Eyes on my hometown

I watched the last installment in the first block of the Eyes on the Prize airing on the PBS series American Experience. The series is fantastic, and I enjoyed seeing it again. This time, I recorded it. The $375 DVD set being out of my budget, my personal DVD set will do well.

“Mississippi: Is This America?” was the first of the last pair. It covered the events of the 1964 summer, Freedom Summer. While really not that long before my birth, I grew up in the same place and a different world. I still find it fascinating that my home was a place of such injustice, tumult and heroism.

Several things grabbed me. One was “Green Onions” recorded in 1962 by integrated soul group Booker T. & the M.G.’s. A fife and drum piece also stood out. I cannot find credits for the music, however. I wrote asking for more information about it.

The interview with Hodding Carter III also got me thinking. Hodding Carter II wrote So the Heffners Left McComb, a short book about how a middle class white family was forced out of my hometown because they befriended civil rights workers. I blogged about the book and the Statement of Principles published not long after.

McComb was heading for disaster. The Klan was bombing African-American homes and churches. The society was headed toward dissolution. The white leadership came up with a few statements decrying the violence. My favorite part is

There is only one responsible stance we can take: and that is for equal treatment under the law for all citizens regardless of race, creed, position or wealth; for making our protests within the framework of the law; and for obeying the laws of the land regardless of our personal feelings. Certain of these laws may be contrary to our traditions, customs or beliefs, but as God-fearing men and women, and as citizens of the United States, we see no other honorable course to follow.

When I learn about the civil rights era, the recalcitrance of whites frustrates me. They should have figured out that changes were happening whether or not they wanted them, and they should have found ways to minimize the suffering. Instead, they fought and destroyed. In battling to preserve the bad elements of the culture, they harmed good ones. The class divisions within white society added to the problem. Financially comfortable whites engaged in violence far less than the poor. At the same time, they held power to curtail the mayhem, yet they did not.

Here in the Statement of Principles, I see that at least one white community did realize the best way through the transition, and it was in my hometown. The realization took them far longer than it should have, and the implementation took more time. McComb schools were not integrated for about six more years. Its existence, however, helps me make more sense of my childhood. White flight from the schools was the exception in McComb when I started school although that thoughtful approach to education has since faded there.

As planned, I did go to the library, and I found the Statement of Principles in the November 17, 1964 edition of the Enterprise-Journal. I had thought about scanning it and posting it here without ever doing it. Then I found McComb Legacies, a site produced by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss. The institute has outreach programs for several other towns as well.

McComb Legacies has the Statement of Principles. There are interviews with several McComb civil rights leaders and figures of the era. It brings a facet to light that was largely hidden by the time I came along. Along with the statement, the site has this PDF of the signers. They include parents and grandparents of childhood friends, neighbors, the doctor who delivered me, endower of a WashU professorship in cardiothoracic surgery and Bobby Lounge‘s parents.

On the other side, I do not want to let the white experience take an unfair share of attention. Black folks made the movement happen. They had help, but the biggest help came from themselves. McComb Legacies includes several interviews with local leaders. Along with the big leaders, my town had some African-American leaders of its own, as did many little towns. I am happy to learn more about them.

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Michael M. on October 17th 2006 in General

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.