Mississippi is another one of my "drive through" states. The only time I was there was while I was in a car moving from Texas to Massachussetts during my third trimester of pregnancy. I honestly have no memory of it.
Sons of Mississippi by Paul Hendrickson
In Robert Persig's classic book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Persig relates a story about trying to get a student to learn to write. She claims there is nothing to say when assigned to write about Bozeman. He sends the student back to town and tells her to write about one building and to start with one brick in the building. The student returns exhuberent and excited about all there was to write about. Sons of Mississippi is a book is about one picture - a picture taken in Oxford, Mississippi in the fall of 1962, just before the University of Mississippi "Old Miss" was integrated by James Merideth. Meredith officially entered classes on October 1 of that year. The picture, dated September 27, 1962 - the day my sister was born - was taken a few days before rioting broke out on the campus. The men in the photograph are six sheriffs and a sheriff's deputy who want to maintain the segregated status quo of the south. Intrigued by this photograph, which was published in Life magazine, Hendrickson sets out to find the subjects and the photographer decades after it is published. Most of the sheriffs are dead, but he is able to set up interviews with the survivors, or their widows, or their offspring, as well as with Charles Moore, the photographer, and with James Merideth and his descendents. It is amazing how much can be written about one picture - a thousand words? This book is over 300 pages! I was fascinated that so many people were willing to open up to Hendrickson, including the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. I also never knew that James Merideth once worked for segregationist Jesse Helms and campaigned for David Duke when he made his run for governor. Libraries are mentioned occasionally throughout this book, beginning with the prologue in which Hendrickson describes another photograph, found on microfilm at the public library, of Ed Cothran, the sheriff with his back turned, when he helped recover the body of a Emmett Till a 14-year old boy who was lynched for making a pass at a white woman in 1955. There are a few mentions of the Ole Miss library including a description of the ceremony and reception that took place in 1997 when James Meredith turned over his papers to the university archives. What struck me the most, though was this passage about the university library :
"If a reseacher or pesky out-of-town vistor had gone through the [periodicals] aisles [of the library] looking for stories about what had happened at Ole Miss in late September and early October 1962, he would have discovered that most of the stories weren't there. The periodicals themselves exist-but almost all of the stories have been scissored or ripped out. Whole issues are missing from the shelves, including the the issue of Life containing Charles Moore's photograph." Hendrickson makes no guesses as to the disposition of these relics.