Last summer we went south, to Mississippi.
Mississippi is the state where the color line was strongest.
Race defined Mississippi: its politics, its economy, its future, its past.

I was reminded
how rural the state was, and is.
King Cotton and Jim Crow once ruled Mississippi

We asked people to recall the past.
We sought their memories,
and their judgments.

In the languid beauty, one could almost forget history:

This was where a 14 year old black boy

visiting from Chicago
whistled at a white woman
in 1955.

Emmett Till.

They took a fan from this gin
wrapped it round his neck
Threw his body in this swamp.

If you ask, anyone will tell you

The memory of Emmett Till haunts this place.

It hovers over the fields
behind the white picket fences of the lovely towns.
Beneath the surface of Main Street
race still runs like a current,
charging the imagination.

Racism threw up, in the white imagination,
grotesque visions of blackness.

Faulkner once said,
"The past is never dead. It's not even past."

In Mississippi, the past haunts the present.

At crucial times in history the past --
the legacy of slavery,
the Civil War,
the Indian removal --

like the kudzu
threatens to smother the living things
over which it climbs.

Race remains a key divide, the color line has not dissolved.

We are trying to understand
how people whose lives have been saturated
with race
understand race
and difference.

© Jane Adams & D. Gorton 2002