Living With Ghosts … of Mississippi

I just awoke from a strange dream. I somehow was the lead prosecutor in a trial seeking to convict the killer of Medgar Evers. Far from reality, Medgar’s brother, Charles, was frail and ill and near death at the time of the trial. I remember hugging a diabetic and now blind Charles—played by Morgan Freeman—and whispering quietly to him, “Hold on, Charles … we’ll bring him to judgement. Stay with me.” I remember asking him, “You’re so weak, Charles. Sit down.” He replied, “If I sit, I won’t stand up again.”

Then I awoke, dazed and quite confused.

Of course, it didn’t happen like this at all; Byron de la Beckwith, the racist sonofabitch who killed Medgar Evers and crowed about it in his racist circles for decades, was notoriously re-tried and convicted of Evers’s murder in 1994. Charles Evers wasn’t weak and frail at that trial; as best as I can tell from a Google search, he’s still alive today. Beckwith lived for seven years in prison until he died in 2001.

The Beckwith trial was fascinating for me. I was a Midwestern boy thrust into the Deep South just before I hit puberty, a boy who was fairly well ashamed to say, “My father is from Mississippi, and my mother is from Alabama,” in the time that we still lived “up North”, for fear that I’d be seen as a redneck, a racist, an idiot, or all three. I feared strongly that I was moving back into the 1950s, socially and racially, when we moved to Mississippi in 1991.

Since I’d moved from a very good Ohio school district [Beavercreek] to a better-than-average Mississippi one [Forest], I ended up repeating a lot of schoolwork because of the varied expectations of students of the same age. One of the very few classes that interested me at all was Mississippi history, a state-required course that was the only one that held any interest for me since it seemed that it was the only new things to be learned in my new environment. As such, I attacked it with zeal.

My class was taught by a Mr. James Watts, a tall, skinny black man with a rich, deep skin tone. He was a Vietnam veteran–a member of the Big Red One, the First Infantry Division of the United States Army. Mr. Watts wasn’t what liberal Northerners might think of when they think of a black man teaching a mixed-race group of students about Mississippi history. Many would think—or so I conceive of it—of a loud-spoken man teaching passionately about the ills that existed in the 1950s and 1960s, railing against the wrongness of it all and laying it all at the feat of the dirty white man.

Maybe they’d think he was as Charles Evers really was—Charles, too, had served in the Army, but his service was in War Two. Charles was from our part of Mississippi, being born in Decatur, and he was the first black mayor of Fayette since Reconstruction. I remember Charles as being a fiery man. As his Wikipedia entry says, “Admired by some, he alienated others with his inflexible stands on various town issues [in Fayette, Miss., as Mayor]. Evers did not like to share or delegate power.”

No, James Watts was a quiet, passionate man, honest and fair, one who realized that all sides in the racial fight of his youth were largely born into their ignorance and distrust of each other. I think that he learned the true equality and brotherhood of man when he served in Nam. Mr. Watts worked some nights and most weekends at the local Wal*Mart in the sporting goods section, selling firearms and ammunition and making keys. Dad, an inveterate Wal*Mart shopper, quickly realized that he had a colleague and a brother in arms in Mr. Watts. I always flew pretty straight and level in school at that age, but I flew even straighter and more level in Mr. Watts’s class.

A couple years later, armed with the knowledge of my new home’s inglorious and shameful past, Beckwith came to justice. I was enraptured by it all—probably the most notorious of all the Klan killings, Medgar Evers’s assassination was an open wound that just wouldn’t ever heal as long as Beckwith was a free man. All the newsclips from WLBT-TV, Channel 3 in Jackson, are shown in Ghosts of Mississippi as I remember them in real life—except, of course, for the interview scene with James Woods’ powerful portrayal of Beckwith as Ed Bryson interviewed him. [I can’t remember now how close that scene was to the truth; someone with a better memory than I would have to chime in.]

Here I was, a boy ashamed of my family’s home state, seeing a man brought to justice quite late, but not too late. Ghosts of Mississippi, despite its many faults, is still a powerful movie for me because of all the memories it evokes of my 15th and 16th years, seeing that racist old man finally being brought down.

Who knows why I had that crazy-ass dream. Maybe I’m still living with those ghosts.

Blame It on the Moo Shu!

For some reason, I, a Graves College alumni [2006, art], was back for Homecoming in 2008. When I got there, several of my old engineer friends, also Graves alumni, were with me there in Tecumseh, ON, to attend Homecoming. We were seated in, of all places, the dairy aisle in the campus commissary. I remember this because I went to look at some of the craptastic faux juice products you see in such an aisle, and I noticed that the name being used to market these products was … Adam Carolla?!

Fast forward a few minutes–after glad-handing my fellow alumni, we were flash-seated in an auditorium. A band started off the concert, and then the house sound system started playing The Normals’ Coming to Life for change music. However, the sound techs were absolutely horrid, as the next act, an early teenaged girl [probably a Graves prodigy, since we, um, have those?], was being drowned out. I shouted from my seat, “KILL THE HOUSE MUSIC AND TURN UP THE STAGE!” When that didn’t work, I made my way to the stage. As I got there, it dawned on me …

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We Are The Beggars

It’s patently unfair.

I have a young man for a friend–and I say “young man” because he’s all of five or so months younger than I am–who had a band that, because the label was stupid and decided that they didn’t care about their original mission anymore, was pretty much driven right into the ground.

It’s a weird course of events, for me. I’d heard of The Normals before, sure, but I’d never paid their music any more mind than anything else I heard on the radio. [Living near Nashville, I’d heard them on the local “Christian radio” station a few times–not that I remember a song, but remembering the DJ’s saying “… and that was” some song “by The Normals”.

Because of all this, I’ve never seen The Normals play live. That’s almost as unfair as what Forefront did to The Normals.

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