I visited my hometown in the Mississippi Delta this spring. I noticed some things I never imagined I’d see in sleepy Indianola.
The most curious sight was a teenaged girl with a natural blond ponytail, playing in the street on Roosevelt Street and Gray Avenue after school hours. A white resident, deep, deep, deep in the segregated heart of a town that’s the symbol of the racist “nullification and interposition” which characterized Mississippi’s official “massive resistance” to everything decent for Negro residents in the mid-20th century? Yes.
She is new to the neighborhood. She didn’t grow up there, though. She didn’t live on that street last fall. White children are very, rarely reared in black neighborhoods down south.
Funny thing though: On Catching Street and Faisonia Avenue, and Percy Street, on the north side of the small, rural town, where the neighborhoods have paved sidewalks and manicured lawns, there now appear to be some black families.
At the various fast-food establishments along the Highway 82 commercial corridor, all have mostly black staff and many have black managers. But ironically, all the businesses, conveniently on the opposite side of the highway from the fast-food joints — two banks, a hardware store, paint store, auto dealership, pawn shop, auto-title loan store — are all managed by whites with a sprinkling of black workers.
That’s kind of the way it’s always been in the Delta. An acquaintance of mine who serves on the Indianola Historic Preservation Commission told me once that he encountered one of the town’s old former plantation owners on an Election Day. There had not been nearly as much Ku Klux Klan violence and intimidation in Sunflower County, the man explained, because the White Citizens Council formed instead, and the group of mostly businessmen told the rowdy Klansmen to stay away, so as to not frighten the good black workers who were needed to fuel Indianola’s “industry,” agriculture.
Athletics is another temporary racial fence-mender in the South. Neither Alabama, Mississippi, nor Arkansas have a professional sports franchise in their states, so college and high school teams fill the gap.
Morgan William is a classic example. A 5-foot-4-inch basketball phenom, she was already an iconic “giant” on the Mississippi State University women’s basketball team. The day before MSU faced the invincible University of Connecticut, the school purchased a full-page ad in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, touting their star. And she did not disappoint. With time running out in overtime, William made what may be remembered as the greatest buzzer-beater in women’s basketball history.
Her 10-foot shot not only gave MSU a 66-64 victory, it avenged a 60-point whipping by UConn in last year’s NCAA tournament and, more dramatically, it broke the school’s 111-game-winning streak, the longest in NCAA women’s history.
“Racial nirvana.” The Mississippi legislature may reinstate the electric chair or the firing squad before this legislative session is over, but folks in the state capital sure know how to celebrate a thrilling athletic conquest which makes us all proud.
Before President Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” punished Democrats in the South for President Lyndon Johnson’s steadfast support for civil rights legislation, Democrats had been the segregationists. They were nicknamed “Dixie-crats.” Whites were the only folks permitted to vote in those days, and the Democratic politicians fed them six “truths”: 1) The federal government’s a threat. 2) Federal courts don’t understand the Constitution. 3) Taxes are bad. 4) Unions need to be eliminated. 5) You have a lousy hospital, but 6) at least you’re White.
The “Trump Revolution” is about reestablishing that “natural order” of things where white folks are in charge — right or wrong, win or lose — and everyone else can contribute to the team as long as they don’t rock the boat.
What’s new in Mississippi, is that many opportunities have opened up for black folks to now compete for slots on the company team, while the management and ownership remain firmly under white control.