Neshoba County—once the heart of the Choctaw nation—has a knack for being the crucible from which Mississippi births history. It was here, in the summer of 1964, that the murders of three young Civil Rights workers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—aroused the nation’s anger and helped secure the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It was also here, 16 years later, that Ronald Reagan became the first presidential candidate to ever speak at the Neshoba County Fair, where he promised to usher in a new era of “state’s rights” to a mostly white crowd for whom “state’s rights” meant a rebuke of the advancements of the Civil Rights era. In 2009, it was here, in the same year America inaugurated its first black president, that Philadelphia made James Young—a Pentecostal preacher who was 8 years old at the time of the infamous slayings – its first black mayor. For two days during the Neshoba County Fair’s 2018 season, the Jackson Free Press documented the politics and the people who are still wrestling with the past and writing the history of the fair, the town, the state and the nation in ways big and small. In these photos, the marks of Mississippi’s progress can be discerned, and glimpses of our future seen in a new generation of fairgoers, but the ghosts of our past never linger far outside the frame. They hide not only in the still-coded—if repackaged—speeches some politicians continue to give, but behind the haunted stars and in the very fabric of a state flag countless attendees carry.
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