Showing posts with label Civil Rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Civil Rights. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Court Hears Case on Textbok 1979

 Authors' suit charges racial bias in history book

By CHAT BLAKEMAN Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
Tue, August 29, 1979

Is a ninth-grade classroom the place where Mississippians should learn that there have been more lynchings in their state than in any other? Will a photograph of white policemen arresting black demonstrators stir racial hatred or lead students to a true understanding of their past? These types of questions are at the heart of a battle that began Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenville before Judge Orma Smith. Although the issue is alleged racism in Mississippi schools, the, topic is not unequal facilities, alleged physical abuse, private academies or busing. The topic is a pair of books. The suit is being brought by a group that includes Millsaps College history professor Charles Sal-las and former Tougaloo College professor James Loewen, joint editors of a textbook on Mississippi history rejected by the State Textbook Purchasing Board in 1974.

The text, "Mississippi: Conflict and Change," presents what the authors contend is a candid but accurate picture of state history. It details subjects such as the treatment of slaves, blacks' accomplishments during Reconstruction, their plight in the years that followed and the sharecropper system that kept many Mississippians in virtual economic bondage. The authors charge that the Textbook Purchasing Board's rejection of "Conflict and Change" and approval of "Your Mississippi," the text now used, constituted pro-white bias in favor of texts that "minimize and denigrate the roles of black people in American and Mississippi history." The suit alleges, moreover, that the system by which the state approves school texts "is and has been an instrument of state propaganda to exclude controversial viewpoints, operates as a state instrument of unconstitutional state censorship, and fails to provide due process of law." Joined by representatives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson, the Jefferson County School Board and others, the authors ask that the court order "Conflict and Change" added to the list of approved texts and decide whether the book adoption system is valid. The board chooses books based on the recommendation of a rating committee and can approve as many as five books in each category. Acceptance of one text does not require rejection of others.

Although the rating committee rejected "Conflict and Change" on a 5-2 vote (five white members voted against the book and two blacks for it), the state maintains race was not a factor in the decision. The action, the state contends, was based on "racially neutral educational and academic standards." In statements made for the court, and in the ratings made in 1974, board members said that "Conflict and Change" did not include a teacher's manual when it was submitted for approval, employed a vocabulary too advanced for the average Mississippi ninth-grader and did not give "proper emphasis to the economic, social and spiritual development" of Mississippians. Others cited as offensive a photograph in "Conflict and Change" showing the remains of a black man who had been lynched and burned. Gathered around the bonfire is a crowd of whites. "I feel that this book contains too many controversial issues to fit properly into the curriculum of the schools of Mississippi," wrote committee member Harold E. Railes in his evaluation written in 1974. Another member called the book "too racially oriented." Frank Parker, the attorney representing the "Conflict and Change" group, maintains that race and controversy are the real reasons behind the committee's action. The other reasons are "rationalizations after the fact," Parker contends. ."There have been more lynchings in Mississippi than in any other state and you can't ignore that," Parker said. "Your Mississippi" was written by historian John K.Bettersworth, who retired last year as academic vice president of Mississippi State University. In its latest revisions, the book has been used in state schools since 1968 for required ninth-grade state history courses. In an attempt to show that "Conflict and Change" is the better book, the suit challenges the history presented in "Your Mississippi," citing among other examples: That it devotes only four paragraphs to the treatment of slaves and that those passages "minimize the brutality of the system and accentuate mitigating factors." For example, the suit cites Bettersworth's statement that "some slaves who were house servants received an education" and notes the book fails to mention the prohibitions against educating slaves and only 5 percent of the slaves were domestics. That In summing up the modern civil rights era, Bettersworth recounts that, "Gradually Mississippians, black and white, found they could get along together as they always had," without discussing adequately the reasons behind the civil rights movements. That in its use of photographs, the book discriminates against blacks.

"Your Mississippi" has only three photographs or 5 percent showing blacks only, while "Conflict and Change" has 20 or 25.6 percent. Bettersworth, a historian best known for his research into Mississippi society during the Civil War, dismisses the criticism, saying his book does not distort the role of blacks. Mississippi's system of adopting textbooks is shared in some form by roughly half the 50 states and most southern states. The system, provides textbooks free to public and parochial school students. Individual school boards may use whatever texts they want, but only those on the state's list can be purchased with state funds.

In practice, choices are limited to books on the list, which is revised every six years. The suit involving "Your Mississippi" and "Conflict and Change" is expected to last several weeks and it may be several months before the court renders a decision, lawyers for both sides said. Here are examples of disparities between the textbooks "Your Mississippi" and "Mississippi: Conflict and Change": ON SLAVERY Your Mississippi "While there were a number of cases of cruelty to slaves, public opinion and state law tried to see that the slaves were not mistreated. Plantation owners cautioned their overseers against using brutal practices, but overseers were noted for cruelty The code (of 1832) required the master to keep all of his slaves in good health and physical well-being from the cradle to the grave. In general, slaves were treated well or badly on the basis of how good or bad their owners were." Conflict and Change: "When the slaveowner or overseer felt that a slave had done wrong, he sometimes punished the offender severely . . .

One slave recalled a whipping that he had witnessed: 'I saw Old Master get mad at Truman, and he buckled him down across a barrel and whipped him till he cut the blood out of him, and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places.' . . .This harsh treatment had other aims... it made them fear white men, and it attempted to make them feel that whites were 'naturally' superior to blacks." ON RECONSTRUCTION Your Mississippi: By 1874, taxpayers were ready to revolt. ..

Vicksburg and Warren County were scenes of the first incidents. Most of the city and county offices were held by blacks. Since whites paid ninety-nine percent of the taxes, they were very unhappy. The city and county debt, which had been only thirteen thousand dollars in 1869, had climbed to $1.4 million for Vicksburg alone by 1874 .

After 1875 the old hatreds began to fade. Mississippi was back under the control of native whites." Conflict and Change: "Many Mississippians still believe the 'myth of Reconstruction,' that the period directly after the Civil War was a time of bad government, 'Negro domination,' and racial tension. We now know that most of this myth is not true Many of the black leaders in Mississippi were educated; several were college graduates. Those who were honest and able were usually supported by both black and white voters.

All they asked was equal rights before the law. On the whole, Mississippi was especially fortunate in having capable black leaders during these years." ..,...:'.; 

ON THE '60s , " Your Mississippi- "The 1960s were years of crisis. A showdown over desegregation and civil rights occurred. As a result, Mississippi's relationships with the national government were strained. After the Supreme Court's desegregation decision of 1954, Mississippians took vigorous measures to resist. One of those was the organization of a group known as the White Citizens' Council." Conflict and Change: "In 1954, the Supreme Court finally ruled school desegregation illegal. A few white people agreed with the decision but did not speak out effectively. Others organized the Citizens' Councils and passed new laws to resist integration. At the same time, a few black people began to express their dissatisfaction with segregation.". 

ON THE MISSISSIPPI SOVEREIGNTY COMMISSION Your Mississippi "In 1956 a State Sovereignty Commission was set up to take the Mississippi case to the rest of the country." . Conflict and Change: "One of the most important acts passed in 1956 established a State Sovereignty Commission to preserve segregation. The commission promptly hired secret investigators to inquire into 'subversive activities' ... The commission also operated a public relations department to publicize to the nation the benefits of Mississippi's segregated way of life." 

Early Adoption of Mississippi Conflict and Change

Private schools take little interest in controversial text

Clarion Ledger Thursday, January 22, 1981

By NELL LUTER - FOCUS Writer 

Jackson's private high schools have taken little interest in the controversial text "Mississippi: Conflict and Change" since the book first appeared in 1974. "Conflict and Change" was added to the state's list of approved textbooks last month after a five-year court battle. Out of 13 private high schools in the city, only one - St. Andrew's Episcopal School uses the ninth-grade history book written by Charles Sallis and James E. Loewen.

St. Andrew's has used the book ever since it came out, said Headmaster David Hicks. The book was chosen by history teachers at St. Andrew's after it was approved by an academic affairs committee made up of department chairmen, Hicks said. "We selected 'Conflict and Change' because it gives a more comprehensive and a more thematic study than 'Your Mississippi' by John K. Bettersworth," Hicks said. "It is clear from reading that book ('Your Mississippi') that it is your Mississippi so long as you're white. It just doesn't deal with the conflict between the races." " 

Hicks said "Conflict and Change" uses the theme of the conflict between races rather than simply presenting Mississippi's chronological history. "It ('Conflict and Change') is thought provoking," Hicks said. "We've had some great discussions by using the book." "Conflict and Change" is not perfect, Hicks admitted.

"If whatever you want to talk about doesn't fit into the theme, it gets minimized or left out," Hicks said. " 'Your Mississippi" leaves out a lot, but it has no excuse for doing that.' " No parents or students at St. Andrew's have complained about using the controversial textbook since Hicks' term as headmaster. "The students seem to like the book," Hicks said. "It's not very difficult." Steven Bass, a Mississippi history teacher at Mississippi Baptist High School, said he uses "Conflict and Change" as a reference guide for his classes.

Students use Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today" as their textbook, he said. "Students are very interested in looking at the book ('Conflict and Change')," Bass said. "It gives a side of Mississippi we aren't used to seeing. It covers civil rights and modern writers very well." Bass said "Conflict and Change" was written at a fifth-grade reading level. "Ninth-graders could take the book and we'd be finished in a month," he said.

Students at Jackson Preparatory School won't find "Conflict and Change" used as a textbook, said Jesse L. Howell Jr., headmaster. The controversial book, however, is in the school's library for use as a reference guide. "We've had no mention by teachers or parents about the book," Howell said. Jackson Prep is free to use books from any source as textbooks, Howell said.

Unlike public schools, the school does not have to choose books on the state's approved list, Howell said. Robert Luckett, principal at St. Joseph High School, expects ninth-graders at the Catholic school to begin using "Conflict and Change" as soon as possible. The students currently use Betters-worth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." Luckett said textbooks for the school are chosen strictly from the state approved list because the school receives federal funding. "If we're thinking about changing texts, we'll get the teachers in the subject area together to look at the books available and then consult our school board members." Luckett said a few parents were concerned about "Conflict and Change" when it was banned by the Mississippi Textbook Purchasing Board's Rating Commmittee in 1974.

The seven-member rating committee said the book was too advanced for ninth-graders and over-emphasized race. The textbook was ordered to be added to the list of approved school books by U.S. District Judge Orma R. Smith last April. At Woodland Hills Baptist Academy ninth-graders use "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." "We haven't found a textbook better than Betterworth's," Woodland Hills Headmaster David Derrick said, adding that he believed Bettersworth's book lacked continuity between where the author stopped writing and the events of modern history.

"We don't feel like another book is better written or covers the material better." Derrick said neither parents nor teachers had suggested "Conflict and Change" be used. When the school changes textbooks, a committee of teachers examine the books available in regard to the reading levels and "what's best for the student," Derrick said. At Manhattan Academy, which uses Bettersworth's "Your Mississippi," there has been no inquiry by parents or students about changing Mississippi history textbooks, Headmaster Ray Wooten said. A committee of Manhattan teachers choose the school's textbooks, using the state approved list as a guide. Because the school is private, textbooks chosen do not have to come from the approved list, Wooten said.

Jackson Academy ninth-graders use Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." Glenn A. Cam, headmaster at Jackson Academy, said the school was not ready to consider changing books because it purchased new Mississippi history books about three years ago. Because Mississippi history is taught only for half a year, the textbooks are used a little longer than those for courses taught the entire year, Cain said. Cain has received no mention of using "Conflict and Change" from parents or salesmen, he said. "Conflict and Change" will be evaluated when the school is in the market for new books, he said.

Cain said he had not read "Conflict and Change." Students at Madison-Ridgeland Academy use Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." Dominic A. Bevalaque, headmaster at MRA, said the school buys new books every five years, depending on inflation and the condition of the books. MRA uses the state adoption list as a guide but is free to obtain books not on the list, Bevalaque said. Bevalaque said the school's teachers consider all books on the market when choosing a textbook. ' At Natchez Trace Academy, the use of Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today" is an economic matter, Administrator Margaret Beal said.

The school, now in its first year of operation, uses texts formally used by Jackson Christian Academy. Natchez Trace Academy has received no comments about using its Mississippi history book, Mrs. Beal said. "No one has said, 'If you use that book ('Conflict and Change') I'll take my child out,' " Mrs. Beal said.

Mrs. Beal said "Conflict and Change" would probably be introduced in the ninth-grade classes as a reference book available in the library. At Capital City Baptist School, Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today" is the only book on the state approved list that is used, James Johnson, principal, said. All other textbooks come from the Accelerated Christian Education Curriculum in Texas, Johnson said. Johnson, in his fourth year as principal, said he had received no mention of using "Conflict and Change." Johnson remembered some of the controversy "Conflict and Change" caused when it was first published but was not familiar with the book's contents.

McCluer Academy uses Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today." "Right now, the reason we're using it is that we've had it a long time and we have plenty of copies," said McCluer Headmaster Bobby Jones. "We just haven't updated the Mississippi history books and looked at any other books." Jones said. Jones said he was familiar with the book. Jones, in his second week as headmaster at the South Jackson school, knew of no one asking to use "Conflict and Change" as a textbook or requesting the book for a relerence guide in the school's library. Ninth-graders at Central Hinds Academy use Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today," Headmaster Wade Hammack said.

"I do not know anything about the book ('Conflict and Change') other than what I have read in the paper," Hammack said. No teachers or parents have requested "Conflict and Change" be used, he said. William S. Purvis, headmaster at Magnolia Academy, said the school was using Bettersworth's "Mississippi Yesterday and Today" before this one ( Conflict and Change') was in print and saw no reason to change." Purvis said Magnolia Academy had just purchased new editions of Betters-worth's book and he had had no parents or students suggest using "Conflict and Change." Purvis said he was not familiar with the contents of "Conflict and Change" but had heard about the controversy it sparked. 


Friday, January 19, 2024

Washing Our Feet

Like many cities in the South, by 1963, Jackson, Mississippi, closed all of its public swimming pools rather than integrate them as required by the Civil Rights Act.  The city argued that closing the facilities didn't violate the Civil Rights Act because closing the facilities impacted both races equally.  The Supreme Court upheld this view.

In 1969, Fred Rogers's television program, "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood," had a huge impact nationally but still had a very small budget.  Realizing the impact his program had on people, Rogers wanted to say something positive about integration, but since his program was for small children, he didn't want to do it in a confrontational way, and he needed it to not cost very much money to produce.

In "Mr Rogers Neighborhood," actors portrayed the characters children might recognize in their neighborhood.  They were postal workers, police officers, shopkeepers, handymen, and others.  In May 1969, as the issue of integration and public swimming pools grew, Rogers had an idea for a segment involving Officer Clemmons.


Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Fran├žois Clemmons was a black singer.  By the time he began working for Fred Rogers, he had spent time singing in the Harlem Spiritual Choir and the Metropolitan Opera.  Fred Rogers knew Clemmons was a gay man but hired him anyway for his program, a move that was, by itself, very controversial at the time, especially considering that Rogers was an ordained minister.  Clemmons played the neighborhood policeman, which was somewhat controversial as Mr. Roger's Neighborhood appeared to be white.

Without making any sort of confrontational statement, Rogers thought that Mr Rogers and Officer Clemmons could take off their shoes and dip their feet in a cool plastic wading pool together on a hot summer day.  The taking off or changing of shoes was often used to represent a time of relaxation or intimacy, a letting down of defenses, on the program, as Mr Rogers changed his leather "work shoes" to cloth loafers to begin every show.

Before coming to television, Fred Rogers was a minister.  In the Christian faith, the idea of washing one's feet has a deep spiritual meaning, one he hoped would be evident to adults watching the episode.  For children, he hoped to gently instill the idea that black men and white men could swim together and be friends with nothing to worry about.  When the two finished washing their feet and quietly talking, they shared a towel to dry their feet, reinforcing the "washing of feet" theme while also making it evident that sharing a swim or a towel wasn't dangerous.  He feared that hearing adults argue about integrating swimming pools might make children afraid of it, so this was his gentle means to show them there was nothing to worry about.  

In Mississippi, where much of the argument over integrated pools originated, children like me never saw this episode when it first aired because the Mississippi legislature refused to fund public broadcasting for fear it would spread a communist, race-mixing message, even though the funds for it had already come down from the federal government.  (Sound familiar?)  It wasn't until late in 1969 when the Mississippi Legislature voted to create the Mississippi Public Broadcasting System, which wouldn't go into effect until 1970, almost a year after the pool episode of Mr. Rogers.

In 1993, when Clemmons made his final appearance on Mr Rogers Neighborhood, Rogers and Clemmons recreated the pool scene, where they sang "There Are Many Ways to Say I Love You" together.  After soaking their feet together, Rogers used a towel to dry his own feet and then used the same towel to dry Clemmons' feet, mimicking the moment in Christ's life when he washed the feet of the apostles.   

Fred Rogers understood that gestures are often a far better way to teach than words.  Trying to mend the wounds of the world in the minds of children, he invoked a gesture he knew well from the life of Christ.  Humility creates an environment that breeds love.


Thursday, October 19, 2023

Secrets in the East

I’ve been delaying working on this for a few days.  Sometimes, what I have to say makes me uncomfortable.

My father had eight children. Four were human: my two brothers, my sister, and me; four were not human: Missco, Mllsaps, Trustmark, and St Dominic’s. He tried his best to balance his time between us, but sometimes, living things are difficult to balance.  In the five or six years before his death, I would regularly meet my father and his office for a drink after work. He alone understood how dangerously unhappy I was and blindly helped me search for the solution neither of us could see.  On those nights alone with my father in his office, he told me many things as he reflected back on my own history and the history of my city.   

One day, not long before he died, he told me that he had searched as far into the west as he could see to remove anything that might be a danger to his children in the future, but he failed to look very far into the east. Anyone who grew up in a prosperous and successful and growing Jackson and then expected that to continue in their lives probably understands what he meant. Nobody expected the city to die. We were doing great, but we didn’t look into the east.

I always knew that my dad kept secrets.  I also knew that he kept these secrets because if he didn't, somebody would get hurt, and that made me sad for him.  What happened to Jackson, why it grew so rapidly, then broke and started to shrink, is a story he was deeply involved in.  Some of it he told me, and some of it he kept secret. 

To understand what happened to Jackson, you have to understand what happened in 1969 and 1970 when nearly half the white students abandoned the Jackson Public Schools and started something else.  I wanted to resolve, in my own mind, what his role was in all this.  He told me a few things through the years, but I wanted to validate what he told me through other sources.  I wanted to see his role in what happened to Jackson the way other people saw it.

My dad was in the school business.  Even if he weren’t in the school business, he would have been right in the middle of all this because that’s how he lived, trying to build his community.  He told me many things, but there were many more I had to find out on my own.  

I had dinner with my sister this weekend.  There are things in my universe where she really is the only person alive who can understand what I’m saying.  After everyone else had left, she waited with me for my Uber to arrive.  I talked to her about how I’ve spent over twenty-five years digging deeply and researching what happened to Jackson, our home.  I always felt like, because of who our family was and because of who I was, I might be in a fairly unique position to understand what went on here, why, and what the results were.

There’s been so much written about what happened in Jackson and in Mississippi during the “civil rights era.”  It’s become this really complex mosaic of different points of view and different perspectives, and I’ve tried to consume it all, to try and understand what happened in a way that satisfied my own mind.  Doing this for so long, I’ve cultivated a pretty substantial body of knowledge.

I told my sister I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with all this history I’d accumulated.  I could write a scathing tell-all that exposes all the secrets of Jackson’s society and its racist underbelly, but the story was so much more complicated than that, but even if it weren’t more complicated than that, even if it were just the story of a bunch of unreconstructed racists screwing things up, nearly all those guys are dead, and the ones who aren’t dead are in a memory care facility now.  There’s nothing I could write that could bring anybody justice, and there’s nothing I could write that would change the past or change the future.  Most of these guys are dead, but their children aren’t; their grandchildren and, in some cases, their great-grandchildren are still very much with us, still very much a part of Jackson.  Did I want to be the guy who put down in a book that somebody’s beloved Pop-pop did something horrible long before they were born?  

I still want to tell this story, but I have to be careful and be gentle with the memories people have of the people who lived here.  I have to try not to be a hypocrite here because I have already said some pretty rough things about Ross Barnett and Alan C Thompson, and I very much know their families and descendants, but I’m trying to make allowances for people whose histories are already part of public discourse, and people (like Barnett and Thompson) who made a particular effort to make things difficult.

That being said, in my studies, I’ve found that some of the people everyone assumes were the villains might not be.  My entire life, I’ve heard people from every angle blame what happened in Jackson on Billy Simmons and the Citizen’s Council.  I can’t posit that Billy was anything like a good guy.  He said, wrote, and broadcast some of the most vile racist stuff that I’ve ever been exposed to.  He was pretty bad, but If you look at the number of kids who ended up enrolled at the three Jackson Citizen’s Council Schools and the fact that they were out of business by 1981, you can’t really say they caused the problem.  There just weren’t enough kids in those schools to account for the nearly 50% drop in white student participation in Jackson Public Schools, and even if they were, they were out of business before the first class of kids who had never been in public schools graduated.

In 1981, former Nixon Aide and lifelong republican operative Lee Atwater was recorded as saying: 

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “N____r, n____r, n____r.” By 1968 you can’t say “n____r”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N____r, n____r.”

Here, he lays out the infamous “Southern Strategy” pretty plainly.  It was never more relevant than in 1969 and 1970 in Jackson, Mississippi.  There were guys who believed everything Billy Simmons believed but didn’t like the way he said it.  In their minds, as long as you didn’t say “N____r, n____r, n____r” then you were in the clear, even if that’s what you were thinking.  These guys wanted schools that ticked all the boxes that the Citizen’s Council schools ticked but without being affiliated with the Citizen’s Council.  They managed to introduce class into this gumbo of race, class, and gender.  They considered themselves in one class and Billy Simmons and all his Citizens Council pals in another.  I have a problem with that.  Billy Simmons had the courage to tell us what he was.  These guys who were the same thing but tried to tell us they were something different were less of a man than Billy, in my opinion.  I can’t say that any of the things he believed were right or decent, but he had enough respect for other people that he would at least be honest and upfront about it and not hide it behind dog-whistle words like what Atwater was talking about.  

One of my fraternity brothers, a man by the name of Dick Wilson, tried to tell me not to judge Simmons too quickly.  “He’s a lot smarter than people realize,” Dick told me.  It took me a while to understand what Dick was saying, but he was right, Billy Simmons was kind of a genius.  You can look at his library now at the Fairview and see evidence of this.  What might tempt a guy with such a vast intellect down such dark avenues is something I don’t understand, but I’d really like to.  I’m fascinated by his story.

The influence of Kappa Alpha Order is waning in the world, and I think that’s probably for the best.  In 1969, it was at its peak.   When I look at the names of the men who organized and funded these non-citizens-council segregation academies in Jackson, a good two-thirds of them were KAs, mostly from Ole Miss.  We’ll be judged for that, and I think that’s fair.  These guys were community and business leaders; they could have said, “Let’s take all this money and effort and dump it into the public schools, and the Justice Department be damned!” but they didn’t. 

In 1969, most of these guys considered themselves at war, not with black Mississippians, but with the federal government.  Kirby Walker, superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, had a plan to gradually integrate our schools.  In interview after interview, he was proud of the fact that he had introduced black students into every school without incident.  I honestly think Mayor Thompson wanted a big, violent confrontation like what happened in Oxford.  He kept buying equipment and building up his forces to be ready for it, but it never happened.  

In the Alexander v Holmes County decision, the court decided that “justice delayed, is justice denied” and ordered the Mississippi schools to be racially balanced immediately. And in some cases, like Jackson Public Schools, they put the Justice Department in charge of it.  Kirby Walker spent ten years out of a thirty-year career trying to desegregate Jackson Public Schools.  He believed he had done a good job, only to have it torn from him and given to Washington Bureocrats.  In 1969, he retired rather than serve under the federal Department of Health Education and Welfare.  Upon retiring, he told my grandfather to say to my father, “Tell Jim to get those boys into private schools.  I just don’t know what’s going to happen with Jackson Public Schools.”  

That caused a bit of panic in my family.  Both my mother and father were products of the Jackson Public Schools.  They were our best and most profitable customer, and even with Dr. Walker retiring, my dad had many friends who still worked at Jackson Public Schools.  At the same time, nearly everyone he knew from Ole Miss was sending their children to either JA or Prep, and his fraternity brothers served on every board.  There was a time when four members of the Jackson Prep board of trustees had consecutively been the president of the Ole Miss Chapter of Kappa Alpha after my father.  For good or for evil, in the second half of the twentieth century, we got mixed up in everything that happened in Mississippi.

Announcing that the Justice Department was taking over our schools caused a full-on panic.  In it, with pressure from his own father and his father’s friends, I think my dad also panicked.  In his mind, sending us to St. Andrews quieted the voices, yelling that he had to do something while not giving in to the pressure to join a “segregation academy.”  Without a doubt, there were parents who were sending their kids to St. Andrews because it was almost entirely white, but there were also parents who sent their kids to St. Andrews precisely because it wasn’t entirely white.

There were heroes in those days, although we don’t talk about it very much.  Andy Mullins couldn’t have been much older than twenty-five or twenty-six when he fought off efforts from without and from within to force St. Andrews to join the Mississippi Private School Association, so boys at St. Andrews wouldn’t have to worry about playing football against any black boys.  Andy went on to fight a number of important battles, but that one must have been pretty tough, considering how young he was and how uncertain the times were.  As I understand it, St. Andrews still plays in the league he got us into.

I’ve made no secret about how much I fought David Hicks when I was at St. Andrews, but there’s something important I need to say about him.  David pretty quickly assessed the situation in Jackson and what was going on with the other schools almost as soon as he got here.  He very firmly drew a line in the sand and said, “This is what they’re about, and this is what we’re about.  Don’t ever get it confused.”  The school still operates under that principle today.  

In 1950, Jackson had one of the most successful and friendliest public schools in America (so long as you were white.)  By 1970, nearly half the white students in Jackson Public Schools abandoned it rather than stay and be a part of the Justice Department's efforts to balance the school’s population racially.  They left, and they never went back.  People who couldn’t afford to keep sending their kids to private schools left the city.

I often think about what would have happened if the scores of families who left Jackson Public School had banded together and decided they were going to make the best of whatever the Justice Department had in mind.  I think, within just a few years, they would have realized that they could handle this, and with a strong public school that everybody supported, there never would have been the massive white flight that decimated Jackson.  There were efforts from several prominent private school educators in the 80s and 90s who returned to the public schools and tried to undo the harm they had done.

Jesus talks to us about shifting sands.  There’s even a pretty great song about it.  Mississippi twice built its house on shifting sands.  Once, when we started importing people from another part of the world to serve as slaves here, and then again, when we decided that we had to keep these former slaves under our thumb and forever separate from us socially and politically after slavery ended.  What Jesus said about building a house on the shifting sands was true; our foundations came tumbling down.

None of the people in this story meant to choose the wrong thing.  That choice was made decades before they were born.  The people in this story were trying to navigate the world as it was left to them.  Their biggest sin was not questioning the assumptions they were working under.

In the story of what happened in Jackson, there were bad actors, that’s for sure.  Because I’ve been doggedly pursuing this story for thirty years, I’ve uncovered a lot of them, even the ones my father tried to keep hidden from me.    Most people weren’t bad actors, though.  Most were regular people trying to do the best they could for their families during a time when nothing made much sense, not the world they knew before and not the world laid out before them.  Faced with a very uncertain future, a lot of them just panicked.  Moving their kids out of the public schools into a private school seemed like the safe thing to do, and when your children are involved, nearly everyone wants the safe thing to do.

So, here we are.  Fifty years later, and I’m keeping the same secrets my father kept.  Maybe that’s my legacy.  Maybe that’s what he was trying to keep me away from.  What I know is this:  there were bad men.  There were many painful and ignorant and short-sighted things–but most people were good.  They may have been short-sighted or misguided by our tangled and snarled culture, but they all wanted something better for their children, even if what they were afraid of wasn’t even real.  

Jackson survived.  It just moved to Madison, Brandon, Pearl, and Clinton.  The city itself sits like a scar on the landscape.  A reminder of the good we failed to do.  I wanted to know what happened to my city.  I wanted to know if my father or I were culpable for what happened.  I think he was, and I am, but so is everyone else.  People use the word “simple” to describe Mississippi.  “We’re simple.”  “We have simple minds.”  “We have simple lives.”  None of that is true.  There’s nothing simple about living here or about being born here.  Our history is a mass of rose thorns, kudzu, shards of broken stained glass from churches where no one meets anymore, cornbread, and piercing sunlight.  It’s really hard to make any sense of it unless you were brought up in it.  Look as far as you can to the West, but look to the East too, when you can, and sometimes decide to keep secrets.



Saturday, August 26, 2023

What Happened to Feist-Dog

This project that I’m calling “Lies My Mother Never Told Me” has been openly banging around in my head for about a year and a half now.   Quietly, these stories have been whispering to me for forty years.  The funny thing about whispers is they sometimes say, “Go now!” and they sometimes say, “You better not.”  

What makes this project interesting is these are real people with real stories, and they all have histories and are interconnected.  I can put my finger down and say, “I want to start here.” in, say, 1963, but the story doesn’t end there; it feathers out like the Mississippi River Delta into time and space, spreading farther and wider, dropping more and more rich loam.  What makes this project dangerous is that these fingers, these feathers of time, reach into real people with real lives and descendants.  The story doesn’t stay in 1963; it reaches out through the seventies, eighties, nineties, and the millennium. It reaches until today, and if I write about things in the past that were painful, it could hurt somebody today.

For example, when I went to the McMullen Writer’s Workshop, the featured speaker was Andrew Aydin, a fascinating young guy who wrote a graphic novel about John Lewis.  So, I’m going to the lecture, and I’m thinking this is really cool because I’ve been into graphic novels longer than most. Lewis was a guy who really interested me, and this is pretty important work, and one of the first things out of Aydin’s mouth was how much he appreciated the school putting him up at Fairview, and in the back of my mind, I think, “Oh.”

Fairview is beautiful and a great representation of what Jackson can be like, and the food is really good, but, to me, that was Bill Simmons’s house, and even though he and Ms. Corley from St. Andrews made it into this beautiful inn, it’s still his house, and his history is so deeply intertwined in everything “Lies My Mother Never Told Me” is about, that I can’t really talk about the story without talking about him.  I can talk about pieces and fabricate whole sections that avoid him, but the story of how Mississippi moved from 1954 to 1994 involves Bill Simmons and some really unpleasant things about him.

Even writing just that sentence makes me nervous.  I’m pleased about what’s happening with Fairview, and I wouldn’t ever do anything to damage their reputation, but going to Bill’s house and having him show me all his books on the Civil War and what I call the “questionable anthropology” he studied for twenty-five years are part of the story–part of my reflection on his story.  The newspaper and radio program he wrote are part of the story.  The schools he created are part of the story.  

I can’t tell this story without talking about Bill Simmons; most importantly, I can’t tell the story of Bill Simmons without pointing out that I really liked the guy.  I know many brilliant people who also liked the guy.  As a writer, I can reconcile that.  That becomes part of my story, but I'll be criticized as a historian (which I am not).  Historians have written about all this.  Stephanie Clanton Rolph wrote about it, and I’m reading her book now for reference.  I think her work on this is much more important than mine, but Stephanie is a lot younger than I am, and she didn’t have all the sort of interpersonal connectedness I did.  I can’t tell you how to reconcile the facts that Bill Simmons was this brilliant guy who appreciated art and music and history but also believed and taught some of the most putrid, hateful things I ever heard.  Both statements are factual, though.  Maybe part of why the universe draws me to this story is that somebody really needs to make the point that it’s a lot more complicated than just saying he was a horrible guy.  

Another part of it is that I deeply love Galloway.  It’s a part of me, like a limb I didn’t use for twenty years but really need now.  People have already pointed out that there are painful parts of Galloway’s history in this, and if I loved the church, do I really want to dig all that back up?  

The answer is that I don’t want to bring all that back up without strongly making the point that Galloway worked through it.  Love and acceptance won out, even though getting there was rough.  Goodness won out, and Galloway was much stronger in 1970 than they were in 1960 because of it.  A sword has to pass through the fire to become strong, and we passed through the fire.

I wrote that long piece about why I was baptized by WJ Cunningham, not by W.B. Selah or Clay Lee, making the point that I never met Cunningham and didn’t really engage with his future in any way other than what I saw on paper, but it turns out that wasn’t true.  Joe Reiff helped make the connection that he was Lori Trigg’s grandfather, and I knew Lori well.  A guy in my pledge class was deeply taken with her; the rest of us were absolutely devoted to her. I very likely met her grandfather one of the years she was voted on the Millsaps Homecoming court, but I knew him as Lori’s grandfather, not the former pastor at Galloway.

Another thread that I’ve been interested in but can’t really make up my mind about is that Riverside Methodist Church didn’t die out.  They took the money the Boy Scouts paid them for their building and built a smaller church in Rankin County.  They have a website, and it's given me some tantalizing bits about what they’ve been up to over the last fifty years, but do I have the right to try and talk to them about some potentially painful and embarrassing things in their past? 

I can’t actually tell my story without telling the story of other people, too.  That’s one of the reasons why I post big pieces of it on Facebook, so people I know can pick it apart and correct me when I make mistakes and either privately or publicly challenge my perspective.  It also gives them a chance to tell me pieces of the story I don’t know, which is really interesting because these stories are fifty years old, and I’ve been digging into them for at least forty years, but every time I write about it, somebody tells me something new.  

My dad believed the only way to deal with Mississippi was to keep looking ahead.  Tear down all that antebellum stuff and build modern new stuff.  The past is but the past, and we’re all about the future.  I understand his point of view, and sometimes I agree with it, but the past is the stock and the roux that binds this stew together.  We’re not yet to the point where we can say the past has no hold on us.  I know that my dad, and Mayor Danks, and Mayor Davis tried to put a modern face on everything so the world wouldn’t judge us for the sixties, but those stories are a part of us, and it’s important to tell them.  I may not be the guy to tell them.  I may be better off writing about Dinosaurs, Robots, and Space Ships like Ray Bradbury said I should.  These stories don’t leave me, though.  They percolate through everything else I try to do.  

Even if I say I will stop working on “Lies My Mother Never Told Me,” it won’t be true because there’s more to writing than just moving my fingers across a keyboard.  I’ll still lay in bed, putting pieces together in my head while I wait for the alarm to go off.  Photos of brilliant people I used to know hiding in a corner of Hal and Mals will still catch my eye.  

I haven’t written about Feist-Dog in a while.  There’s a million other dogs living here, so he’s running around sniffing butts.  This is feist-dog’s story, though.  The day Medgar Evers was shot, Feist-dog was on the radio.   The day men ran Ed King off the road, Feist-Dog was on the radio.  The day Rev Cunningham left Galloway and the days Bill Simmons and Jessie Howell opened their schools, Feist-Dog was on the radio.  He’s just an imaginary dog on the radio, but this is his story.  I’m just a little boy who saw parts of it, and tried to piece together the rest.


Friday, August 25, 2023

Reading The Other Side

If I'm going to write about what happened in the sixties and early seventies, I feel like I need to be able to at least understand and articulate the opposing viewpoint, even if I don't agree with it.  

In Mississippi, most of the argument in favor of segregation came from the Citizens Council, and most of that came from Bill Simmons.  There's such a vast gulf between the things the guy said and wrote and my personal experience with him that I struggle to rationalize it all, and yet it's all true.  

No one sets out to be a villain.  Everybody believes they're working for the greater good.  Medgar Evers thought he was working for the greater good.  Bryan De La Beckwith thought he was working for the greater good.  Obviously, they weren't both correct.   Either that or the actual greater good isn't something we can understand.  

Most of what Bill Simmons wrote, I attribute to what Stephen Jay Gould called "biological determinism," or what I call "really bad anthropology."  What really helped me with all this was Richard Dawkins' theory on "The Selfish Gene," where he introduced the idea of the "meme" as a unit of cultural evolution to help the gene maximize inclusive fitness.  

There's an awful lot more to the word "meme" than funny pictures of cats or animated gifs from 90's sitcoms.  "Meme," as Dawkins intended it, could be the key to everything.  Once you infest yourself with a certain set of memes, then everything Bill Simmons ever wrote and everything Bryan De La Beckwith did starts to become understandable.  They're serving not truth but a meme, and that meme serves some level of genetic inclusive fitness.  

The wrongness of what these men said and did was the result of the selfish gene and the memes it spun to protect its agenda.

George Lucas simplifies the story so that red light sabers mean bad and light colors mean good, and that makes a great story, but there's more to it than that.

I'm starting these stories with the idea that everybody in the are trying to do what's right, but there's a big difference in what they all consider "right" to be.  Everybody is working to serve the memes they start with, but everybody starts with different memes.  

It's possible that the same flaws in my brain that make it difficult to read or speak also give me a way to see these things differently.  Either way, every time I turn on the television, I see where an old enemy of my culture has returned.  Understanding them is vitally important.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Gatekeepers

I’m working on a project.  I don’t know what to call it yet.  Part of it might be “Lies My Mother Never Told Me.”  For this project, I’ve made a timeline of all the significant events in my universe that involve the Civil Rights movement.  “My Universe” here includes Jackson, Mississippi, Millsaps, Galloway, Ole Miss, St. Andrews, The United Methodist Church, Prep, Casey, Murrah, The Jackson Zoo, Riverside Park, WLBT, WJTV, The Office Supply Company, Mississippi School Supply Company, First National Bank and Deposit Guarantee Bank.  

The timeline starts in 1954 when Brown V Board of Education was handed down, and goes until 1990.  Some might say 1990 is too late a date for the Civil Rights movement, but keep in mind how long it took to settle the Ayers Case, or, as I like to call it, Millsaps Alumni defend the State of Mississippi from its own mistakes.  

I suspected and confirmed by making the timeline that if you made a heatmap of events based on date and geographic location, there’s a significant cluster surrounding the day I was born.  A superstitious person might think I was the cause of it all.

I use Uber a lot.  I have a high rating because I’m polite and tip well.  Not long ago, I was meeting a lady at Bravo.  My Uber driver was a black man about my age.  Some of the drivers don’t talk at all.  This one did.  “Where you from?” He asked.  I said I was from Jackson.  I grew up here.  “Where did you go to high school?”  I said I went to St. Andrews but didn’t graduate in a typical fashion, so I went to college a little early.  “I went to Murrah.”  He said.

He noted where I was going and asked if I knew Jeff Good.  I said I knew Jeff Good really well, primarily through his dad, and I knew his wife primarily through her being a girl at Millsaps.  My driver explained that he and Jeff graduated from Murrah together.  

People who graduated with Jeff at Murrah aren’t just regular kids.  These are the kids who started public school in 1970, the year that the Department of Justice took control of Jackson Schools and a year after Alexander V Holmes County, where the US Supreme Court changed the wording of Brown v Board of Education from “all due haste” to “immediately.” All the schemes Mississippi came up with were over.  We had to integrate.  Jeff didn’t live in Mississippi yet; he lived in a state where this sort of battle didn’t have to happen.  My driver did, though.  He and I were born in the same hospital.   That class who graduated with my driver were the first Mississippians to have gone all the way through school without ever facing public school segregation.

You have to think about why fighting Brown V Board of Education was so important.  If you’re in a state that believes it’s better off if everybody is educated, what does it matter if a black kid learns to multiply fractions sitting next to a white kid?  There was no Civil Rights Act yet; you could still refuse to seat black diners at your restaurant if you wanted.

It mattered because our schools taught math and science. Still, they also taught language, literature, history, civics, and religion; these courses are all gateways to culture, and in Mississippi, the last thing people wanted was to admit Africans into the white culture.  

Schools are cultural gateways.  You’re given a mascot.  You’re taught to have “school spirit.”  You cheer for your school, mainly when it plays other schools.  More importantly, though, you form relationships, like my driver who wanted to tell a total stranger that he shared this cultural connection with a man I knew, and in many ways, that made us equal.

I’ve written extensively about when and why my parents decided to take me out of public school.  Had I stayed in public school, I would have spent most of my high school career with this guy.  We would have been alumni together.  Forty-five years later, it seems alien that anyone would try to keep us apart, but they did.  

Many people say that there’s no reason to write about these things, that there have been a lot of other people who wrote about it already, and obsessing over the past is no way to bring on a happy future.  You’re supposed to write about what you know, though, and write about what you feel.  What I know is what happened to Mississippi, and what I feel, more often than not, is haunted,

As a man, Jeff became a gatekeeper to a new kind of culture in Mississippi.  It’s been challenging and sometimes painful, but we’re forging a new, blended sort of culture in Mississippi.   James Meridith was the first African to graduate from the University of Mississippi sixty days after I was born.  Today, he walks around Jackson like a movie star, and whatever he did, it wasn’t really that big of a deal.  It was that big of a deal.  They shot the guy.  The only reason he lived and Medgar Evers didn’t was because some redneck had lousy aim.  Nobody knows who Aubrey James Norvell was, but they ask James Meridith to sign autographs for their grandchildren.  I’m okay with that outcome.  

Much has been written about why Mississippians were adamant about not allowing black faces through our cultural gateways.  Questions of why always matter, but in this case, the questions seem to go round and round in circles.  I’ve been told, my entire life, that Mississippi would have corrected itself eventually.  I don’t think I believe that.  Even with tremendous pressure, some men fought this to their graves.  

I’m not a very good gatekeeper.  I don’t like to talk to strangers, and I don’t like to talk to anyone at all unless I know you pretty well.  I prefer books to pickleball or cocktail parties.  I’m grateful that there are gatekeepers, though.  Some open restaurants, and some drive Uber taxis.  Both open the passages that allow us to blend our lives together now that the worst part is over.  


Friday, August 11, 2023

The Citizens Council and the Republican Party

 The genius of the Citizens Council, the thing that made them both the most effective and the most evil, was that they equated segregation with good citizenship.  It was in their name.  Fighting to keep our schools segregate equated to patriotism and cultural loyalty.  If you read their literature, that was clearly the message.

The Citizens Council started in the Delta, in areas where the black population outnumbered the white population, areas where the idea of “separate but equal” was as problematic as the idea of integration.  They didn’t see these descendants of slaves as peers or equals or fully citizens and saw the interference from the federal government, both through the Brown Decision and the Civil Rights Act, as an impingement on their sovereignty.  For them, this was the heart of “states’ rights.”  

In Jackson, the Citizens Council was, at first, fully accepted in business and social circles.  Doctors, Lawyers, and Bankers all became members, along with tradesmen of every sort.  The Citizens Council was a great equalizer with regard to the issue of class but the most significant divider with regard to the issue of race.  

By the mid 70’s, the social and economic tides turned against the Citizen’s Council.  The rest of the world began equating the Citizen’s Council with the Klan.  Jackson's business, legal and religious leaders began seeing it the same way.  There were men in Jackson who remained loyal to the Citizens Council, including some prominent physicians, but by 1975 they saw their professional progress hampered by their membership in the CC.  Offers for board memberships and professional advancement started slowing and stopping.  Thompson, who had been Mayor of Jackson, was in the Citizens Council; he was replaced by Davis and then Danks, who were not.  The tide was changing.  

The idea that the federal intervention in our culture, our education, our economics, and our society didn’t go away though, but it did change names.  Mississippi had been a yellow-dog Democratic state ever since the civil war, but by the mid-seventies, a growing number of Mississippians saw the Democratic party as against us, an interference in how we lived.  

When you look at early adapters of the Republican Party in Mississippi, I can just about promise you they never sat down and discussed the “Southern Strategy” as such.  They didn’t have to.  Saying you wanted to get the federal government out of your business, even if your business is oil, banking, insurance, or the like,  Nobody ever had to say, “Boy, we sure would have been better off if they left our damn schools alone.”  Nobody ever had to say it because the great majority of Mississippians believed in their hearts and still do.  

There were guys out there who believed in an evolved Democratic party and believed it was good for Mississippi.  Guys like Charlie Deaton and Bob Fortenberry built their careers trying to apply these new, expansive ideas of the Democratic Party to the boots-on-the-ground situation in Mississippi.  They had some success, but the most successful was William Winter.  Winter and his Boys of Spring were the last great stand for the new Democratic Party in Mississippi.  

Likened to Camelot, both the play and the Kennedy administration, Winter’s tenure as Governor of Mississippi was, and is, seen as a golden age of progressive politics and moves to equalize, at least educationally, the experience of white and black Mississippians.

Ray Maybus rose out of Winter’s team and became governor at a time when a lot of Mississippians thought we were turning over a new page and Mississippi was changing.  It was not.  Toward the end of his term, preparing for his next move, Maybus ran full force into the rising Republican Revolution in Mississippi.  The Young Republicans were becoming more popular than over-starched Oxford shirts at Ole Miss, and at an SEC game in Jackson, Mabus was booed when the announcer asked the crowd to greet him before the game started.   

In my mind, that moment when a bunch of guys my age began to boo a sitting governor at an Ole Miss game loudly was a sea change in Mississippi culture.  I’d seen them cheer Ross Barnett, both before and after his tenure as governor.  I’d seen them cheer Cliff Finch, even knowing that all the stories about Finch were true, but they were booing Ray Mabus–Herman Hine’s son-in-law, a champion of education and public benefit in Mississippi, a genuinely nice guy with a career drive like nothing I’d ever seen before somehow equated to a bad thing among my peers.  To them, being in favor of Mabus and his pro-education platform was unpatriotic.  I still don’t get it.  Not even a little.  In my heart, I will always pin some of that moment on feelings about the Democratic Party forcefully integrating Mississippi.  

Even today, there are people in Mississippi who straight-up blame the Democratic Party for changing the Mississippi State flag, even though every single person involved in pushing that move through our legislature was Republican, and it was signed by a Republican governor.  People don’t want the truth.  They want somebody to blame.  

I was five years old when the Jackson Citizens Council started sending out fliers saying they would accept students into their five different schools.  Council Schools were priced considerably lower than Prep, JA, St. Richards, or St. Andrews.  They were actually priced too low to pay their bills using tuition money.  The Citizens Council promised fund-raising efforts to make up the difference, and for a while, they did, but they couldn’t sustain it.  The business community distanced itself from the Council, limiting its ability to raise money.  Pretty soon, the council schools began closing.  

What happened next is a matter for the history books.  Much of Jackson’s white population did what they must to pay and send their children to Prep, JA, St Andrews, and St. Richards.  That made Jackson Public Schools the majority black.  Dr. Walker, the superintendent, retired almost as soon as integration began.  He was replaced by a series of men who didn’t stay until Bob Fortenberry came back to Mississippi to take the job.  Bob fought for Jackson and for JPS, and he did a great job, but he was ambitious and wouldn’t stay forever.  

By the 90s, with Dr. Fortenberry retired, people who couldn’t afford private school began leaving Jackson for cities in Rankin and Madison counties that still had a majority white population.  This created an avalanche of white flight out of Jackson that we’re still dealing with.  Jackson is still losing population, even though we were at an all-time high in the 80s.  

Life is like a series of domino pieces standing on end.  When you knock one over, it knocks the one next to it over, and that knocks over the one next to it, and so on, and so on, until you get to a space quite a distance away from where you first tipped over a domino, but the causation remains the same.  

A lot of people want to say that what happened in the sixties and seventies has nothing to do with what’s happening now.  That’s just not true.  What’s happening now is a direct result of what happened in the sixties and seventies, even though we had to go through many steps to get here from there.


Thursday, August 10, 2023

Free Textbooks To Academies

 In 1940, Governor Paul Johnson pushed for a change to the Mississippi code to allow for the state to pay for free textbooks for Mississippi undergraduate students.  Many other states had similar laws, and Johnson wanted Mississippi children to have the same educational opportunities as children in other states.

Using Texas as a model, my Uncle Boyd applied for and made a contract with the relative textbook publishers to maintain and operate a textbook depository in Mississippi.  Publishers would print the books, mostly in Nashville, and ship them to our warehouse on South Street, which is now the Cathead Vodka distillery.  The state of Mississippi would pass laws specifying the funds available for textbooks, and the schools would apply to the State Textbook Commission to make an order for the books they wanted.  We would ship them and bill the state of Mississippi.  When the state paid us, we kept eight percent and sent the rest to the publishers.  This is how textbooks were bought and sold in Mississippi until the change in the Mississippi code in the 90s, which abolished the State Textbook fund and allowed schools to order textbooks out of the general education funds.  

When students got their books at the beginning of the year, they had a stamp on the inside front cover that said, “This Book Is The Property of the State of Mississippi and is assigned to:” and then a blank for the student’s name and the year.  The state of Mississippi owned your fourth-grade reading textbook and let you use it for a year.  The next year, they added a name to the stamp and let another student use the same book.

This system worked great for quite a while.  Even schools like St. Andrews and St. Richards qualified for free textbooks as long as the students were citizens of Mississippi.  In 1964, the United States passed the Civil Rights Act and its several chapters.  Chapter Six of the Civil Rights Act made it illegal to use federal funds for segregated programs.  

“Section 601 provides that recipients must comply with the mandate that no person, on the basis of race, color, or national origin, “be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any federally funded program or activity.” That’s where Mississippi ran into a problem.  Our schools were still very segregated.  That segregation of public schools would soon be struck down, in some parts because of chapter six, but Mississippi would attempt to escape segregating its schools by creating new, private schools that could still legally segregate because they didn’t receive federal funds or state funds.

After salaries and insurance, textbooks are the next largest yearly expense for most schools.  Many of these private schools tried to make a case that they were still eligible for state textbook funds.  The first case came in 1970 in Tunica.  A young lawyer from Oxford made the case that the Superintendent of Tunica public schools was ordering textbooks for the public schools but delivering them to the Tunica Institute, a private academy.   The case went before Judge Keady, who ordered that the practice not continue but didn’t rule on whether or not it happened in the past since Tunica Institute was only six years old and is generally considered one of the very first segregation academies.  I don’t have access to our records from 1969, but I’m pretty sure we shipped textbooks to the Tunica superintendent that ended up a the Tunica Institute.

Almost two years later, the Mississippi Association of Private Schools sued the State Textbook Commission because parochial schools were receiving textbook funds, but they were not.  Bill Goodman had a team representing the Textbook Commission, Ed Bruini had a team representing us, and the judge was Bill Coleman.  This was pretty serious stuff.  The private school association tried to prove that since they had no verbiage about segregation in their charter, they should be allowed free textbooks.  The state’s position was that the parochial schools were, in fact, integrated, even if they didn’t have very many non-white students, and at that time, none of the Association of Private Schools members were integrated, even though they had no verbiage in their charter preventing it.  Missco, for their part, sat in the corner, trying not to offend anyone as both sides were our customers.

Coleman ruled in favor of the state and said the academies would not get any textbook money as long as they were defacto segregated, no matter what their charter said.  

None of this was very flashy news.  There are one or two articles in the Clarion Ledger about either case; none were very long as there wasn’t much public interest.  There were some hurt feelings, though.  The next year we were subject to a Peer Committee review and audit.  They said in their report that we were a “paragon of efficiency” that became part of our marketing material for years after, but the message was still pretty clear.  “Choose your friends, and stick with them.”  We honestly didn’t have much choice.  The public schools were much bigger customers, and we were doing our best to stay very well within the letter of the law.

Another outcome of the case was that we could no longer charge adopted textbook materials to private schools.  They could order books from us, but they had to pay cash lest we get accused of mingling adopted textbook money with their accounts receivable.  Many of the academies ended up buying their textbooks by mail order, partially out of spite but also because that way they could get 120-day dating on their invoices, and in those early days 120, day dating on invoices was a heck of a gift.  

I was a kid when most of this happened.  Most of it I know about from talking to the principal players years after the fact and looking it up on microfiche at the Millsaps Library.  Mississippi went to great lengths to avoid cooperating with the spirit of the Civil Rights Act.  At the time, people thought they had beaten the system, but here fifty years later, I wonder if maybe we didn’t break the system.  

I don’t think there’s anybody left alive who is still angry about decisions my dad or anyone at Missco had to make in those days.  There were at the time, but that was a long time ago.  The state of your public schools has such a major role in the quality of life in a community.  It’s so easy to say that the state of Jackson Public Schools is the Mayor’s fault or the city council’s fault, but as much as I respected him as a person, I’m looking much more at the decisions Dr. Walker and Mr. Howell made in 1969 as an explanation for the state of Jackson Public Schools today.  A lot of people will point to the Citizens Council, and I will too.  I knew those guys too, but our educational leaders honestly should bear a special burden here because they had the most reason to know better.  Bob Fortenberry had a big role in keeping Jackson Public Schools in a workable state, but after he moved on it was, and still is a struggle to find anyone to take that position.


Stock In Academies

People talk about Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and how the South converted from Yellow-dog Democrats to the world’s most conservative Republicans.  Nixon was taking advantage of a situation that was already developing.  In 1969, most of Mississippi blamed the Democratic party for our position on the Rubicon of integrating our public schools and the panic that ensued.  When I look at the list of names of the men who formed the Board of Directors for Jackson Preparatory School in 1970, it’s really easy for me to see the seeds of a revolution.  I can’t look at a single name on that list and say, “I did not love this man,” but the truth is the truth, and the Republican takeover of Mississippi started in Jackson, and it started with those men, and it started over the issue of integration.

A lot of people are already tired of discussing the birth and growth of private schools in Mississippi around 1970.  I think it’s important we do discuss it because it has a lot to do with the state of our schools today, and the state of our schools today has a great deal to do with the state of our state.  It’s also important to remember that we were just children.  Nearly all of the people who made these decisions passed away ten years ago.  

You’ll often hear said that St. Andrews and St. Richards were parochial schools and shouldn’t be included in this, and JA was started as an alternative school that taught phonics in early reading as an alternative to what JPS was teaching.  All of these things were true.  These three schools were started under very different conditions than what happened in 1970.  When the purpose for them was formulated, the idea of most of white Jackson abandoning the public schools wasn’t a consideration.  When these schools began, nobody believed we would be forced to integrate.

St. Andrews, St. Richards, and JA all experienced massive growth in 1970.  While these schools weren’t created as an alternative to integrated public schools, there were parents who considered that, if they were going to leave the public schools, they would rather their children attend a school like that rather than a school like Prep or Manhattan.  My parents were one of these.

The superintendent of Jackson Public Schools told my grandfather to “tell Jim he better get those boys into private schools because I don’t know what will happen next year.”  Next year in this story was the year Murrah would be forcefully integrated.   Normally, a comment like that would be of concern, considering what my father did for a living; it was a paradigm shift and a huge amount of pressure beyond just wanting to do the best he could for his children.  For the superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, my father’s biggest client, to say he should move us out of the JPS system was disturbing on many levels, disturbing enough that this is what my parents decided to do.

My oldest brother went to Prep because his football coach was also going to Prep.  The same coach noticed my early growth spurt and the size of my arms and asked me when I was going to prep every time I saw him until I was a sophomore at Millsaps.  He caught me with a pitcher of beer at Mr. Gattis Pizza in the 10th grade and asked when I was going to Prep.  The rest of us, my other brother, my sister, and I, went to St. Andrews.  In the late 70s, there were some concerns about what was going on at St. Andrews, so my sister transferred to Prep, just in time to miss David Hicks.  That’s another story.

With integration, there was a lot of pressure for both JA and St Andrews to add a high school, and neither had the money.  St. Andrews spent a great deal of money building what remains one of the most attractive lower schools in Mississippi.  There were still loans out for it, and nearly all the sources they had for large gifts were tapped to build it.  

The high school St Andrews eventually built looked like it was erected by an entirely different organization than the lower school.  One building had a second floor that could never be used because the building inspector wouldn’t approve it, so the planned staircase was never built, and those rooms were used for storage.  Every so often, you’d see Jessie on the maintenance staff haul a broken chair-desk up an extension ladder to store it in this unused portion of the building so that it could be used for parts later on.

There was a struggle for a while to decide what the future of JA would be.  Many saw it as a feeder school for Prep.  Prep already had a preferred feeder school in First Pres, though, so the relationship became strained.  JA was also working under a different educational paradigm than Prep.  Prep was very traditional, basically, the same curricula as Murrah (since that’s where most of their staff came from), whereas JA was interested in more modern curricula (at least, more modern in terms of the 1960s). More than ten years into it, JA decided they, too, must have a high school, but where would they find the money?

While most of the banks had the motivation to loan these new schools money, they still required some backup to the loans.  More often than not, these came in the form of personal guarantees from board members.  Often, a willingness to personally guarantee a banknote was how one became a board member.  The money for these banknotes paid the construction companies, companies like my dad’s that provide chairs, desks, and blackboards, and most importantly, the salaries of the teaching staff, almost all poached from the public schools.  Some people will take offense that I use the word “poach” here.  I hold nothing against anyone who left a job in our public schools for a job in our private schools.  These people, mostly women, were excellent educators, and considering the stories I’ve heard about the chaos in the administrative side of Jackson’s public schools at the time, I don’t know that I can blame them for switching.

The idea of offering stock in the school as a way of raising a little extra money was a part of nearly every school other than St. Richards and St. Andrews; both of those had already built most of their lower school and had a more stable economic situation due to their parochial nature.  Many of these personally guaranteed notes were called as the need for money soon outstripped the money coming in from tuition.  Everything was happening so fast; this was almost guaranteed to happen.  Some of these men, who had to pay out of their pocket for the loans the school could not pay, took stock in the school as payment.  That way, for quite a while, when a new student would enroll and buy stock, they were buying it from Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones, who still had five hundred shares left from when he had to pay off the school's banknote.  

The question of integrating the schools was a complicated one.  Prep, Woodland Hills and Manhattan had no interest in integrating, they couldn’t legally refuse to admit anyone based on race, and there were parents who tested the waters, but no black students were enrolled.  JA had staff members who were very open to integration, but the cost of attending prevented it for many years.  Glenn Cain and I discussed this several times.  He even showed me some of the applications from black parents to prove he was telling me the truth.  Glen, I think, at times, was in an impossible situation where everyone wanted something different from him, and his own vision for the school became difficult to manifest.  Jesse Howell found it easier to realize his vision and get others to back him up.  Part of that was just his magnetic personality, but part of it was an unwillingness to challenge the status quo.  For many people, Prep was the new Jackson Central High School, but without any of that integration nonsense.  If you look at the board and the faculty, you’ll see the names of an awful lot of Central alumni.

St. Andrews and St. Richards were both very motivated to integrate on orders from their respective religious organizations, but again cost became an obstacle.  St. Andrews ultimately became the first private school to integrate willingly.  They were, and are now, pretty proud of that.  While he was a good student and well-liked, there was still an enormous economic gap between white and black parents, and the cost of attending St. Andrews prevented him from graduating there.  His presence started something, though.  Soon, every grade would have at least one black student, and the number grew every year.  James Meridith sent his sons to St. Andrews.  During my entire tenure at St. Andrews, there were talks of merit-based and need-based scholarships, with experiments with both.  While nearly everybody was in favor of it, paying for it was an obstacle.  It was expensive enough to keep the doors open; adding that sort of expense on top proved too difficult.  

A lot of us noticed that black students would drop out around Jr High School.  Part of that, I think, was the idea that, if their parents were going to spend that much money, it’d be better invested in the early grades so their children got a good foundation.  I’m sure the idea that being around other black students as a part of social life was also more of a consideration in the upper grades.  

The baby boom had already stretched Jackson’s educational resources thin.  Although considerably larger, Murrah wasn’t nearly the architectural marvel of Bailey or Central.  The cost was the primary consideration.  Jackson barely had enough money to meet its public school needs and then voluntarily put on themselves the added burden of duplicating it as private schools.  Considering just how much of a task this was, regardless of whether it was a good idea or not, makes me have some respect for the people who did it.  It was, however, a horrible idea.  None of the terrible things predicted to happen at Murrah happened.  There were no murders in the hallway, and the drug problem at Murrah was considerably smaller than the drug problem at the private schools.  The kids who stayed at Murrah got every bit as good of an education as the kids who went to Prep.  The difference is, Prep is well-funded and going strong today, but Murrah struggles to meet the basic needs of its students.  Murrah is far more segregated now than it was in 1975.  We’ve struggled to keep a superintendent of Jackson Public Schools every year since 1970.

A lot o people don’t want to talk about this.  “It was fifty years ago.”  “We were children.”  “The world is different now.”  All of this is true, but when I look out at what’s happening educationally now in Mississippi, what I see are the scars that were left when most of Mississippi abandoned the public school system.  Scars that won’t heal unless we talk about this.  A lot of people think they’re safe from all this as long as they can send their kids to private schools.  It’s not that simple.  Our culture and our economy depend on the families who can’t afford to send their kids to these private schools.    Your kids who went to private schools will be left with the same unanswered questions we were left with by our parents, and the longer we take to address these issues, the more our society will become polarized and dysfunctional. 

Prep, St Andrews, and JA all seem pretty well-heeled now.  That’s an illusion created by fifty years of investment.  The first few years, the schools looked nothing like that.  Mississippi still struggles to meet its basic educational needs.  If you look at the money spent on our private schools, it might become clear where the money went.  The cities that are now mostly white won’t remain so.  We didn’t escape the problem of integration; we postponed it.  Sooner or later, those chickens will come home to roost.


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Gun Statistics - Real Life

 Here on the front end of sixty, here is the tally on my experience with guns:

A few dead deer.  Several dead ducks and doves.  A few dead squirrels, which I feel bad about because we didn't eat them; we just killed them.  

Three near-fatal accidents.  Three accidents where only property was damaged.  Six suicides and two suicide attempts.  Two murders.  Three armed robberies and two assaults with a deadly weapon.  

What I have yet to experience is anybody using a firearm to protect life, liberty, or property, including the police.  I've heard of it happening, but I have yet to witness it or have it happen close to me.  

If you look at the FBI statistics for Mississippi, my experience is pretty normal.  Despite what the NRA says, you're statistically more likely to accidentally shoot yourself or someone else than you are to use a gun to defend yourself.  You're also more likely to use a gun to kill yourself.  Whatever effect the 2nd amendment hoped to produce, this is what it did produce.

The other argument in favor of the NRA's interpretation of the 2nd amendment is that it gives us what we need to defend ourselves from a tyrannical government.  Well, we tried that too.  The result was Jackson burned to the ground, and Vicksburg was under siege for so long people were eating rats and mules to survive.  Our economy was destroyed, our railroads unusable, and more than six thousand Mississippians were dead.  People like to say we killed more Yankees than they killed of us, but that's not true.  Mississippi was a turkey shoot.  We've received accolades for fighting as hard as we did, but we were brutalized, and the right to bear arms didn't help us.

Reasonable gun laws start with looking at things how they really are, not how we'd like for them to be.  I don't know why we're not using guns more to protect life and liberty, but at the moment, you're a lot more likely to take these things with a gun than to protect them.

Whatever the intention of the 2nd amendment was, whatever the potential the 2nd amendment has, the result we're getting now is the exact opposite. Clearly, we're not interpreting this correctly, and since one organization is almost entirely responsible for how we interpret the 2nd amendment, the fault pretty clearly lies with them.

Monday, July 24, 2023

State Flag Conspiracy

There's a fairly popular myth that woke liberal politicians broke in and changed the Mississippi state flag in the middle of the night, despite the people's wishes.  There are a couple of problems with this theory, the first being that there are only about eleven woke liberal politicians in the Mississippi state legislature.  They're not very organized, and they usually go out at night.  Sometimes all night.  While that might warm the heart of Mississippi's most conservative souls, it's just not what happened.

Lauren Stennis devoted a fair portion of her life to changing the Mississippi State Flag.  Lauren was to the left of me on many issues, and we often didn't agree on things, but on this, we did.  I made every effort to very visible support her efforts.  I believed it was important.  Lauren deserved a win on this.  She did the work.  She was tireless and devoted, and she was, more than anything else, right.  You should have been able to tell your grandchildren about the woman that changed Mississippi's history, it would have made me and a lot of other people very happy, but that's not what happened.  The referendum Lauren fought for lost.  It lost by a much larger margin than any of us expected.

The story's not over, though.  The same battle over the South Carolina flag was heating up.  Students in South Carolina started demanding that the NCAA take a stand.  The NCAA isn't a hotbed of woke liberals, either.  They'd really rather do anything than deal with stuff like this.  Somebody at the NCAA did a head count, though, and it was pretty evident that there were an awful lot more descendants of federal soldiers and Confederate slaves playing football, basketball, and baseball than there were descendants of Confederate soldiers.  Some of these descendants of Confederate Slaves were saying things like they would boycott games in or with South Carolina teams if they didn't change their flag.

The NCAA is about playing football, and this business in South Carolina was threatening that.  The NCAA said, "Y'all gotta change," to which South Carolina said, "Screw you!" and that's when the NCAA said, "Until you change, we won't sanction any championship games in your state.  With protests increasing in the state and pressure from the NCAA, South Carolina capitulated.  The attention then turned to Mississippi.

In Mississippi, the chancellor of Ole Miss (New Miss, according to James Meridith) wanted nothing to do with a fight over the confederate flag.  His position was that it was needlessly divisive and had nothing to do with improving the university experience.  He was right.  His solution was to get rid of the confederate flag but keep the name "rebels."  That seemed to appease nearly everyone.  

After the flag referendum failed and the University of Mississippi cooperated, the NCAA turned its attention to the state capitol and threatened the same sanctions they used on South Carolina, starting with taking away championship games and then becoming more punitive from there.  

Threatening Confederate symbology is one thing.  Threatening football is another.  Very soon, the college board, College presidents (both public and private), and college coaches began pressuring the Governor, the Speaker, and the lt. Governor (all Republicans) to do something.  Universities and colleges began refusing to fly the state flag.  Some cities refused to fly the state flag.  Governor Bryant started looking for a way out of this.  Finally, at the end of June 2020, the Republican legislature of Mississippi and the Republican governor retired the Mississippi state flag.  They did it in hopes we could get back to business.

A lot of people still have copies of the Stennis flag, now known as the "hospitality flag."  In my mind, Lauren will always get credit for this, even though it didn't work out the way she wanted.  Conservative Republicans changed the Mississippi state flag because they loved football more than the confederacy.  I haven't a bit of a problem with that.  Mississippi doesn't ever do things in a straightforward way, but sometimes we get them done some other way.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Photo Prompts

For my writing workshop today, we were assigned to bring in photo prompts for some free writing.  I have a folder on my phone of a couple hundred photos I use as prompts for drawing and painting.  These are images I don't know that much about, but I thought they looked cool.  I can write about that.  

Then I started thinking about maybe photographs where I do know the backstory.  Maybe those would be an even better writing prompt.  I chose two; one is of Bob Addams in front of the observatory.   I honestly could write an entire book about the observatory and the things that went on there, but if I did, there are people who wouldn't speak to me afterward.   Lately, though, I've been thinking it might be shocking if their children found out their parents did these things, so I shouldn't write about that, but their grandchildren will soon be old enough to think it was pretty cool.   I also really love Bob Addams.  

The other is a fairly famous picture of Ed King at the Woolworth sit-ins.  I picked that because I was born a month later.  Less than two years later, some thugs would run Rev. King off the road and forever change his face.  I never knew him before the accident.  He was quite handsome.  I don't remember a time when Ed King wasn't around somewhere.  He didn't rest after the sixties.  He stayed involved in everything, particularly everything I was involved in.  When I was an undergraduate, I'd see Ed show up at Millsaps, and I knew somebody was going to get a dressing down.  He didn't make many social calls, but when he felt like there was something going on, he addressed it.  A lot of guys from the Civil Rights Era were punished for it in the 70s and 80s.  Mississippi wanted very much to separate itself from its racist past, but Ed King was made chaplain of the University Medical Center, the biggest gem in the Mississippi higher education system.  I'm not really privy to how that decision was made, but it sent a very clear message.  

If my free writing is any good, I'll post it here.  I can produce words like mini muffins as long as I can type, but they're not all worth reading.  





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