Chapter Thirty One: Saving the South (Sweet Home Mississippi)
It was late Spring. White-robed Ku Klux Klansmen carrying Confederate flags were marching in Winona. It was a Sunday afternoon. More than one hundred residents of the town turned out to watch the parade.
Bob Brainy, designated as a Klan spokesman was giving a speech.
“When the ‘We shall overcome’ dream is through, the white race is over,” he blurted out in his corny accent. Some of the residents applauded.
“White people, don’t forget the seed of your generation,” Brainy droned on. These words of wisdom were followed by attacks on Marxism, Judaism, Martin Luther King, social welfare, socialism, anarchists, feminists, communists, liberals, professors, and the media.
Reading about the event, Ted wondered if the Klan really thought that a Marxist revolution was on the way in Mississippi. One can be stupid, but surely there is a limit. Well, maybe not here, he thought.
“TV is owned by the Jews. They control our media. The Jewish religion teaches child molesting. Welfare is killing the nation,” Brainy shouted, “It sounds like a good idea until the nation goes bankrupt.”
Ted hadn’t noticed that the local area was exactly inundated with a surplus of welfare checks. From what he could see they were pretty hard to come by. And for him, spending money on food for people and education beat the hell out of spending it on nuclear weapons and tanks which perhaps Brainy forgot to mention. It seemed like a good idea to him, and he didn’t think the USA was going to go bankrupt doing that. Of course welfare checks for the arms producers and bankers were truly adding up the national debt. That aspect of reality was way beyond Brainy’s comprehension.
The speech then took a curious turn, in fingering the enemy of Mississippi.
“They are talking about the Russians and their propaganda. They’ve got to swim the ocean. The real problem for the white race is found in Miami and Texas, fighting Cubans and Hispanics,” Brainy said.
Cubans and Hispanics? The Cubans down there are mostly right wing Republicans, Ted thought.
Then another Bob spoke. Equally brainy. He said that he had supported the white supremacists for twenty-five years. “The Klan saved the South once before. It’ll save it again,” he croaked.
Ted tried to think when that was but it escaped him.
Then the meeting was closed with a prayer. It was reported that security had been heightened due to threats of clashes with the Klansmen. Maybe there was hope after all if people were starting to go after those assholes.
The air was filled with the pungent scent of Magnolia blossoms. He had not experienced it before living in Alabama, and for him it was not a sweet smell, given the social conditions and general feeling of depression which went along with it. He felt nauseous.
Reading student notebooks at the end of the semester, he ran across a letter to her mother that a student had left in her notebook. The letter ended like this:
“Here’s a joke I love, Mom. Do you know why baby niggers can’t play in sand boxes? Cats keep covering them up! Ha”
Ted figured that her mother must really get into jokes like that too, bringing her daughter up with proper values. The sweet little thing. Was there any significance in the fact that the student’s last name was “white?”
Reading student papers was such a bore and finding racist stuff like that was extremely depressing. He had been casting his pearls before such swinish minds for week after week. No wonder they were falling on such barren ground.
Ted drove up to Missouri with his family at the end of the semester. He couldn’t help seeing what was written on the shithouse walls. In Arkansas, “Anyone can piss on the floor. Be a hero and shit on the ceiling.” Another wit had written: “NAACP: Niggers Are Actually Colored Pollocks”. His eyes fell on another one before he finished his piss. “J.B. Hunt: John Boy has us niggers truckin.”
A Mississippi newspaper in Jackson had obtained a large number of documents about the Mississippi Sovereign Commission, created by the State Legislature in 1956. The Commission had existed for seventeen years, after which it was abolished in 1977 and its files ordered to be sealed until 2027. The New York Times reported some findings. Hundreds of people, including teachers, preachers, and students were investigated for their views on civil rights issues and for allegedly subversive activities. Some people lost jobs after being investigated. People, including a black educator, were used to infiltrate organizations to gather incriminating information. Senator James Eastland gave the commission the names of people who had backed civil rights. He helped link the president of Tougaloo College and others to communism.
Well, Ted thought, that is a long tradition in Mississippi, calling people communists who have any progressive ideas. If that is what communists stand for, then one would have to be a communist. It was either that or be a racist in Mississippi. Take your pick.
The Commission had Mississippi newspapers kill news articles which they did not want published. The Commission had planted an article in Mississippi’s largest black newspaper, publicizing assertions that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr was linked to the Communist Party. The Commission also spied on Jewish teenagers who were attending a youth meeting.
“We observed them and listened to them, but we could observe nothing or hear nothing that indicated that they were advocating subversion, integration or anything of a communistic nature.”
That integration is surely communist in nature, Ted reflected. Well, it certainly is in Mississippi.
Try as one might, one just could not get away from the racism, so many years after it was supposed to have ended.