“I Do So Politely”: A Voice From the South
Mississippi Black Paper: Statements and Notarized Affidavits
Three Lives For Mississippi
Letters From Mississippi
Integration At Ole Miss
Mississippi: The Long Hot Summer
There is not really a great deal to be said about Mississippi now, and that is one trouble with all these books. As the situation becomes ever more sharply polarized between those who wish to continue to exploit the Negro and those who aim to stop the exploitation, one finds less and less to say about the conflict. In-fighting has supplanted talk. There is, moreover, a sameness about violence, especially Mississippi violence. The terrorists show as little imagination in their actions as they do in their phone calls, which are limited to the tiny vocabulary of sexual obscenity. There are beatings, bombings, church burnings, and murder, then more of the same.
Also, Mississippi is less mysterious nowadays. The closed society is well advertised for one thing. For another, its protagonists, the Negro and the white racist, are no longer exotic Southern phenomena to be explained by books, but familiar denizens of most American neighborhoods. Nor is there any great mystery, for that matter, about the whys and wherefores of racial cruelty, whether it be the Mississippi version or Chicago Southside. A simple law of social vacuums holds here. Where there is a racially distinct minority whose well-being depends to a degree upon law and to a degree upon the good nature of the majority, the minority will finally be buggered precisely to the degree that the law allows—even when there is considerable good nature at hand. No man can hold out for long against another man’s helplessness. Sooner or later one will be seduced and the other will be buggered. The Negro in Mississippi has been almost totally outside the law and so he has been buggered almost totally. And the white man has been correspondingly seduced by the easy occasions for exploitation. The problem of securing minimal civil rights is equally simple. Changing men’s hearts and customs has nothing to do with it. The Negro will vote without difficulty in Mississippi as soon as those who would stop him know they will be put in jail if they try. Then even the racists will shrug and think of other matters such as schools and housing, as they do in the North.
The indictment of Mississippi is already in. There is little to do but document it. These books are mostly documentaries, personal accounts of those who came into the state during the summer of ‘64, personal accounts also of white Mississippians who watched the state take the road to Oxford and Neshoba, and finally the testimony of the Negroes themselves, the most artless and terrible accounts of all.
I am a Negro, 21 years old. On February 6, 1962, when I was 19, I was walking with a young man down a Clarksdale street when Clarksdale police officers—and and—stopped us and accused me of having been involved in a theft.. I was taken to jail by the officers and they forced me to unclothe and lie on my back. One of the …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.