The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

April 19, 2016

A Candlelight Vigil for the Slaves at Ole Miss

Governor Phil Bryant, as he resists the inevitable wave of change in his own state by legalizing cake discrimination, defending the inclusion of the stars and bars in the Mississippi flag, and general attempts at revisionism, declared this month Confederate History Month in Mississippi.  The Confederate dead have long be mourned in greater pomp than the dead of any other war in this state, but the story told about the South at reenactments and here, on  the Oxford campus of the University of Mississippi, where a costumed annual wreath-laying takes place in the Confederate cemetery behind the old basketball stadium, is generally false.  It’s not that people fought without gallantry in grey uniforms, they did.  It’s not that they were mean to family members or small puppy dogs.  But there still abides a myth that says, 1) The Civil War was not a war fought primarily over slavery (the statements of Confederates as they declared war belie this idea), 2) Those who were slaves were generally happy, and 3) The Yankees ruined a really good thing by ending slavery and thereby effectively ending Plantation culture as it had previously existed down South.  To all this, the University of Mississippi chapter of the NAACP chants, “Hell you talmbout.”

candlelight vigil 2Though not a particularly politically minded campus, compared to, say, UC Berkeley, Ole Miss has a Black Lives Matter movement, and happily, there are white people on campus who agree that black lives do indeed matter, and all people deserve respect.  Last year, despite Phil Bryant’s advocacy for a Confederate-ish state flag, the student body of Ole Miss overwhelmingly voted to remove the state flag from the campus until such time as the image changes to something less offensive to African-American students, whose families were terrorized under that symbol.  The white students are generally unwilling to be chained to the ugliness of past genocide, generally unwilling to manufacture or perpetuate myth in order to cover up ugliness that they do not claim as their own present-tense sentiments toward people of color.  It’s not a perfect campus — the statue of James Meredith got lynched by one student, who was expelled and charged with vandalism, and his conspiring fraternity was unhoused from the campus by the governing body of that frat’s national Greek organization.  But it is not a campus like the one James Meredith walked onto when first he desegregated this institution with its Grecian columns and shuttered colonnades.  Then, he got shot at and shouted at.  Today, most students just want to get to class before they get marked absent.

candlelight vigil 3People of multiple races participated in a candlelight vigil to remember during this so-called Confederate History month the lives ruined by slavery on this very campus, individuals who built buildings on the campus and were owned by the plantation scions who did things in some instances like rape or put out cigars on the skin of these slaves.  We cannot walk into the Lyceum, the administrative building, without seeing the work of their hands.  They did not come to learn.  They came only to survive, but the students of color who have followed James Meredith here and those of us who are fortunate enough to study with them have a moral obligation to commemorate them.  If we are going to remember the Confederacy, then let us really remember it.  Not just the wasted young lives shot up at Shiloh, hospitalized here, then buried, but those who had no choice in their comings or goings and who suffered under the oppression of the wealthiest families of the Confederacy, whose sons attended this school with an entourage of slaves. Let us remember how we who are free and of multiple classes and genders, the rich white boys who came here would have scoffed at all of us who aspire to live a life of the mind alien to their own idea of world order.  Let us remember, really remember all of it.

candlelight vigil 1We gathered, held candles in plastic cups, and sang spirituals sung by slaves in order to remain hopeful of freedom in this life of the next, recited their names, where we even have their names.  Mostly we do not have their names, not even their names.

Here, though, I write the names of the ones who ended up in court records, bequests, arrests, seizures — recorded as livestock might have been recorded, not the way citizens were ever discussed, but this is all we have to witness them — these kinds of records, no parentage, no address, no testimony of likes or dislikes, no images, no words that quote them at all — just these names or fragments of names.  Here they are:

Jane

Alford

Collins

E.M. Farill

Lou Farill

Ann Thompson

Ema Jones

Frank Watson

Tom Brown

Seth Brown

Clarecy Brown

Phillip Brown

Frank O’Brian

Tom Goodey

Jeff Profit

John Thompson

James Kerr

Peter Kenshaw

Callie Pillar

A. Nelson

Mary Nelson

S. Williams

And the others, the many whose names are lost to history, Confederate or Union.

Say their names and remember.  Don’t lay a wreath for them wearing a hoop skirt.  Rather, come as you are, free as you are. Sing about freedom.  Carry a light. Bless them.

January 14, 2012

Pontifical Politics in Mississippi

Not only holding the keys to the governor's mansion, Bryant seems to think he holds the keys to hell, death and the grave.

That the new Governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, teared up giving his inaugural address to the legislature when he told them he had been sworn in on his grandma’s Bible is not surprising, nor am I surprised that he quoted scripture a great deal in his speech — all that is standard operating procedure for politicians, especially in the South.  When thanking Governor Barbour, though, for years of service to the state, Bryant cast himself in the voice of the Lord when he told Barbour, “I think I can say, ‘well done, my good and faithful servant.'”  That is surprising indeed and is indicative of the mood right now in the far Right of the Republican party in this state and others, as they honestly think they speak for an authority beyond their service to the people who elected them.

The outgoing Governor, Haley Barbour, just pardoned some men who had murdered their girlfriends and wives because he got to know them when they were working the prison work detail polishing doorknobs in the gubernatorial mansion.  It reminds one of W. S. Gilbert‘s ironic operetta lyric about nepotism:

“I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!”

It’s as if Barbour, in current Republican mode, honestly couldn’t imagine the humanity of all the inmates of state penitentiaries, but when given the opportunity to talk to a few of the good ol’ wife-stabbin’ boys who come and call him “sir,” he is able to look upon them, Lord-like, with compassion, and remit their sins while still being tough on the others who have not had a personal audience in his Sistine chapel — I’m sorry — his official office.  Rather than imagine that all the inmates in the penitentiary are capable of rehabilitation given the right set of circumstances and a will to change, he responds with compassion to those he can see and disregards those to whom he can say, like it says in the Good Book, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  This, of course, appears in Red Letters in the Gospel, and is the voice of the Lord as well.

Among those to whom he showed no compassion in pardoning these men arbitrarily are the families of the victims of these incidents of domestic abuse.  They worked no iniquity, and have reasons for concern that these men are back on the streets, because the ability to use Lemon Pledge effectively on the governor’s desk does not qualify as any actual sort of rehabilitation.  In Mississippi, the pardon gives them the right to bear arms, many arms.  Just how do you suppose they remember their last encounters with their former in-laws?  I doubt these families sleep well at night.

This knowing-better-than-the-stupid-people-who-elected-you fashion has extended down to the state legislature, where only in November, the voters of Mississippi voted down initiative 26, the so-called “personhood amendment,” that would have legally defined life as beginning at conception, complicating not only questions related to abortion but even of delivery of babies, birth contol, and in vitro fertilization.  The voters resoundingly defeated these initiatives with 58% of the electorate, even in conservative corners of the state, voting down this idea.  This week, two bills were introduced into the legislature to ratify the very text the voters rejected.  One is called something like “the treatment of embryos act,” and the other one is called something like, “the life begins at conception act” (no H.R. or S.R. numbers assigned yet).  Thinking the people can’t decide such a weighty matter for themselves, or rather, thinking they did not like the results when they did leave it to the people, the state legislators think they have an authority that extends beyond the will of the people who put them in a higher position.

I have been trying to figure out the Biblical text on which they have based this last dishonest double-dealing.  I’m looking at Psalm 118’s “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.”  The stone, which is understood by the church as Jesus, would be in this case, their rejected ideas.  So appointed not by a fair election of the people who pay their salaries but by God Himself alone, why wouldn’t they adopt this as a method of justifying this?  Aren’t they capable of  declaring themselves infallible on any matter?  Didn’t you see the white smoke from the roof when the votes were counted?  We don’t have a state government — as they say at the Vatican when the new pope is elected — habemus Papam — “We have a pope,”  even if most of us are Southern Baptists around here.

 

 

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