Emmett Till, and a Bibliophile’s Mississippi

3/13/2017

A happy belated Pi Day to you all! 3.14—get it?

Monday and Tuesday… I can’t even really remember what happened, because our days have been so busy, so very much get up in the morning and hit the ground running, and grab coffee at every opportunity. A week as full as it is fulfilling.

Monday morning was our first in the cabins at Tallahatchie Flats, and I woke up early to shower in the tiny bathroom with no lock—very clean though, and that’s what matters, right? On the itinerary for this morning was “early Walmart run with food captains” but several of us went along in search of warmer clothing, too. “Food captains” because each cabin is in charge of two communal meals this week, one breakfast and one dinner, and in my cabin with my friends, vegan Samantha is more or less in charge, so the groceries we picked up were her ideas, and tonight (Wednesday) is our turn to cook, so we are making chicken and beef fajitas with rice, black beans, and guacamole. Simple, classic. After our return from Walmart Monday morning, we had breakfast in what has been dubbed “the adults’ cabin” where our professors are staying, and as soon as that was done, we…did not do what was next on the itinerary! No, it was too muddy to walk down to the Tallahatchie River behind our cabins and the Little Zion Church about a mile away, so instead, we tried to move some activities around. We did briefly visit the abandoned Bryant Grocery store in Money, MS and the Emmett Till markers there, but as it rained, we made plans to just come back later in the week. But Emmett Till…

Emmett Till. He was 14 and from Chicago, visiting relatives here, when he went into Bryant Grocery to buy candy, and spoke to or perhaps whistled—though multiple sources agree that he often whistled to alleviate a stutter—at 24-year-old white shopkeeper Carolyn Bryant. Four nights later, he was abducted at gunpoint from his great-uncle’s house, beaten and tortured and finally shot, and the body dumped into the Tallahatchie with a 75-pound gin fan tied around the neck with barbed wire. After a couple of days it was recovered, and Roy Bryant and his brother J. W. Milam stood trial for the murder of Emmett Till, and acquitted by an all-white jury, despite evidence I think, after a deliberation that hardly took an hour. After double jeopardy attached, both of them confessed, and the entire event helped spark the Civil Rights Movement. Fourteen years old, innocent, leaving a legacy that shouldn’t have had to happen that way. Particularly not to an innocent child, and particularly not because of the color of his skin.

Nobody really talks about racism that way in this country. A lot of the details are omitted from schoolroom lessons, maybe because most of them are too ugly for children to hear. But they need to know. They need to understand what happened, why, and why it’s not right. Of everything we’ve seen so far this week, Emmett Till’s story is what has resonated most with me, and I think that that’s why.

There were a couple of Monday things that did happen Monday, like TurnRow Book Co. in downtown Greenwood, a quaint little bookstore pictured below which we’ll return to on Thursday for a reading by Michael Knight. (No, I don’t know who that is, but maybe then I’ll find out!)

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Then we were able to visit the Back in the Day Museum in Baptist Town, owned and run by a Mr. Sylvester Hoover, who took us on a short walking tour of the block, gave a little history, pointed out a couple of landmarks—one, a street corner where bluesman Robert Johnson played.

Monday night, first communal dinner at the cabin called Tush Hog, hosted by Santiago, whose rice game has been on point this week, Jasmin, Michelle, and Kell. Ribs, rice, baked potatoes, broccoli, and deliciousness.

3/14/2017

Up early again Tuesday morning—but let’s be real, every morning this week has been and will be an early one—to drive an hour and a half to the college town of Oxford, home of Ole Miss! Which we didn’t visit until later, anyway, as we first breakfasted at Big Bad Brunch—enormous pancakes, excellent coffee—and then toured Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner. I will admit that I enjoyed that, even though I did not enjoy his As I Lay Dying. We visited too his gravesite in the city cemetery, where he is buried next to his wife (who outlived him and installed an A/C unit in her bedroom the day after his death), and we did read a few chapters of his book for one of my classmates’ projects.

Visiting Square Books and Off Square Books may have been a mistake, but it was on the itinerary so I couldn’t have avoided it even if I wanted to—which I did not, because my mother raised me right. I spent perhaps $70 in less than one hour, on three books. Absolutely no regrets, not a single one.

The last thing of Tuesday was a walking tour of Ole Miss, and it was very short because it was very cold. I took no pictures, and while Ole Miss is iconic and a beautiful, unique university, I was immensely relieved when we returned to the minivans, out of the wind, and headed back to Tallahatchie Flats.

I am enjoying myself but in 100% honesty, I can’t imagine how relieved I’ll feel this Saturday to load up the minivans for the last time and head on home. 😴

Ghost Stories and Ted Bundy on Spring Break

3/11/2017

It was probably unreasonable to believe we’d actually be able to leave UH at 9:30 Saturday morning while renting three minivans the morning of and having to coordinate four adults, one baby, and eleven college students—but I feel compelled to point out that each of us students was there on time. Even Samuel, who is notoriously late to class (when he was late for our midterm, Professor Benz put one down on the desk and said, “This is for Sam, whenever he gets here.”) It was the adults who ran late Saturday morning, having gotten held up at Enterprise, and it was closer to 10:45 when we actually shipped out for Natchez, Mississippi. Cue Spring Break!

In Natchez we drove straight to the Museum of African American History and Culture, and it was so nice of the man to still be there, because we were 45 minutes later than we were supposed to have been, and if I remember correctly, the Museum is actually closed Saturdays so it was opened specifically with our group in mind. Very nice of them to do—but, I’ll be honest: the Museum kind of bored me. But, museums tend to be hit or miss with me anyway, and it was very small, rather unimpressive overall, and already it had been a rather long day. After the Museum, dinner at King’s Tavern seemed to be a more promising affair…

It was coooold! We knew it would be, though I think none of us have really felt adequately prepared for that, but I didn’t really realize it on Saturday until we were at King’s Tavern. Fortunately it wasn’t cold inside, but since it is the oldest standing building in Natchez, from 1789, and is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of King’s former mistress, Madeleine—don’t worry, she’s playful—we had to take a look around the property. We went upstairs, and all around the outside. No signs of ghosts…Samantha claims to have seen a sign while taking a photograph of the upstairs room, but no, it’s just the lens flare. The food, chicken pot pie for me, was pretty good. The homemade Sprite was better, and the atmosphere downstairs in that brick-walled cellar room where you dine was very rustic, antique, historic. Very Natchez.

We checked in to a Super 8 for the night, and it was actually my first time in a Super 8 I think, and it was pretty nice! Of course, I think we all knew the cabins would be something of a step down from that, anyway, but hey—few things can beat a roomy bathroom and daily housekeeping service. My roommate for the night was one of my classmates, Ramsha, and I can’t say we didn’t get along, but I can say there wasn’t much interaction anyway because I, tired old lady that I am becoming, pretty much went right to bed.

3/12/2017

Sunday did not feel at all like Sunday. My Sundays are fairly structured: get up preferably before 9:00, church at 10:00, then spend the rest of the day in Lake Jackson at Dylan’s. Not this Sunday, nope—in the morning, around 9:00, we checked out of the Super 8 and loaded up the minivans.

We didn’t leave Natchez right away, and for that I’m glad, because if we had then I would have missed out on all the appeal that downtown Natchez offers. A lot of really nice, historic buildings and houses, very picturesque, very scenic, and it’s very pretty to walk along the river. But the first and best was Steampunk Coffee Roasters…

…where I could and should have taken some better shots, but I didn’t want to be obviously snapping photos of the area behind the bar, so I just took this one as discreetly as possible and stopped there. The coffee, Coconut Joe with steamed almond milk for me, was yummy, and the laid-back vibe was even better. I would have been content to just sit inside all day. I talked briefly to one of the baristas, too, for my project, and he had a lot of personality! Got a quote I can use from him, and then Kell, one of my classmates, asked if he had any ghost stories. Apparently Natchez is full of playful ghosts; he told us about an encounter with a little boy one day when he was alone inside Steampunk. The chairs came with metal tags on them, and the tags used to hang all in a row, maybe as some sort of decoration, he made it sound like, and one day, the tags just all shifted one after the other in the same direction, as though somebody had walked alongside with an outstretched hand, running along each tag in passing. Nobody there, but there was a chill in the air, from no place.

I like the idea of Natchez as home to playful ghosts. I like the idea of playful ghosts, period, especially with all the horror movies I watch…

I think, then, naturally, ghosts like to be where the people are—because certainly no evidence of paranormal activity was to be found in Natchez City Cemetery. Too beautiful a place to haunt, perhaps, but certainly the cemetery can be characterized by the evidence of the passage of time. Crumbling rock, rusted wrought-iron fences and some broken gates. A well-kept cemetery though, I think, and very green, but I think the city kind of lets it be, in a way, lets the time pass and the stones crumble, and in that way, speak for themselves. In person I’ve never met a more beautiful cemetery, and if it did haunt me, it would haunt me in a friendlier kind of way. I can’t describe it; I can’t explain it; I just have to remember it.

When we did leave Natchez, we came here, to Tallahatchie Flats, and here we are; this is where I started. We were supposed to have also driven through Rolling Fork yesterday, and visited the ghost town of Rodney, but I don’t believe we really did either. We did have dinner in Greenwood, though, at a place called The Crystal Grill, and I think we bonded over rounds of Two Truths and A Lie.

And then. Then. It was on the way back to our cabins, and in order to return to Tallahatchie from Greenwood, there’s a bridge to drive across. I was in one van with some people, driven by Lynda, and we were behind Chanelle’s van, and Chanelle turned down this short, dark and deserted street to reach the bridge, which was close by and very visible, and we followed. But there was this single man, clean-cut, well-dressed, who wandered around holding a pamphlet or book of some kind in one hand, and Chanelle’s van slowed down a little, as in maybe this man is lost and needs directions, but then she tried to drive around him, while he is walking toward her van. She ends up getting around him. So he turns his attention to our van, and walks toward us—and the thing is, there’s no sign of distress. No clues that he could possibly need any help of any kind, and so he just keeps coming closer, even as Lynda is trying to drive around him, too, and as she steps on the gas, he gets just close enough to reach out and touch our window— …even though he doesn’t, and we make it past, and somebody comments that maybe he just needed directions, but he was too calm, and…well, that’s what Ted Bundy used to do, isn’t it?

Cabin Fever

When I was little, I loved to be outside. I loved to go to the deer lease with my dad—not so much for the hunting, mind you, but I did sometimes shoot rifles, and I’ve felt very at home on a 4wheeler since I was at least six. I loved to swim in my neighbor’s backyard pool, and whenever I stayed with Nonnie, I think I spent more time in her 1.5-acre yard than I did in the house. But the bigger I got, the more I got to be a city girl like my mom. Air conditioning, WiFi, nice bathrooms, comfortable home. Computers and cell phones over sidewalk chalk and mountains of sand. And my dad told me recently, “When you started dating, I lost you.” I never went outside then. Never cared for our place in the country. To some extent, I can say he’s right—but I think all I needed there was a nice house, which we now have, and a 4wheeler. That last one really clinched it for me, and now I do enjoy Centerville, if only I could find the time to get there.

But see, right now, I’m typing this on my phone from an uncomfortable pull-out couch bed in a tiny cabin near the Tallahatchie River in Greenwood, Mississippi. The Delta. And this is not my preferred kind of lifestyle—though in hindsight it kind of reminds me of the camphouse that used to sit on the plot of land that was a favorite old deer lease of mine, in Kirbyville. Where I had all of my friends, when I was six or so. I still have a photograph somewhere.

But this…okay, to be honest, it’s actually better than I expected when I heard that my Honors class would be staying in sharecropper cabins for most of the week. There is even supposed to be WiFi, though I can’t find it here and don’t know the password anyway. No—it’s not ideal, but then, it wasn’t ideal when they were still sharecropper cabins, either. Ideally…well, idealism is unrealistic, and often doesn’t make for great exposure to experience.

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I am tired, and I think the entire rest of this week will be spent in a state of tiredness. It’s hard to catch Z’s in a minivan, particularly one where there is a busy baby, but that also seems to be the most comfortable one to ride in, as far as I’m concerned. Anyway. I’d like to go into detail as much as possible about this week, but that simply won’t be possible, so I’ll have to do what I can to document and most of it will come after the fact. Probably waaaay after the fact. There are also pictures, most of which will not be posted here, but view them on my Instagram.

I will write more. But we are expected to get up early to drive an hour and a half to Oxford tomorrow, so, for now, I’ll catch those Z’s.

Until later. 📸