Let's Do the Time Warp, Aga-inn | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Let's Do the Time Warp, Aga-inn

This is a hard column to write. Sometimes something is so painful, so heart-wrenching that you don't want to expose it. You just want to ignore it, and hope no one notices. As much as I'm a fan of open dialogue and brutal honesty about our history, I sometimes want to close my eyes and say, I did not read that. I did not hear that. No one thinks that way in 2004. Not in Jackson.

But they do.

I was flipping through the July 22 issue of The Northside Sun, and I paused on page 4A looking for publisher Wyatt Emmerich's usual corporate apologist editorial. I saw a headline on a guest column by Dan McCullen at the bottom of the page: "Free flowing traffic can revive Capitol St." (a suggestion I agree with). A publisher's note at the bottom caught my eye, announcing that McCullen is the winner of the Sun's column-writing contest and was getting $100 for the column. "The local angle and insightful commentary made this column stand out," the publisher gushed.

The column started out talking about why the Jackson airport shouldn't be named after Jackson's most prominent civil rights hero. "Medgar Evers has no connection whatsoever with the airport and the suggestion by City Council and some of the media that his name be emblazoned on the airport is simply pouring acid into old wounds," he wrote. Now, naming the airport after Evers is debatable, but the "acid" part piqued my interest. Whose "old wounds"? I wondered. After all, Sun editors and friends often tell us, those wounds are healed. Race problems are over. So I kept reading.

After meandering about the embarrassing City Council and dissing Farish Street's renovation--the usual bash-Jackson stuff from the Sun--McCullen gets to the point at the bottom: that we should all shut up about race. "We learn from history, but that doesn't mean you live in the past," he said. I roll my eyes; I hear that all the time. I'm not shocked, yet.

Then he brings up "post-slavery syndrome," which is apparently an excuse that some man somewhere who murdered his child tried to use to explain his heinous crime. You might wonder what that man's attempt to stay out of jail has to do with Medgar Evers and Farish Street. Well, here goes: "I wonder if he realizes that if his ancestors hadn't been sold from slavery in Africa that he would still be living under tribal slavery in Africa," McCullen writes. Holy flying elephants! Did he really just use one of the talk-radio, wing-nut excuses for the institution of slavery--in an award-winning column in The Northside Sun?!?

I should have stopped reading right there. But I would have missed the zinger, which appears right under his photo: "Every black in this country ought to give thanks every day that their ancestors were brought to this country where they were ultimately given every opportunity that everyone else has." Now, read it again. And remember that publisher Wyatt Emmerich--a man whose grandfather was a hero editor because he stood up for civil rights in the 1960s--gave Mr. McCullen an award for typing those words.

Yes, Mr. Dan McCullen, a Northsider and author of a book about his World War II heroism (ironically titled "Lest We Forget") just said that every black American should give thanks for slavery. A man who argues elsewhere that we should not forget history just forgot some, or hasn't bothered to learn it all. It is sheer ignorance to overlook the fact that Europeans took slaves from some thriving communities in Africa, or to simply sidestep the effect on Africa's history that the European slave trade, and later colonization, had on that continent (talk about destabilizing a region), or, hell, to even try to argue that two wrongs could possibly make a right.

Perhaps Mr. McCullen doesn't know the history of the Middle Passage, or our state's black codes, or that every level of white Mississippi society worked in cahoots to keep blacks down well into the 1970s (with effects still felt today). Has he heard of red-lining (by banks that routinely drew red lines through applications filed by blacks for home and business loans)? Has he heard of racial profiling? Sharecropping scams? Poll taxes? Discrimination against black farmers in the news because these hard-working men and women cannot get what they're owed in 2004? How about unfunded education mandates? Crumbling buildings and open sewage in black neighborhoods?

No, sir, this playing field has never been level, and slavery is a curse upon every American, regardless of race. But it can be overcome, and leveled, but not through re-writing of history, but by facing it.

Mr. McCullen has the right to his opinion, and Mr. Emmerich has the right to publish it. But just because you can doesn't mean you should, much less reward it. Most disturbing, what does this say to young people who pick up the paper to see their own smiling mugs (especially those who aren't taught adequate U.S. history)? Who in their right mind publishes (or believes) in 2004 that black people ought to give thanks for slavery? Opposite the column are lots of happy ads from places like the Farmer's Market, Alltell, BankPlus and real-estate developers. Have I slipped into a time warp here? It could be 1964 all over again, except for the black man grinning in the Alltel ad. No wonder we can't get people to help rebuild communities and support the public schools; they're too busy making up silly excuses for the past.

My message to Mr. McCullen and Mr. Emmerich is this: It is silence, and ignorance of our history, and distrust of each other, and ridicule of those who want to move us forward, that has kept this state hovering near No. 50; that has driven smart, young people of all races out of the state; and that has caused us to be an easy target for ridicule because apologists try to whitewash our history. We have allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered by this sugarcoating and burying of our history for too long.

I'm sorry, gentlemen, it's all too important that we talk about race problems and solutions. And honor our fallen heroes like Evers. You know: lest we forget.

Previous Comments

ID
69373
Comment

Thanks for writing about this Donna. We were talking about this last week in sunday school, and none of us could figure out any justification for the Sun running it. The whole thing made me physically ill.

Author
kate
Date
2004-08-04T17:28:45-06:00
ID
69374
Comment

The Northside Sun. Never heard of it. Apparently that's a good thing. I read Emmerich columns in the Greenwood Commonweath, just because I want to see how strong my stromach is today. Isn't Emmerich son of THE Emmerich's who once owned the Clarion Ledger? Or am I confused about who owned the CL during that period? To echo Kate, thanks for writing about this; you are on the money with this analysis and Emmerich and his paper are just past being old fogies (I want to say something besides 'fogies', but I'm trying to be polite).

Author
C.W.
Date
2004-08-05T20:39:06-06:00
ID
69375
Comment

No, the Emmerichs didn't own The Clarion-Ledger. The Hedermans owned it back during its glory days (when it was considered possibly the most racist paper in America, along with the Jackson Daily News, which they also owned). When the son Rea Hederman ran the C-L, it was a good paper for a couple years. Then Gannett bought it, and it went to hell, where it still lives today. Actually, Wyatt Emmerich's grandfather, J. Oliver Emmerich, was a hero white editor--one of the handful of white newspaper editors who changed their views on segregation (like Hodding Carter, Jr.) and went to great lengths to make changes in their newspapers. It's wonderful history to read about these editors and their struggles to do the right thing. Here's a paper that summarizes several of these editors, including Emmerich: As editor, Emmerich was bothered that blacks seemed to appear in most Southern newspapers only when they had committed a crime. Rarely were blacks who had distinguished themselves in some way featured in the newspaper. What black news there was appeared under a condescending caption such as, "With Our Colored Friends." Blacks were always designated as blacks in news copy. Emmerich decided to expand very gradually the coverage of black news and to begin to use courtesy titles in referring to blacks. The latter change horrified some whites. Of course, the irony of this today when you look at the Northside Sun is that the paper routinely ignores "Best Standards" practices set up by the journalist industry way back in, oh, the 1970s when it comes to things like reporting the race of criminals when it's not pertinent to the story, or apprehending the criminal. Routinely, on the front page of the Sun (which seems unapologetic about its appeal to rich white Jackson), you'll see "a black man robbed" this or that, without any other identifying characteristics. And they bash the city of Jackson on a regular basis without any attempt at being "fair and balanced."Æ If you lived in this area and only read the Sun, you'd have no idea what the city of Jackson is really like. *I'd* be scared to live here. Still, with all that, the fact that the publisher both decided to run and give the above column *an award* was simply breathtaking to me, and a whole lot of other people, including readers of the Sun. Perhaps, as they say in education circles, it's a "teachable moment" for the city about how radical people can get if you don't question them along the way.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2004-08-06T09:15:27-06:00
ID
69376
Comment

My comment about the C-L living in hell is so brusque that I should probably clarify what I mean. To me, journalistic hell is corporate-run media that are afraid of their shadows and refuse to be all those billions into good enterprise reporting. I hear, constantly, from people on the right and the left how much they dislike the C-L; I think the folks over there justify it by saying that it's because they piss both sides off, so they must be doing something right. But that's only true if you're doing hard-hitting reporting and analysis that hits both sides as needed. It's not true when the reporting is so bland and surface (think, tort reform and coverage of last fall's gubernatorial election) that very little is coming to the surface that means anything to anyone. There are some very nice, well-meaning people there; it's not their fault, per se; it is the nature of the mega-corporate beast. They want to offend the least number of people possible (at least who buy ads), and they want super-high profit margins, which means cutting reporting resources. Of course, some decent stories slip through, but with that kind of budget, it should be an amazing newspaper. But they would have to spend more of their resources to make that happen. That diss said, they seem to be getting a bit more civic over their crime coverage. I actually appreciated Ronnie Agnew's column this week about meeting with the chief and now running the crime stats. I think The Clarion-Ledger finally realized that they were hurting the city by sensationalizing crime, and thereby making city officials not trust them. So this is a good sign. Of course, I hope the pendulum hasn't swung too far. They still need to do deeper crime analysis and coverage, and they have the resources to do it, unlike some of the rest of us. It's never been about giving the police a pass; it's about doing real research and not just playing gotcha and taking quotes out of context ("perception" B.S.) And the C-L desperately needs to make up for lost time on tort reform coverage. That is the most pitiful coverage of any issue I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot. Now is when it matters the most; are they going to monitor to see whether tort reform delivers what it's supposed to? (Hint: It hasn't in other states.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2004-08-06T11:50:11-06:00
ID
69377
Comment

Donna, I thank you for catching and writing about this, too. I'll continue to throw that paper in the garbage as it is sometimes thrown in my yard as an inducement to get me to subscribe.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2004-08-06T13:46:36-06:00
ID
161989
Comment

Wrong spot for my comment. Sorry.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-02-09T10:30:19-06:00

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