Still Divided Over Race? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Still Divided Over Race?

See what you think.

The Creative Loafing's John Sugg (from Atlanta) is back with a rather sweeping package of stories on race relations in South, with much focus on Mississippi. (Sidebar on continued efforts for justice here, but curiously doesn't mention the Dee-Moore case.)

It begins:

It was a reminder, a soul-chilling echo from the Mississippi Delta. "Emmett Till, Emmett Till. We'd kill you still, we'd kill you still."
Till was a black kid, 14 years old when two white men savagely tortured and murdered him. That was in August 1955.

But the hateful shout across the town square of Sumner, Miss., rang out on a 107-degree day in September 2005. Five kids in a red pickup spied a group of journalists and scholars who'd trekked to the town's courthouse where 50 years earlier, an all-white jury had acquitted two white men who later boasted of killing Till in Look magazine.

The lynching, along with Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man almost four months later, ignited the Civil Rights Movement. Those two incidents — a crime of hatred and a quiet statement of courage — lit a conflagration of social and political change in America.

In the following decades, Jim Crow, the legal embodiment of the South's segregated society, disappeared — almost. Officially, schools are now integrated. Blacks occupy positions of power, from municipal offices to the nation's secretary of state. Workplaces are legally colorblind. Mixed-race couples seldom turn heads anymore.

Perhaps most symbolic of change, racists who committed murders decades ago and escaped punishment at the time have seen their cases reopened. In the same region where Emmett Till's killers went free, integrated juries have convicted a handful of race terrorists for long-ago crimes. For many of the killers, justice was delayed — but it finally arrived (see sidebar).

Still, there's that haunting shout in Sumner.

Previous Comments

ID
104470
Comment

Ah, Sweeping Generalization how I've missed thee. I've grown up a white male in Mississippi, so I'm used to being automatically labeled a racist before people even get to know me. If they can now grudgingly admit we're changing, how about giving all of us the benefit of a doubt?

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-02-03T16:51:22-06:00
ID
104471
Comment

It's not all bad. I especially like the way they pointed this out: In 1968, blacks earned 54.8 cents for every dollar earned by whites, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2001, black earnings had climbed — if you can call it that — to 57.2 cents. At that pace, blacks can expect to achieve parity with white income in the year 2582. And the way they highlighted motor voter "reform" as a way of decreasing low-income black turnout, though truth is this probably has more to do with the fact that low-income blacks vote Democratic than it does with the fact that they're low-income blacks. Then again, the same is probably true of the original Jim Crow laws. If black folks voted Democratic during Reconstruction, or Republican from the New Deal on, I don't know that there would have been much resistance in the South to equal voting rights. Everybody wants to see their candidate win, and some folks--then and now--apparently don't mind oppressing millions of people to do it. That said, this line was flip and rather stupid: Bigotry may still be as much of a mainstay among many Southerners as grits, magnolias, hurricanes and NASCAR. I'm not hostile to outsiders, but I know there is a considerable cadre of them who don't really want to see the South succeed on its own and insist on perpetuating the old myth that the South will achieve parity with the North only when white Northerners come down here in defense of what they perceive to be passive Southern blacks, and stand together against the majority of Southern whites. Mississippi Burning was set in 1965, fellas; it wasn't that simple then, and it sure as hell ain't that simple now. The article does correctly portray racism as a national problem, which is good. It's very easy to be antiracist in Vermont, since there are no visible minority races to oppress, but communities up in New England do still tend to be pretty insular. Gentleman's Agreement is the New England answer to Mississippi Burning, and as is true in Mississippi, the problems are still there. In the West and Midwest (regional categories somehow left off the racial map), anti-Hispanic sentiment is rapidly approaching Jim Crow levels. And nobody seems to think twice about laws designed, for example, to deny constitutionally guaranteed citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants, or to investigate and deny public education to the children of undocumented immigrants. (What constructive purpose does that serve, since schools receive funding based on the number of students they have? Well, it guarantees the next generation of "illegals" will also be uneducated.) And one new law proposed in Congress would make it a felony to assist undocumented immigrants in anything, from how to become legal immigrants to how to apply to food stamps. Shades of the slave codes that made it a capital crime to teach a black slave to read. So no, now isn't really the time for the rest of the country to be feeling superior about race. I see a hell of a lot of logs in a hell of a lot of these sanctimoniously downcast eyes. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-02-03T20:57:07-06:00
ID
104472
Comment

That said, this line was flip and rather stupid: Bigotry may still be as much of a mainstay among many Southerners as grits, magnolias, hurricanes and NASCAR. What, southerners like NASCAR?!? No way. Agreed, Tom. I think that example about sums up what bugs me about Mr. Sugg's writing on race issues. The other thing that bugs me are these sweeping stories that kind of go right past the various nuances found in the race struggles of the South. I don't mean in a justifiable way—I mean that you simply cannot write one big story about race in the South that doesn't come across sounding very superficial. It's kind of like saying over and over again that Dr. King represented the whole black freedom movement. So, despite all the attempts at being literary and important, this story—and some others he has done focusing on Mississippi—come across as someone passing through for a few days and tryng to sound literary and important. That doesn't mean there's nothing good in them, of course, as you point out. I always get the feeling his big point is to point out that the Klan still exists in Mississippi, when our bigger problems are what to do about the madness that resulted from the past and what to do in the here and now. I must say, every time I read one of Mr. Sugg's stories, I get the urge to run on over to Atlanta and write the story behind the story about the Wayne Williams case. There's such a story -- and a complicated one -- to be done there. I'm surprised Mr. Sugg's not knee-deep in that one, considering it's so close at hand—and that some vicious child murderers may be still roaming their streets. I got enough on my plate here in Mississippi, though. Maybe some day.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-03T21:05:32-06:00
ID
104473
Comment

It is indeed a very complex story, Civil Rights in MS. Too many people have manipulated the system for their benefit for too many years.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-02-03T21:41:03-06:00
ID
104474
Comment

Hmm, five kids in a red pickup (from a town I never heard of) chanting something abut Emmitt Till. Sounds like cries for attention...and a trip behind the toolshed. :-) Sounds to me like Sugg took something that the kids probably picked up from their dad or granddad and tried to use this pathetic little incident to paint a picture of the entire state right now. That's a bit of a stretch, don't you think?

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2006-02-07T00:11:15-06:00
ID
104475
Comment

I do think it's a stretch. As we all know, I am perfectly willing to call out our racism, but these broad strokes ain't working for me. We Mississippi progressives -- black and white and other -- recognize something plucked out of context to make a story work when we see it, eh, Latasha? We have problems, and they are much more complex than Mr. Sugg is seeing just yet—indicated by his choice of that particular anecdote to make his point.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-07T00:14:31-06:00
ID
104476
Comment

So true, Donna. Once again, broad generalizations outweigh common sense. It would have been more interesting if Sugg went up to these young people and interviewed them. He could have asked them a ton of questions: -Where did you learn that chant? -Do you actually agree with what you're saying, or is it just for shock value? -What do you know about Emmett Till? -What do you know about the Civil Rights Movement? -What have your parents told you about civil rights? -To you what do most people you know believe about reopening the Till case? See, that's what I would call in-depth reporting.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2006-02-07T12:16:26-06:00
ID
104477
Comment

Agreed. That is also what I call in-depth reporting, too, as you probably know. And dealing with the complexities beyond the fact that Mississippi (and Georgia, for that matter) still has racism. We know that. Let's get in deeper.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-07T13:22:12-06:00
ID
104478
Comment

There's always that nagging feeling that no one wants a solution to the racial problem that benefits everyone, just them. Makes you wanna scream, or ask seriously "Did you ever read Dr King's speech closely?"

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-02-07T16:29:07-06:00
ID
104479
Comment

Agreed, Iron. Mr. Tisdale, for instance, apparently ripped me a new one in the Advocate for my column about him and his friends bashing the "black-white power coalition." I'm a racist, it seems, because I -- uh -- don't believe that all whites suck? Because I believe blacks and whites should work together for the betterment of socieity? Because I believe that Dr. King wanted us to do just that? Because I want to understand "black history" -- which I consider American history? I paraphrase a bit, of course. I can tell you that I feel like I've arrived when a black newspaper that promoted segregation during the Civil Rights Movement (as opposed to, say, the original Mississippi Free Press run by a coalition of different races) counts me among the traitors in their "brown" society, or whatever it is they're called. I'm in pretty good company there. Division is division, no matter what color it comes in. Mr. Sugg's story is one more reason why we must tell our own stories, and ask our own questions.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-07T16:48:38-06:00
ID
104480
Comment

The column that got the Mill Street folks hot and bothered, by the way.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-07T16:50:26-06:00
ID
104481
Comment

ladd-- I'm a racist, it seems, because I -- uh -- don't believe that all whites suck? Because I believe blacks and whites should work together for the betterment of socieity? Because I believe that Dr. King wanted us to do just that? Because I want to understand "black history" -- which I consider American history? No criticism meant, but I thought you had admitted to being a racist: I am a racist, Brandon. I grew up in a white culture of privilege that is very different from cultures other people grew up. That is not my fault, personally. It also does not harm me in any possible way to understand that I have inherent prejudices, just as people who grow up in minority cultures have. The difference is that "racism" is a system of oppression, and the beliefs that I was taught are the tools of that oppression.

Author
Rex
Date
2006-02-07T17:38:47-06:00
ID
104482
Comment

In the West and Midwest (regional categories somehow left off the racial map), anti-Hispanic sentiment is rapidly approaching Jim Crow levels. Approaching? I knew a native Jacksonian who told me about her time in the Air Force in California in the 1950s. She told me that in one breath, the locals would castigate her for the racism that was prevalent in the South, and in the next they would be loudly complaining about the Mexicans. Plus ca change. Best, Tim

Author
Tim Kynerd
Date
2006-02-07T17:39:23-06:00
ID
104483
Comment

I did, Rex, but not of the kind that those folks characterize me as. ;-) That is, their idea of "racist" seems to be someone who promotes the idea of a multi-racial coalition. I admit to being born into a society where, as a white person, I was dealt cards that I had to learn not to play. I had to become educated in order not to fear black people because they are black. I had to learn not to mind being the only white face in the room (or the neighborhood). I had to intentionally go look for the history I needed to complete my education (which, ironically, some black people will criticize a white person for doing -- for trying to "own" their history. Damned do, damned don't). And I readily admit that my education is not over, that I still mess up and I have more to learn. But, it seems, the very fact that I—and others like me—are trying is what gets Mr. Tisdale's goat. I definitely would argue that Mr. Tisdale and I define racism differently. He seems to define it as doing exactly what I believe one must do in order to overcome the perils of a racist society. And that's OK. He's entitled to his opinion. But so am I.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-07T17:45:53-06:00

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