Showing posts with label Southern. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Southern. Show all posts

Saturday, February 10, 2024

St Andrews Teacher Attends Symposium

South's enduring past intrigues teacher
By NELL LITTER FOCUS Staff Writer 
Clarion Ledger June 15, 1983

Steve Anspach is a Northerner charmed by the South. 

Come June 25 Anspach, a resident of Florence and an English teacher at St Andrew's Episcopal School, will turn the pages of literature to learn more about the region he loves. "There's something about how the past endures in us that intrigues me," he said. "Books at least give partial answers." "For me, it's not a love of books but a love of place. It's the books that help me understand the place." Anspach will hopefully unravel some of the mystery during a Southern writers seminar at Louisiana State University that is being sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

He is among 15 high-school teachers selected from 300 applicants nationwide to attend the conference. Lewis Simpson, an authority on Southern literature and professor at LSU, is scheduled to teach the group. During the five-week course, the group will study novels by literary giants such as William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and Walter Percy and visit several related literary sites. Because "The Moviegoer," a novel by Percy, is set in New Orleans, Anspach said the class would probably see the city's sights. Also, a trip to Oxford, to visit Rowan Oak, the home of Faulkner, is a second possibility for a literary field trip.

Anspach applied for the summer classes in January after his wife, a student at Mississippi College School of Law, received a brochure listing various topics of study offered by the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was tempted to learn more about Chaucer, which he also teaches, but instead chose to apply for the Southern writers course. He outlined his reasons for wanting to attend the seminar in a short one-page essay tacked onto his application. "I said I was a Northerner, and that I'd had fascination with the South ever since I'd been in the army in Fort Jackson, S.C." His wife felt the essay was too short, but Anspach disagreed. "I felt right when I wrote my essay.

I felt like I said what I wanted in a convincing way." Two months later, Anspach's instincts proved correct and he received an acceptance letter and course outline. Of the novels to be studied, there are two he is reviewing "Absalom, Absalom!" by Faulkner and "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" by 'For me, it's not a love of books but a love of place. It's the books that help me understand the place.' Steve Anspach Ernest Gaines. Anspach hopes the conference will boost his self-confidence about teaching Southern literature. He also hopes to become more familiar with the works of Faulkner, a novelist whom he finds difficult to read.

The class will be a far cry from all play and no work. Each participant is required to complete a 3,000-word essay during the course. Anspach and his wife, Judy, came south in 1978 when they moved to Florence from Cleveland, Ohio. He was scheduled to work on a doctorate degree at a Mississippi school but instead accepted a job at SL Andrew's. Since 1979, he has taught tenth graders literature of the world, and seniors, American literature.

Anspach received a bachelor's degree in psychology and English from Kent State University and a master's degree from West Virginia University. He and his wife, Judy, are parents of one son, Erich, 19, a sophomore at Washington and Lee University.



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. 


Saturday, January 27, 2024

Eudora Welty - A Visit of Charity

 Tomorrow's story for the Eudora Welty reading group is "A Visit of Charity" from "A Curtain of Green."  The story is about Marian, a little girl and member of an organization like the Girl Scouts (but not the Girl Scouts) who visits the Old Ladies Home to gain points for her organization and her reaction to the women in the home.

The Old Ladies' Home was a large wooden structure just east of the Jackson Zoo.  My grandmother was a contemporary of Miss Welty but a few years older.  My father's mother, she was deeply involved in the Girl Scouts most of her life, and in middle age, she and a group of women she knew became very involved in helping with the Old Ladies' Home.  As time passed, the City of Jackson became less and less interested in maintaining the Old Ladies' home, so it fell on private citizens to help maintain it and provide for the residents.  

Eventually, it became really difficult to maintain the old wooden structure, and only a few residents left living there, as most people had begun using nursing homes rather than the Old Ladies' Home.  Since I was on the board of the Zoo, she asked me to help facilitate giving the land and the building to the Zoo.  I told her we didn't really need the extra five acres (and another old building to maintain), but as the City of Jackson ultimately owned both properties, I felt certain there was a way to make it happen.


Sometimes, it's hard for me to read Welty's stories from an academic viewpoint because her subject matter seems so very familiar.  She wasn't family or anything, but it's really close.  It wasn't hard to imagine my mother or grandmother as Marian, the protagonist in this story, as both had stories about visiting the residents at the Old Ladies Home, as I'm sure Miss Welty did herself.

An avid gardener, she creatively includes her beloved plants in nearly all her stories.  For this story, she mentions cineraria as a small potted plant her antagonist brings as a gift for the ladies at the Old Lady's Home.  Sometimes called "climbing fig," you see cineraria in many Mississippi gardens.

Put on by the Mississippi Archives and History and the Eudora Welty Foundation, I'm really enjoying these weekly zoom sessions to discuss the works of Eudora Welty.  Many thanks to Catherine Freis for telling me about it.  

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.


Monday, January 15, 2024

That Super Bowl Party

So, every year, rain or shine or covid, they have this big party, so big they call it the "Super Bowl," and people put quite a bit of store into it.  They spend months and months prior to the party pushing each other back and forth, trying to secure an invitation to the party.  Even though they advertise it as the world's biggest party, they're still pretty dang stingy with the invitations.  

When I was little, pretty much everybody assumed that folks from Dallas would get an invitation to the party, and, sure enough, the years came and went and the folks from Dallas almost always got their all polished-up invitation to this dang stupid party.

In the last few years, though, things have changed.  They're having trouble keeping the lights on in Dallas, and the Senator who's supposed to take care of them just sneaks off to a Mexican beach vacation.  I don't know what happened.  Maybe they're not wearing the right kind of shoes.  Maybe they don't know all the right dances, but it's been a while since folks from Dallas were invited to this party, and they're getting just a little bit sore about it.

Last night, the folks from Dallas got in a scuff-up with some folks from Wisconsin, of all places, hoping they'd get somebody's attention and get invited to this year's Super Bowl party.  Well, it didn't work out that way, and the once mighty folks from Dallas will be staying home and ordering a pizza while the big party goes on.   I'd feel sorry for them, but to tell the truth, Dallas fans were always kind of jerks, so maybe this will help teach them some humility. 


Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Landon Talks. A Lot

 

A teacher at the Laurel Magnet School of the Arts and former winner of the Mississippi Educator of the Year, Landon Bryant is the creator of the insanely popular channel LANDONTTALKSALOT, where he discusses the fine details of Southern Culture in a way that reminds anyone from here of being here.  

He's on the advisory board of the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel.  A 2014 BA graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi, His wife Kate is a painter and journalist, also living in Laurel.

With the success of Ben and Erin Napier's "Home Town" on cable TV and now the sensation surrounding Landon, the renaissance of Lauel is unmistakable like a firework at night.

Laurel was one of the first locations of the Office Supply Company outside of Jackson.  It's there that my Uncle Boyd met Alexander and Elizabeth Chisholm who involved him in the career of Lyontine Price.  On my many trips eastward to Laurel, I soon became enchanted with its picturesque downtown and the old homes off the square.  

Landon's videos have a hypnotic quality to them.  They invoke a feeling for your own childhood in your own hometown and a memory for people long moved onto another plane.  

Fresh out of college, Landon and Kate's first apartment with their baby burned to the ground with all their belongings.  Local fundraisers helped them get back on their feet without any hint of the massive success coming their way.  

Landon Talks A lot -- Youtube
https://www.youtube.com/@Landontalksalot

Landon Talks A Lot -- Instagram 
https://www.instagram.com/landontalks/?hl=en

Landon Talks A Lot -- Tic Tok
https://www.tiktok.com/@landontalks?lang=en

The Coolest Kate -- Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/thecoolestkate

Katelyn Bryant -- Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/katelyn.ellzey

Sunday, January 7, 2024

King Cake

They seem to be loosening the rules on what comprises a King Cake.  When they get to chocolate, somebody send me a text message.  

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Uncle Frank - Film Review

 Alan Ball is a playwright and screenwriter from Mariette, Georgia.  He's a Southern gentleman of a certain age (six years older than I am).  This and other factors mean he often writes on issues that travel in my lane.

His most famous work was the film "American Beauty" which won the Academy Award in 2000 for Best Original Screenplay and for a while was considered one of America's best films until it was revealed that its star, Kevin Spacey, was about as creepy in real life as some of the characters he plays.  Among actors, this is a phenomenon known as "DUH!".  This isn't really a rule among actors, although it happens fairly often.  Vincent Price, for instance, was an exceedingly gentle creature, a dilettante and a gourmand; the only characteristic he had in real life that he shared with the roles he played was that he could be something of an effete.  In life, Price always kept his sexuality as a very private matter, but after his death, his daughter revealed that Price was a gentleman who enjoyed the company of other gentlemen.  Are you surprised?

Alan Ball is an American Buddhist.  He claimed that the inspiration for American Beauty was the trial of Amy Fisher and an experience he had watching a plastic shopping bag floating in the wind, a scene that was included in the film and attributed to one of its characters.  Critics felt that American Beauty helped redefine and conceptualize masculinity in the previous century as we cross the threshold into this century.  

Amazon Prime offers his newest film, Uncle Frank, free to Prime members.  Like American Beauty, Uncle Frank concentrates on the second half of the previous century but goes back thirty years before American Beauty and sets the film in the early 1970s.  Uncle Frank tells the story of a man in his mid-forties from a small Southern Town who found that a small Southern town could no longer contain him, so he moved to New York and became an English professor.  

Noticing a kindred spirit in his young niece, he encourages her to do well in school so she can choose any college she wishes.  She chooses the one where he teaches.  At a party at his New York apartment, Frank and his niece Betty (now choosing the name Beth) hear the news that Franks's father, Beth's grandfather, has died.  At the party, Beth also discovers that her beloved uncle is in love with an Arab Engineer named Walid.  She and her aunt are the only people in the family who know Frank is gay, and Beth is the only one who has actually met Walid, who they call Wally.

Frank and Beth borrow Wally's car and drive to their small Southern town for Frank's father's funeral, only to discover that Wally has rented a car and has been following them.   Wally fears that Frank may need his support on this difficult journey.  He knows something about Frank's past that might make this trip extremely painful for him.  They agree that Wally can come along, but he has to keep himself hidden from the family.

Wally knows that, as a boy, Frank's father caught him kissing another boy.  His father said he had a sickness, and God hated him.  Confused, Frank writes a letter to the boy he kissed, saying he can never see him again, with disastrous consequences.   These are the demons Frank must face when he returns home for his father's funeral.  

Any time you have a story where the characters spend a great deal of time traveling from one place to another, the story is either a travelogue or an accounting of a transition from one state to another.  In this case, it's a story about a man who never faced what happened between himself and his father but is forced to deal with it when his father dies.  He uses a lot of the elements of a traditional Heros Journey to describe what happened to Frank.

Uncle Frank isn't nearly as complex and sometimes disturbing as American Beauty.  It's much more emotional, though, and you end up much more sympathetic to its characters.   Paul Bettany, who you probably know as Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plays Frank.

There's a line in Tennessee William's play "Orpheus Descending" where Carol Cutrere says, "Wild things leave skins behind them, they leave clean skins and teeth and white bones behind them, and these are tokens passed from one to another, so that the fugitive kind can always follow their kind."  I always think of that when I read work by Southern writers; they tend to leave bones and skins and clues in their work so that their kind can follow their kind.  Ball does that with Uncle Frank.

The issues of gay men, born in the South in the thirties and forties, ended up being something I found out a lot about, even though I never pursued it.  These men recognized something in me that made them believe I would hear their stories without the sort of prejudice they often faced from straight men in the South, so they told me their stories.  Sometimes, very happy stories, and sometimes very painful stories.  

In their sixties, seventies, and eighties, they told me stories about when they were young and beautiful and living a secret life in a world that would kill them if they knew.  Watching Uncle Frank reminded me very much of those stories.  For men of that generation, there could be a real brutality that men pressed onto other men, be they fathers, lovers, or just others who would judge them.  

Beth mentions Truman Capote several times as a writer she admires.  The character of Frank would be around ten or fifteen years younger than Capote would have been in real life.  In the sixties, Capote was the darling of New York intelligentsia; by the seventies, they had cast him out.  He was constantly drunk and paraded on the Tonight Show as something of a freak.  I think there are aspects of Frank's character that are intended to be echoes of the younger Capote before he became a parody of himself.

Ball writes the script in a way that people who would hate Frank for being gay would most likely hate this movie.  For people who, like some of the characters in the movie, are able to accept Frank's sexuality as just one aspect of a complex life, I think you might enjoy this.  It doesn't leave you as drained as American Beauty did, but that's okay.  Sometimes it's okay for a story to not tear your guts out.  


Monday, August 28, 2023

UMMC Urban Myths

For quite a while now, I’ve been collecting the urban legends that emanate from students and employees at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.  Now that I live next door, I’m looking for some new ones.  Urban legends are similar to myths.  They tell a story that’s usually related to something historical or factual but doesn’t have to be, and the story reflects some sort of moral value, as interpreted by the culture the story comes from.  They are cautionary tales that are disguised to not look like cautionary tales.

Being told in Mississippi by Mississippians, there’s some effort to make the stories more vivid, more interesting, and more local than, say, stories from the University of Pennsylvania Medical College, no offense to Pennsylvanians.  Stories generated in Mississippi will have our unique flavor and perspective on things like race, sexuality, gender, religion, and people from Mississippi State University.

I’ve been doing this for around forty years, and there are a lot of stories.  These are the categories I’ve organized them with.  

Stories about Cadavers:  Like the Greeks, UMMC students are obsessed with the moral implications of death, the relations between the dead and the living, and the influence of living morality on the dead body.   Stories about cadavers often have the elements of ghost stories but are couched in a medical scenario to give them extra vitality and credence.

Stories about Swelling and Exploding Cysts:  What goes into the body must come out of the body, and what more interesting way to come out of the body is there than exploding cysts?  Often, these stories involve elements of new ties/shirts/suits that are destroyed by detritus shooting out of a cyst.  These are often tales of how dedicated a young doctor might be who sacrifice his new tie or designer glasses to open the cyst, often on some fat woman’s taint.

Stories about Catheters:  The Greeks did this, too.  Stories about the phallus and its misadventures are both the stuff of comedy and morality.  A malfunctioning phallus and what must be done to make it function can encompass all sorts of memes about morality, culture, and body horror.

Stories about Aids:  Although they’re not as prominent now, there was once an entire genre of stories about Aids.  To the myth-maker, aids was not only a disease but a moral judgment against the people who violate the cultural mores about sexuality and gratuitous sexual encounters.  Stories about men, often upstanding citizens, who got aids by cheating on their spouses were common.

Stories about Strippers and Prostitutes:  Much like the aids stories, these are stories about sexual morality and the perils of wanton sexuality.  Strippers and prostitutes make a lot of money, but they end up at the hospital with fatal diseases or gunshot or knife wounds that prove fatal.  These stories are precautions both against using prostitutes and becoming one.

Dumb Mistakes/Darwin Awards:  There may be no greater cautionary tale than “Don’t do dumb things.”  Especially in the South, stories about “y’all watch this” or “y’all hold my beer.” are perfect for urban myths, and their arrival at the hospital with fingers/testicles/teeth/ears/toes blown off make great stories.    

Crime Doesn’t Pay:  Stories about criminals who show up at the hospital after the police or other criminals shoot them are pretty common.  While there’s sometimes a racial element to these stories, they all have moral implications.  If you hadn’t have been doing that, you wouldn’t have ended up here with a gunshot wound.

Because University is a communal experience, they are great places to generate stories, particularly myth-building stories.  Most of the stories I’ve collected about UMMC I can’t reprint here because they’re either really gross, really depressing, and sometimes obviously bigoted.  There are guys who spend their entire lives and careers studying the memes broadcast in stories like these.  It’s a fascinating area of study.


Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Van Cliburn Concert

 In 1978 I was fifteen years old.  It was the first year I ever fully experienced the darkness inside me.  My family fought through an extraordinarily difficult 1977 and survived.  Things were looking up, but my outlook on life lost any hint of sunshine for the first time.

My father was the chairman of the Mississippi Arts Festival, an event designed to raise money and awareness of the proposed art center attached to what was then called the City Auditorium.  My father’s favorite appreciation of art was listening to Hee Haw on channel 12.  He was a big promoter of the idea of bringing arts and culture to Jackson, but he wasn’t the type to spend much time at the opera.

The featured performer for the 1978 Mississippi Arts Festival was Van Cliburn, the celebrated pianist from Shreveport, Louisiana.  He was to give a performance at the City Auditorium and attend a gala reception afterward at the Governor’s Mansion.  My mother wanted very much to attend.  Although he helped arrange the event, my father would have never survived a two-hour classical piano concert awake, and he didn’t much care for that governor, and that governor didn’t much care for him.

My oldest brother had just returned home and was under both legal and medical advice not to go out at night.  My middle brother saw nothing remotely cool in a concert by a guy who looked like Jerry Lee Lewis in a tuxedo.  Having deeply loved the previous Beverly Sills concert, I was anxious for my mother to ask me.  She decided I was old enough, not only for the concert but for the reception afterward.

We had dress circle tickets purchased in the name of The Office Supply Company.  I didn’t have a tuxedo, but I did have a navy blue suit and a red tie.  The concert was fascinating.  Van Cliburn moves like he was animated by Walt Disney.  I was attentive and wrapped in attention the entire concert.

After the concert, Mother asked if I thought we could park behind the Office Supply Company and walk to the Governor’s Mansion.  Since she was the one with the impractical shoes and the one driving, so I figured it was best just to do whatever she suggested.

Inside the Governor’s Mansion, I recognized many faces from church and our neighborhood.  Dick Wilson and Lester Senter stood next to Dick’s father, Baxter.  Bill Goodman had a drink and asked my mother, “Where’s Jim?” with a smirk.  My father’s actual location at home watching television wasn’t a mystery to anyone.  I’m sure there were lots of husbands who wished they’d made the same deal.  

Sunday night in April, the Governor’s mansion was prolific with flowers.  The Governor and his wife stood to the right of Van Cliburn, shaking the hands of those willing to wait in line.  Cliff Finch had hair not unlike Donald Trump.  Both an unnatural color and an unnatural shape.  Deeply tanned, he convinced Mississippi farmers and workers that he was one of them by carrying a lunch box.  He was not.  His wife looked like she’d taken enough pills that we could have performed minor surgery on her without complaint.  We later learned that was most likely the case.  At fifteen, I was already pretty well-versed in the ritual of shaking hands.  This wasn’t my first governor.  

My mother began to work the room.  These were her people, and there was an open bar.  “I want to look at the paintings,” I said as a way of announcing that I was going off on my own.  More than anything, I just wasn’t in the mood for a grown-up party or any kind of party, even though I really loved the concert.  

I found my way into a room to the side of where they had the staging area set up for the party.  It seemed to be used for storage.  In a couple of years, Elise Winter completely remodeled and restored the Governor’s Mansion.  Rumors and tales of the damage they found left by the Finch administration passed around Jackson for years.

I recognized a girl standing by a window as the governor’s daughter.  She was something like two years older than me and held a glass of chilled white wine.  “Do you want one?” she asked.  I was pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to have one, and I was absolutely sure I wasn’t supposed to.  I’d snuck alcohol from parties before, but considering the guest list at this one, I was under some pressure to be good.  She sounded like this was maybe her third glass that night.

“What’s your name?” She asked.  Her hair was unnaturally blonde and sculpted with aquanet and a blow dryer.  Her voice had a cadence that told me we weren’t from the same tribe.

“Alexander,”  I said.  I did that sometimes when I didn’t want to have to explain that my name was Boyd with a “D” and not just “Boy.”  I still do it sometimes.

“Did you go to that thing?” She asked, gesturing toward the Auditorium.  

“Yeah, my dad was a sponsor,”  I said.

“That’s not my kind of music.”  She said and gripped the back of my arm.  “You’re so big.”  She said.  I’d heard that before.  “I can get you a glass of wine or a beer if you want it.”  She said, demonstrating her power and connections.

“Can’t, I’m in training,”  I said.  It was mostly a lie, but if she hadn’t figured out I was just fifteen, I didn’t want to be the one to spoil her delusion.  

Glancing left and right, she moved her hand around to the front of my arm and squeezed my bicep.  Then she leaned in and kissed me.  I could feel her tongue brush against the tip of the cupid’s bow on my top lip.  This, too, felt like a show of power and connections.

I pulled back.  “I’ve got to go check on my ride,”  I said.  Saying that my ride was my mother wasn’t cool, so I left that part out.  After I found my mother, I never saw the governor’s daughter the rest of the night and never spoke to her again the rest of my life.

There were stories about her career at Ole Miss, but I’m sure she was a pretty nice girl.   A few glasses of wine and a really boring party can lead a girl to silly mistakes.  

I didn’t feel like I’d been kissed by a pretty girl at all.  I felt really dark and misunderstood.  I felt like if she had any idea who I was or what I was like, she never would have kissed me.  Sometimes, it’s a lot easier to kiss a stranger.  I experienced that a few times.  It’d be another year before I felt like I had a handle on this being around girls thing.  So much had to happen before that.  Some of it was really dark and painful.  I wasn’t really ready for what life would become.  I’d had a taste of it.  Some of my friends had lost a parent, and I was just beginning to realize that I’d lost my brother, or at least lost the person he was before he got sick.  

Van Cliburn’s career would continue to rise, but I would always associate it with something entirely different.  His was the music that played when I went through one of life’s more difficult doors.  Hiding a pretty girl in one of the rooms didn’t make things much better.




Signs and Omens

 Ken Stribling messaged me last night with corrections about a piece I wrote at 3:00 a.m.  What would I do without friends who can’t sleep either?  

Janie messaged me during coffee hours with some really vital information about an aspect of my Mississippi History project.  If this thing ever comes together, it’ll be due, in large part, to her input and influence.

Nearly all the boys I knew fell in love with Jane at one point or another.  If you ever saw her, you’d know why.  I did, too, but when a girl takes your friend’s heart, there are rules a gentleman must follow, or at least try to.  

I told her that I thought seeing Ruma’s photo at Hal & Mal’s was an omen.  Ruma had been the city attorney at a very young age.  She was an unusually brilliant lawyer and a valuable asset to the city.  A boy I knew loved her more than anything.  When she died so young, a lot of us felt like we lost a limb.  Jackson’s in constant trouble now.  The kind of trouble where the advice of a good lawyer could make a really big difference.  

Ruma loved Mississippi.  She died exploring it.  If I were to meet her in heaven today, I’d have to explain why I let Jackson get as bad as it is.  Maybe that’s what an omen means.  It’s a reminder of where your course lies.

Jane and I were born into a kind of bubble, a gilded age in Mississippi history.  We had very politically and socially active parents at a time when the worst of the Civil Rights stuff had passed, and Jackson’s population was growing at a pace never experienced before.  We had two very strong, locally owned banks.  Our electricity came from a company based here in Jackson.  Our clothes, our shoes, and luggage all came from stores based here in Jackson, where we’d see the owners at parties.  Millsaps was at its peak enrolment, and the academic world was falling over itself trying to copy the success of George Harmon.   The entire medical profession was amazed at the success of a bunch of nuns from Chicago who moved to Mississippi.  William Winter and Ray Mabus were governors–without a scandal in sight.  At certain parties, you were fairly likely to see Willie Morris, Eudora Welty, Michael Rubenstein, and Dale Danks wandering around.  Long-neck beer was a buck at CS’s, Cherokee, and Dutch Bar, and the Jackson Mets were Texas League Champions.  

Bubbles don’t last, though, and when bubbles break, it can break your heart.  The city of Jackson is facing the possibility of their insurance increasing by 300% because they can’t seem to manage their affairs.  My beloved Zoo is valiantly fighting to hold on, but I’m basically watching it die.  Violence in the city is at terrifying levels, and nobody in the city government seems to be taking it seriously–at least not to the level that the situation would seem to warrant, and nobody seems to have answers.  

Her children, my step-children, my nephews, and the children of nearly all my friends are asking if they should stay in Mississippi and will we be hurt if they don’t.  It’s not their job to worry about how we feel if they leave Mississippi; it was our job to make sure Mississippi is a place where they felt like they could grow–and I guess we didn’t do that.  

Some people, like Jane, tried to keep building Jackson and Mississippi a lot harder than I did, and I feel pretty bad about giving up for as long as I did.  I guess I thought maybe I was the problem, and if I stepped out, smarter and better people would take over, and that’d fix everything.  It didn’t.  The bubble around Jackson broke, and we were left naked, looking around and saying, “Oh.  I don’t think I know how to fix this.”

I think my plan was not to be here at sixty still, looking at all this.  I think part of me wishes I’d left this mortal coil when the bubble around Jackson broke.  That was a pretty shitty plan and a cowardly move on my part.  

When I look at Jackson now, I see so many green shoots.  The signs of life and growth are everywhere; we just have to provide the right environment for it to thrive.  There’s nothing that says there can’t be more than one Gilded Age.   Seeing that photo of Ruma reminded me of the path I’m on and energized me to keep pushing.  

Keep correcting me while I post parts of this project on Facebook, and keep messaging me these details that I missed.  The past isn’t the only avenue to the future, but it’s the only one I understand.  


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.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Third Graders in the Light House

Because I'm old, I take a diuretic to make sure my body doesn't retain water because my body works about as well as a 1982 Ford.  It's a tiny dose, and I split it in half, but even then, I still gotta pee for two hours when I take it.  

Normally I just make sure I don't have to be anywhere for two hours when I take it.  This morning, because I make bad decisions, I decided that I was a grown damn man, and I gotta go to church in 30 minutes, but I can still take this tiny little half pill and not have any problem.

I hate having to leave a room with something going on for a latrine break.  Once you've done it, there's the awkward business of retaking your seat.  About two-thirds of the way through Sunday School, it hit me.  I wasn't going to make it till the end, which I hated because it was a really good discussion about how we decide what morality is.  

After visiting the cis-gendered, handicap-enabled little boys' room across the hall from what most of my life had been the fourth and fifth-grade Sunday school, I decided there were only five or six minutes left in class, so rather than facing the walk of shame back into the room, I decided to find a spot in the sanctuary for the eleven o'clock service.

Getting settled in the sanctuary early, I got to see our youth minister working with her third graders as she explained to them the ritual of the church, presenting them with bibles.  I knew this was coming because I actually read the church bulletin email, but I wasn't really ready for the wave after wave of memory watching them produced in me.

Fifty-eight years ago, it was my turn to sit on the front row to receive a bible with my name stamped on it.  Five or six of my readers were there too.  They're much, much younger than I am, but we were third-graders together.  In the congregation were my parents and grandparents, who can't come anymore, just like Eudora Welty, Lance Goss, Ross Moore, and others, but there were some people there today who were also there fifty-eight years ago, Kay Barksdale, TW Lewis, Red Moffett and more.

None of my classmates were there.  Some are current members of Galloway, but they either attended the 8:30 service or didn't come today.  Others don't live in Jackson anymore.  Some are not even in Mississippi.  One runs the most famous restaurant in Oxford.

Membership in Galloway isn't a comfortable kind of Christianity.  As I study our history, I'm learning how many times Galloway was the steady ship in a bad storm with a hull thick enough to break the ice in uncharted waters delivering its cargo to calmer seas.  Yesterday, Galloway helped host over six thousand people for the Mississippi Book Festival.  Galloway is uniquely suited to do this, both because of its physical proximity to the Capitol but also because of its historical connection to Mississippi writers.

Most of the people in my Sunday School have Ph.D., MD,  or JD after their name.  One is a judge, and one is the first boy to become a Rhode's Scholar from Millsaps.  My daddy always thought he'd be governor one day.  That never happened, but he did fabricate governors all over the country.  He'd probably object to my choice of verb here, but if you're in his party and you want to win an election, he's your guy.  We're readers.  We read in several languages and look for things to read to challenge our worldview.  I can't think of a congregation better suited to the broad spectrum of thought that makes up the Mississippi Book Festival.  

Christianity is ancient.  It is the conduit of so many of our cultural threads going back through the millennia.  It connects us to all the wonders and beauty and pain and regret of the centuries.  Galloway acts as a light-house through time.  There are rough seas ahead, there were rough seas in the past, but Galloway provided a beacon then, and it provides a beacon now.  

It hasn't been easy forging a culture in this country, particularly in Mississippi.  We've made horrible, painful mistakes, but if you build your house on solid ground, you can weather any storm.  Matthew and Luke both recount the parable of building on solid ground.  

Galloway is built on an ancient site.  Did you know there was a graveyard underneath it?  A small plot with the mortal remains of some of Jackson's earliest residents, the sanctuary was built over it.  The graves and the gravestones still stand undisturbed, save for decades and decades of organ music.  We are a light-house to history.  Their history sits with us every Sunday.

Generations and generations of eight-year-olds have been folded into and made a part of our congregation.  There's so much more to it than just accepting the Lord and learning a few bible verses.  At eight years old, you become part of something ancient.  You're eight, so you don't understand this, but the thread of culture going back to the pharos continues through you.

My diuretic stuck again, and I couldn't finish Cary's sermon, but I listened to it on Youtube.  

Driving home, I thought, the world is a confusing, sometimes frightening place.  Bringing eight-year-olds into this ancient battle seems like such a strange thing to do, almost cruel, but it's an ancient and honorable ritual.  Standing up in front of your parents' friends and accepting the gift of a book seems like an odd thing to do, but it's the start of something.  It's the entrance into something very ancient that struggles to find the good in life and fight for it and fight for you as you fight for others.  You're eight, but now you're a light-house keeper.  Even if you don't stay here.  Even if you move far away and transfer your membership out of Galloway, you take some of us with you, and we keep some of you with us.  Don't be surprised if you look at your books when you're sixty and say, "Wow, that's my third-grade bible."  



Friday, August 18, 2023

The Ritual Killer Review

Last night my friend Tom messaged me that Morgan Freeman was giving a lecture at Millsaps in a movie.  “The Ritual Killer,” now streaming on Hulu, was shot in Jackson during the time when I was still really sick, so I guess I missed a lot of information about it.  The film was shot in Italy, Jackson, Clinton, and the Pearl River Reservoir.  It’s a psychological thriller with Cole Hauser from Yellowstone playing a Clinton, Mississippi Homicide Detective (the Clinton Police Force may not have homicide detectives.  It’s only about 20 guys.)  Morgan Freeman plays a professor of African History at a small college in Clinton.  There actually is a small college in Clinton, but they shot the film in Jackson at Millsaps instead.

The Ritual Killing referenced here is African shamanistic medicine, which in some instances, requires human body parts for the more powerful rituals.  There was a rash of these sorts of killings in Africa a few years ago.   In the film, a powerful businessman hires an African shaman to come to Clinton, Mississippi, where he lives, and conduct these rituals to make him more powerful, rituals that require the sacrifice of two children and a teenager, which is where the homicide detective comes in.

Morgan Freeman plays an anthropology professor.  The first scene with him has him lecturing in the Heritage Lecture Hall in the Ford Academic Complex.  With all its geometric shapes and brick patterns, the building photographs really well.  One of the students in his class is Claire Azordegan, who was in the Spring Show last year.  She doesn’t have any speaking lines, but she does a good job of looking like she’s studying really hard.  I expected to recognize other players in the production, but most were out-of-towners.  Bill Luckett as the crime scene scientist, did make me smile.  Bill died two years ago, and we still haven’t anyone like him yet.  Covid and other issues delayed the release of the film.  

The writing credits for this film look like a house party.  IMDB lists seven different writers.  None of the writers are from here, which is why, most of the time, it feels like they just threw a dart at the map and chose to set the film in Clinton.  Although they did a fair amount of research into African Culture, they did zero research into Southern Culture.  This film could just have easily been set in Chicago or Fresno, or any city.

To write a film about voodoo killings and not even have some of it set in New Orleans is a huge missed opportunity.  There are a few exterior shots toward the end that were apparently shot in Baton Rouge (there are no riverside warehouses on the Pearl River.)  A film about African culture set in Mississippi is such an obvious opportunity to discuss the exchange between African and European cultures that makes up the state culture of Mississippi, but one the screenwriters completely ignore.  There’s absolutely no story-driven reason to set the film in Mississippi.  It’s just a place.

That being said, they photographed Jackson and Millsaps beautifully.  There are a few exterior establishing shots actually done in Clinton, but nearly the entire film is shot in Jackson, including a police chase through the Lamar Life Building and a couple of really good scenes shot in Hal and Mals.  I feel like the Mississippi Film Office just gave them a list of filming locations, and the director said, “Sure.”  It works too.  The film feels very much like it’s set in Middle America, which I suppose was the objective, but they left an awful lot on the table.

Most of the scenes shot in Italy could have been shot anywhere too.  The writers don’t seem to have any sense of place at all.  It’s like they wanted an excuse to spend two months filming in Rome, so they wrote it into the movie.  I know a guy who actually did that.  The movie is 20 Million Miles to Earth.  Check it out sometime.  Shooting it in Rome gave Ray Harryhausen a pretty great honeymoon.

Morgan Freeman’s role is very similar to the character he played in Se7en and Kiss the Girls.  I”m sure Cole Hauser can be a fine actor, but in scenes with Morgan Freeman, you can tell he’s scared to death and comes off as really wooden and not committed to the scene at all.

As a psychological thriller, I’m pretty pleased with the film.  It has a nice, even tension to it, and you end up feeling pretty strongly about the leads finding a resolution to the action.  It’s kind of like dinner at a Chinese restaurant, though; you’re hungry an hour later.  If you’re from Jackson or at all involved with Millsaps, it’s worth watching just so you can pick out locations you know.  

With New Orleans so nearby, nobody has ever done a movie about Voodoo in Mississippi before.  We have it, though.  There was a time when one of our store managers fired an unreliable delivery guy, and there were chicken bones left in the doorway to the building for a month.  

Nearly everybody has Hulu these days.  It’s worth a night at home watching movies.




Saturday, August 12, 2023

Smith Park Fence

In the original 1820's map for Jackson, roads were set up on a square grid pattern, starting with the intersection of Capitol Street and State Street in front of the old Capitol building and extending west toward Raymond and Clinton.  Livingston Park, the future site of the Battle of Jackson, was on the Western border of the city.   The northern border was the highway we now call Woodrow Wilson, with the farm that became the Jackson College for Negros and then Millsaps College on the very northernmost border.  The state Sanitarium, now UMC, was just outside of the city limits.

In the original plan for the city, every few squares on the grid were left green to beautify the city.  While done with pure intention, this plan irritated business owners because people would use these green patches to pasture their mules and cows.

Just before the Civil War, considering its position near the Methodist Cemetary (now Galloway Sanctuary) and one of the state's only Catholic churches, a furniture dealer named James Smith donated $100 to erect a castiron fence around one of the greenspace parks to keep the mules and cows out, which was later downgraded to a wooden fence when future donations didn't materialize.  In gratitude for this enormous sum of money, the city named the park after him, and it is today still called Smith Park.  

I've tried several times to find photographs of the fence before it was torn down and maybe some information on why it was torn down, without much luck.  Smith Park occupies a significant space in Mississippi history.  Some of it isn't talked about very often because, for some time, it was one of the only places where gay men could meet, more or less in secret, without considerable harassment, although there was some.  

One of the problems I have with the whole "give up on Jackson" crowd is they'll be losing so much remarkable and varied history.  There was about a twenty-year period, starting in the mid-70s, when business leaders in Jackson began tearing down sites that were significant to the civil rights movement, replacing them with modern buildings, and completely repurposing the site.   This is why you have so many "Civil Rights Trail" signs where there is no building.

All of the men who made these decisions are gone now.  Most of them were pretty legendary.  They believed the best way for Jackson to get beyond the racial strife of the sixties was to get beyond it and act, almost like it never happened.  While I respect their efforts and their point of view, I don't believe that's the best course.  The past creates the present, and understanding the past, all of the past, the good and the bad, is our best bet at creating a better future.

You don't see a lot of people grazing mules and cows in downtown Jackson anymore.  Understanding that they once did and that it was something of a problem helps us fill in the blank spaces on our historical portrait and keeps us mindful that this is a living place with a living history that we should keep alive.


Thursday, August 10, 2023

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.


Official Ted Lasso