Dollar Group in 1964 would eventually lead to further investigations, and, in one case, even a grand jury hearing.

From his first awareness of the Morris case in 2007, prompted by the FBI’s initiative to reopen Civil Rights-era cold cases, Nelson would write nearly 200 news stories about the murder, over a seven-year time period. In addition to the Sentinel in Ferriday, his award-winning investigative writing would appear in the New York TimesWashington PostLos Angeles Times, and on CNN and National Public Radio.

A discussion about the events in both Iles’ and Nelson’s books will be led by Clarion-Ledger investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell at the Mississippi Book Festival on Aug. 19.  The event will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the Galloway United Methodist Church sanctuary in Jackson.

ms book fest

Devils Walking, a detailed examination of Klan murders committed by the Silver Dollar Group in Mississippi and Louisiana during the 1960s, revolves around the story of the brutal killing of Frank Morris in Ferriday, La. in December 1964. As a reporter for Ferriday’s newspaper, the Concordia Sentinel, what sparked your interest in this case in 2007?

Frank Morris in front of his shoe shop (wearing visor, near center)

Frank Morris in front of his shoe shop (wearing visor, near center)

In late February 2007, the FBI and Justice Department announced they were taking a second look at approximately 100 unsolved civil rights-era murders. Frank Morris’ name was on the list. Morris died from burns he received when Klansmen torched his Ferriday shoe shop and deliberately incinerated him as well.

I initially wrote a couple of stories. Then I got a phone call from Frank Morris’ granddaughter, Rosa Williams. She thanked me for the coverage and said that she had learned more about her grandfather’s death in the first article than she had in the previous decades. Of all of the questions she had about the murder, the biggest was “Why?”

When I was young, I witnessed the aftermath of a horrible traffic accident in which a young family, including a 7-year-old girl, died in flames. Considering that and the murder of Frank Morris, I wondered how someone could purposely set a human being on fire? It was a question that would not go away. I talked to the Sentinel‘s publishers. They agreed that we should try to find out what happened.

Explain how and why this case grew into such a large investigation–with the help of, among others, 25 students at the Syracuse University School of Law–in such a short time.

Race is a polarizing topic. So, could I get readers to open their minds and hearts to the Morris story? I figured that if they got to know Frank Morris, they would care about him. Then justice would seem important. So, week after week we tried to bring Frank Morris back to life so that our readers would see him as a living, breathing human being–not a ghost from the past.

A lot of people lent me a hand–some included Syracuse University College of Law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson; the Center for Investigative Reporting; the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication; Teach for America; and summer interns from universities in the South. Canadian filmmaker David Ridgen was a constant help. But nothing would have happened without the Sentinel’s publishers–Lesley Hanna Capdepon and Sam Hanna Jr.–who supported the work through thick and thin.

By 2007, as the FBI, the Department of Justice and a contingent of government investigators were becoming involved with this case, there was urgency to move the investigation forward. Why was this?

In the 1960s, dangerous Klansmen at the height of their power menaced anyone who questioned the terror they engendered. But by the 2000s, those men were dead or dying. The new enemy to justice became “time.” Witnesses were dying, too. So, urgency was mandated.

Explain the assistance that Jerry Mitchell, investigative reporter for the Clarion-Ledger, was able to lend to your own investigation of Klan murders in Mississippi.

Jerry is considered a legend in the world of cold case investigations. I often seek his advice and he always helps.

When did Louisiana State University get on board to join the investigation, and what contributions did they make?

Jay Shelledy of the LSU Manship School invited me to talk to his journalism students. Later, then dean of the Manship School Jack Hamilton asked, “How can we help you?” I answered that I needed FBI Klan files from the National Archives.

Since then, Jay and his students have amassed tens of thousands of pages of FBI documents, approaching 200,000 pages, all now on line on their website (http://lsucoldcaseproject.com/). Their amazing work continues with new students every year and the full support of Dean Jerry Ceppos. Former Interim Dean Ralph Izard was fully behind the project as well.

In the end, you have a theory of who was actually responsible for Frank Morris’s murder–but has it been proven, or can it be proven?

A Concordia Parish deputy, Frank DeLaughter, wanted Morris’ shop burned following a verbal confrontation with him. DeLaughter considered Morris an uppity black man and he wasn’t going to stand for that.

FBI agents in the field were convinced DeLaughter was the mastermind of the arson. A retired agent recently deceased–John Pfeifer–spent 10 years in Concordia Parish back then. Pfeifer said the one thing FBI agents couldn’t do in the 1960s was directly link DeLaughter to the arson. Fortunately, we were able to do that in 2010.

Relatives of admitted Klansman Arthur Leonard Spencer of Rayville, La., including his son, said Spencer had discussed his involvement in the Ferriday arson through the years. They also said a family friend–Coonie Poissot–told them he was involved as well.

Described by the FBI as a drifter, Klansman, thug, and speed addict, Poissot revealed to agents in 1967 that he was with DeLaughter the night before the arson and that as they passed the shoe shop in DeLaughter’s patrol car, the deputy said he planned to teach Morris a lesson. The following night, Morris watched his two attackers as they torched the building. He didn’t know them.

DeLaughter and Poissot died in the 1990s. Following our story on Spencer in January 2011, three separate Concordia Parish grand juries heard from witnesses in the case, but took no action and issued no reports. After Spencer died in 2013, the Justice Department said it didn’t believe Spencer had been involved. Yet the U.S. Attorney’s office in Louisiana considered him a prime suspect.

You have also investigated the cold case deaths of other African Americans at the hands of the Silver Dollar Group, described as the most secretive and dangerous in the nation at the time. What has driven you to pursue these injustices in such depth?  How many stories did you ultimately write?

I’ve written approximately 200 stories. Like Frank Morris, all of these cases are compelling. The victims are ordinary folks who have suffered extraordinary pain.

Additionally, discovering the inner workings of the Silver Dollar Group was a fascinating journey. These men, including Frank DeLaughter, were incredibly successful terrorists for two reasons. One, in small numbers, typically three or four men, they committed these crimes. Two, they kept their mouths shut.

The group’s leader–Red Glover–who may have acted alone in the 1967 bombing of NAACP Treasurer Wharlest Jackson in Natchez, was interviewed several times by FBI agents after Jackson’s murder. On one occasion, Glover told the agents he hoped they caught the murderer because, according to Glover, the killer obviously was “a maniac.”

Natchez author Greg Iles’ blockbuster trilogy of Natchez BurningThe Bone Tree, and Mississippi Blood was based on you and your work to solve these cold cases. Please comment on the significance of that honor.

Stanley Nelson

Stanley Nelson

In 2013 (Greg) handed me a galley of Natchez Burning. He signed the title page: “To Stanley Nelson: The Real Henry Sexton.” I’ll never forget it. Greg was born with a gift for writing, and he continues to become better at it. But, in my opinion, his genius is his research.

You were named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting in 2011, as a result of your investigation of these cases. How has that impacted you personally and professionally?

It was totally unexpected. I never thought the Sentinel would emerge at the top of the list against stories such as WikiLeaks and the BP Oil Spill. It also means that the stories of Frank Morris and the other victims may live on.

Is there anything else you’d like to include?       

The book covers the emergence of the Silver Dollar Group (SDG) from the three traditional Klans. The SDG’s goal was simple–go underground and fight integration with deadly force. Red Glover hand-picked the members and as a symbol of unity gave many a silver dollar minted in the year of the Klansman’s birth. Southwest Mississippi and Concordia Parish, Louisiana, (across the river from Natchez) had seen at least four SDG murders by July 1964, three occurring before the Neshoba murders and the fourth occurring just days afterward. Eight SDG murders are covered in the book as well as the killing of Johnny Queen in 1965 in Fayette.

Additionally, the book questions the FBI and Justice Department’s new probes into the murders. Since the initiative was announced in February 2007, only one re-opened case moved forward–the grand jury probe into the Frank Morris arson. For the most part, the government’s initiative was a failure and we discuss why.

‘Civil Rights, Culture Wars’ shows how textbook fight mirrors battle of Mississippi legacy

By Jere Nash. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (July 9).

civil rights culture warsNot until 1980 were Mississippi high schools allowed to use a textbook that accurately and dispassionately covered the entire history of the state, complete with the horrors of slavery, the motives behind the Civil War, the value of Reconstruction, and the triumphs of the civil rights movement. Civil Rights, Culture Wars: The Fight Over a Mississippi Textbook (University of North Carolina Press) by University of Mississippi historian Charles Eagles explains how it happened.

Several years ago, the University of North Carolina Press published The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss, the authoritative account by Eagles of the one event in the 1960s that defined Mississippi for the rest of the nation.

The disastrous response of whites in our state to the demand for civil and voting rights was prompted in part by 80 years of school textbooks that marginalized black men and women and distorted black history.

Eagles is unsparing in his descriptions of those earlier textbooks: one explained that “the life of a slave [was] pleasant,” while another textbook defended the role of the Ku Klux Klan, while yet another applauded the 1890 Constitutional Convention in seeking to “insure control of the state by the white man.” After eight decades of indoctrination of generations of white Mississippians with historical myths, it is not hard to see how that helped to fuel the fire of massive resistance.

MississippiConflictandChangeWhich brings us to James Loewen and Charles Sallis. In the 1970s, Loewen, a professor at Tougaloo College, and Sallis, a professor at Millsaps College, began to work together on a new kind of textbook, called Mississippi: Conflict and Change, that, as Eagles writes, “argued that conflict produces change, and [that] embraced controversial subjects related to race and class, examined unpleasant subjects such as economic depressions and violence, and included subjects neglected by other books–blacks, women, workers, and the arts.” Eagles takes us through how the book was researched, written and ultimately published in 1974.

Getting the book published, though, didn’t automatically mean it would show up in high schools. In Mississippi, then as now, a state board approves the textbooks for classroom use. And in November 1974, the board said no to Conflict and Change. With access to rich primary material, Eagles gives us a perceptive behind-the-scenes accounting of why that decision was made.

But the story doesn’t end there. Loewen, Sallis, and Eagles are just getting warmed up. The authors filed a historic lawsuit, asking a federal judge to force the state to accept their textbook, and Eagles delivers this development with backroom negotiations, trial testimony and lucid analysis. The litigation took six long years and was finally resolved on April 2, 1980, when Judge Orman Smith ordered the board to place Conflict and Change on the approved list.

Eagles captures the untenable position of the state in one short exchange between the judge and John Turnipseed, a teacher who rated the book unfavorably. After objecting to a photograph of a lynching because it would cause “harsh feelings in the classroom,” Turnipseed was asked by Judge Smith, “But this happened, didn’t it? Didn’t Mississippians have more lynchings than any other state?” Turnipseed testified, “Well, yes. But that all happened so long ago. Why dwell on it now?” To which the exasperated judge responded: “Well, it is a history book!”

As with his book on Meredith and Ole Miss, Eagles’ writing is marked by three qualities that I like. One, he builds the narrative around primary sources. He interviews people, he digs through old file boxes, and finds the records that tell the truth.

Two, he provides context. He not only sets the state for the story, he give us succinct biographical information on the players. The journey of Conflict and Change involved lawyers, historians, journalists, activists, including Ernst Borinski, Frank Parker, Mel Leventhal, Margaret Walker Alexander, Fred Banks, Clarice Campbell, Duncan Gray Jr., Jeanne Middleton, David Sansing, and John Bettersworth.

Third, Eagles doesn’t hesitate to give his opinion. I agreed with some, other I didn’t, but I like authors with opinions; it makes me stop and think.

I’ll close this review with an observation on the import of Conflict and Change by the incomparable Frank Parker, one of the lawyers for Loewen and Sallis: “Desegregation of the public schools in the South is now protected even more by a constitutional prohibition against maintaining racial segregation in the curriculum and in textbooks.”

Jere Nash is the co-author of Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976-2008, Mississippi Fried Politics, Tall Tales from the Backroom, and America’s Great Storm: Leading Through Hurricane Katrina.

Endurance in the Delta: ‘Trials of the Earth’ by Mary Mann Hamilton

unnamed-6Mary Mann Hamilton was a remarkable women who was encouraged to write down her life as a female pioneer. Hamilton was born in 1866 and passed away in 1936. It was later in her life that she began to write down her experiences of “taming the American South”– she writes about living through floods, fires, tornadoes, and her husband’s drinking. An early draft of Trials of the Earth was submitted to a writers’ competition sponsored by Little, Brown in 1933, but, unfortunately, it was not chosen at the time. Now, eighty-three years later, Mary Mann Hamilton’s book is the only known first-hand account of a woman pioneering her way through the South.

Hamilton is a fierce woman that I found absolutely fascinating.
She starts her book off with the marriage to her husband, Frank, whom she only marries because he has promised to care for her younger siblings. She doesn’t know much about Frank, a mysterious Englishman, which is shown throughout the book, but they seem to get along well. Together, they start to run a logging camp where Hamilton alone cooks, morning and night, for an average of 70 men working for her husband. She does this while also raising her children, some of whom do not make it through the perils of pioneer life.

Hamilton at the logging camp

Hamilton at the logging camp

Hamilton spends the majority of her book writing about her time in the Mississippi Delta’s woods and marshlands, as well as the role she plays in clearing a path for future cotton farmers. Throughout this time in her life, she encounters a flood that completely washes away her home and the family’s logging camp, buries children, and deals with her husband’s secretive life and drinking problem.

Hamilton in her later years

Hamilton in her later years

As it says on the dust jacket: “The extreme hard work and tragedy Hamilton faced are eclipsed only by her emotional and physical strength; her unwavering faith in her husband… and her tenacious sense of adventure.”

For what small amount of education Hamilton had during her life, she has created a beautifully written book. I sat down to read ten pages before bed one night and ended up reading seventy. I couldn’t put it down.

Nonfiction paperback picks for summer 2016

It’s that time of year. Spring is giving way to summer, school is letting out, and people are hitting the highway for vacations. It’s a perfect time to squeeze in some time for the reading that you’ve been meaning to do. I would like to recommend some nonfiction books, all out in paperback, that I think will be just the thing. They’re lightweight for packing, affordable, and hold up a lot better than your average e-reader when exposed to sand and water. So, with that in mind, let’s get to the recommendations…

CATEGORY 1: NEW IN PAPERBACK, BREEZY READING

[Both of these books were released in hardcover just last year, and they are both easy to read (and finish) books about cultural phenomena.]

Jacket (5)So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson is the fey-voiced Welshman you might have heard on This American Life. He is also the author of The Pyschopath Test, among other books. Here he examines the concept of public shaming, specifically in the form of mass Twitter vigilantism. Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” probably wasn’t anticipating the mass-volume payload delivery system that social media provides. Ronson thoughtfully examines the implications of a justice system that started with good intentions but is often used mercilessly against private citizens with momentary lapses of good judgment. Just keep reading past the section about Jonah Lehrer, his first case study (and not his most sympathetic).

Jacket (6)The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

Man, the 90s were a weird time, filled with unwarranted optimism and unchecked consumerism. The story revolves on its axis of Ty Warner, the founder and CEO of the company that produced the Beanie Babies, a pretty great toy maligned in our memory by the mania that accompanied our desire to “collect them all.” The whole tale is outrageous and engaging from start to finish and a valuable reminder of the foibles of human nature.

CATEGORY 2: PAST YEAR GEMS, CRASH COURSES

[Both of these books are not quite new in paperback and are a little longer (in part because they are augmented by fascinating footnotes), but they are absorbing narrative reads to keep your mind sharp over the summer.]

Jacket (7)Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

I must admit, I have always been in love with New Orleans. And what a fantastic subtitle this book has—if that doesn’t get you interested in history, what will? This account of New Orleans from the 1890s to 1920 weaves together the narratives of red-light district “mayor” Tom Anderson, conflicted brothel madam Josie Arlington, coronet player and jazz progenitor Buddy Bolden, a mysterious ax murderer, and many more. It explains how myth and reality, culture and class divide, hospitality and violence, have always existed in the city that care ostensibly forgot. It was only by coincidence that the beating heart of this tale, the red-light district Storyville, got its name from one subsequently-embarrassed city councilman (named Sidney Story) who was just trying to segregate sin from the more respectable parts of the city. But, trust me, after reading this whole book, you could wonder how the whole city isn’t called that.

Jacket (8)The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

I’m not sure where you have to be in your chemistry education to be in the proper range between being able to understand it and also learning new things, but if you remember chemistry okay from high school, you should be fine. From his charming first anecdote about his mother spearing mercury droplets from broken thermometers to blowing my mind with how elements are made by stars in a process called stellar nucleosynthesis, this is a clear, exciting, and engaging look at the fundamental stuff the universe is made of that doesn’t forget to give things a human touch. Ask for a second bookmark to keep a place for the many wonderful footnotes you’ll be referring to constantly.

CATEGORY 3: THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION

Jacket (9)Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant

If you are reading a book blog from an independent book store in Jackson, Mississippi, I can only imagine that you might have heard of this book already. If you haven’t investigated this local literary phenomenon for yourself, I highly recommend that you do. Grant takes a probing, often hilarious, always empathetic, occasionally baffled look at life in the Mississippi delta. It’s got hunting, blues, and blood feuds mixed in with serious examinations of race, class, prisons, and education. It’s not so much that Grant discovers what native Mississippians don’t already know about our state; it’s how he elucidates the problems with a critical eye while still finding plenty of causes for celebration. It’s bound to be a Southern classic for a long time to come, and now is as good a time as any to read all about it for yourself.

“The Outlaw Years” by Robert M. Coates

According to Welty’s biographer Suzanne Marrs, it was a member of the Night-Blooming Cereus Club –Welty’s close group of friends who gathered to witness the night-blooming flower and enjoy one another’s company—who suggested that Welty read “The Outlaw Years” by Robert M. Coates. Welty was so affected by Coates’s harrowing stories of the Natchez Trace that she was inspired to write “The Wide Net” and “The Robber Bridegroom.”

outlaw years BKCL FE 11.15“The Outlaw Years” is a riveting read, the story of the murderous land pirates of the Natchez Trace. Originally a maze of animal migration routes later adapted for use by Native Americans, the Trace was eventually adopted by white traders and settlers migrating South. Thieves and murderers saw this population as an easy target.

Even today, Coates brings the history of the Natchez Trace land prates to life. While “Outlaw Years” may not be the most accurate history of the Trace, Coates reveals the mood and atmosphere of the 1800s. Many versions of the blood-thirsty Harpe brothers existed and Coates simply chose descriptions which made sense to him. In his defense, Coates rescued many old histories and travelogues from complete obscurity by retelling the stories of the Natchez Trace land pirates.

outlaw years FE woodcutCoates’ list of sources are as equally intriguing as the entire book: Fulkerson’s “Early Days in Mississippi” (1885) is cited as an “excellent book of gossip”; “Ashe’s Travels in America” (1808) is noted as a “very interesting chronicle of an astonished Englishman, on a trip down to the Mississippi”; and Rothert’s “The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock” (1924) is credited as a major source for the book.

outlaw years FE 11.15Any Mississippi bookcase would not be complete without “The Outlaw Years.” First editions are embellished with illustrations and beautiful maps on the end papers. For collectors, note that there is a book club edition also published in 1930 through the Literary Guild of America. The true first edition is published in 1930 by the Macaulay Company. However, both of these editions are desirable as “The Outlaw Years” is out of print today.

Written by Lisa Newman, Original to The Clarion-Ledger. 

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: Willie’s House

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Chris Ray

We always felt that the house chose us as much as we chose it. Carolyn and I had been to a couple of JoAnne’s parties, the last one being the celebration of the movie release of My Dog Skip after Willie died. I was always struck with how real their home felt, surrounded by genuine laughter, someone playing the piano, curiosities and ephemera, and of course, a library’s worth of books.

When JoAnne decided that the house was too big for her to keep up, I believe that she not only wanted to find someone to buy the house, but also to honor it. Which brings up an interesting challenge: how do you make a home yours, while honoring those who came before you?

We’ve tried to do both – and I think that Willie would be happy to see that the cats from the neighborhood still hang out in the crawl space. Curious literary fans still drive by slowly. There are dozens of assorted balls and sports gear scattered about the house, garage, and yard. In fact, our son John keeps a collection of baseballs in the same small closet where Willie kept his. And the books, my gosh, the books. They are everywhere.

We have Willie’s highway map of Yazoo County framed upstairs and a photo downstairs of Willie taken by his son, David Rae. And every now and then, we will find some odd treasure that Willie had hidden or misplaced. I think Willie would like the fact that our neighbors, Governor Winter and Dick Molpus, still tell Willie stories every time we see them. Dick told me recently that Willie would walk down to his house every Christmas to say hello as part of his “once-a-year exercise.”

But I don’t think Willie would want his former home to be a shrine. Or something too precious. I think he would appreciate that the paint is peeling here and there and there’s a patch where we just can’t get grass to grow. I think he’d be happy to see it alive, with the same kind of love and laughter that you felt and heard when he lived there.

To order a copy of Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy , call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or order online here

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: My dream of reliving the Farish Street of my youth

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Jimmie E. Gates, political writer/columnist at The Clarion-Ledger

When I was in my teens, one of my biggest thrills was coming to Farish Street in downtown Jackson.

It was the sight and sounds of a hustling mecca of black life. There were snappy dressed females with their hats. There were men dressed in classy suits, which made you think of The Apollo Theater or the old Cotton Club in Harlem. We had our Crystal Place on Farish Street, and for good measure, we had our Alamo Theater, which was a movie theater. I will never forget going to the Alamo Theater to watch Bruce Lee movies, Godzilla versus the Three-Headed Monster, and most of all watching actress Pam Grier in films.

Those were the days for me growing up. Farish Street was like a whole new world to me. There would be Mr. Armstrong selling Jet Magazines on Farish Street and vendors selling roasted peanuts in small bags and other items. The shoe shine guy, “Bear Trap,” would stay busy; there was a bakery/donut shop, but my favorite was the ice cream plant. Whenever we would be on Farish Street, we would always go by the ice cream plant. The ice cream man, whose name escapes me today, would give us ice cream bars. He would always be dressed in a white uniform and wearing a hat to match.

We would always come to Farish Street and shop. Although Farish Street was the mecca of black life in the 60s and 70s, many of the clothing stores and shoe stores were Jewish-owned.

I will never forget my Farish Street days. I don’t know when Farish Street began to deteriorate, but it probably occurred after the first mall opened in the city. Jackson Mall opened in 1969 followed by  Metrocenter in 1978. Farish Street stores and other stores began to leave the downtown area for the malls.

We longed for the bygone days of our youths; sometimes wondering if we can recreate those years.

I pass the empty shell of the buildings lining Farish Street today wondering if the hustle and bustle of the street will ever live again.

Decades have gone by since Farish Street was the place to go. There have been talk about reclaiming the area as an entertainment district, but the talk hasn’t materialized into returning Farish Street to its heydays.

I know others have their own fond memories of places and things in Jackson that were once special to them. Farish Street was that place for me.

There was a song by the late Luther Vandross  called “Dance With My Father” that was one of my favorites. The lyrics were based upon Vandross’ childhood  memories of  his late father and mother often dancing together. Vandross knew his dream could never come true when he wrote the song because his father was deceased. We all have our dreams; the dreams that would make us happy. Seeing Farish Street alive again with life and vitality would be a dream come true for me.

 

Ken Murphy will be joining us in the store all day today (December 23) and will be signing copies of all of his books!

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