We started in Laurel, MS, a town of some 30,000 90 miles from the coast. Every fourth house had a tarp on it, trees into houses, across driveways, debris in the roads, well, it looked like a week after a mighty big storm. . . .
First, it's physically different. Young (white) men's haircuts are pretty much a variation of the old Ringo Starr look, long bangs hanging over the eyes, a throw back to the `rebel' days of American Graffiti. Andy and Opie, sex, football, and Jesus (although Jesus is another code name for white and pure). Blacks know they are not equal, but most are also a throw back to the `50's.Just give me my crappy job, leave me alone and come on Friday night is at least one motto. The invisible lines are everywhere. Go into a small convenience store and the sign says 79 cents, get to the register and if you're white you pay 59 cents. It's called double pricing and it exists. I'm sure I haven't even picked up on half of it.
A few select scenes: I'm on the phone with a property manager who tells me he has some good places to rent and some worker homes but he can tell from talking to me that I would not want a worker home because, "those are for blacks, mexicans and guatamalans, they're used to living on dirt floors." Casually, normal conversation, no change of voice, he says this. I had to meet him. His office is replete with several copies of the Bible and from the news clippings I can see he is a minister who likes to bowl. He shows me a couple of places and along the way assures me there is no racism in MS today.
I'm standing outside a print shop in downtown Laurel. The owner brought me outside to show me downtown Laurel. Like many downtowns of mid size towns, it has been relatively deserted for the malls so there are few stores, not much to recommend it but he says, "Did you expect to see this in MS? In Laurel, it's still 1978, and let me tell you, there is no color in MS, contrary to popular opinion." Allow me to explain that statement. Since I've been in MS, I have been reassured many, many times there is no racism in MS today. I'm sure I've been told this since anyone can tell I'm not `from here' in less than two seconds. I don't even need to open my mouth. But they want me to know there is no racism in MS. Then they often proceed to tell me something racist. I quickly learned racists introduce themselves by saying, `there is no racism in MS today.'
Hope comes and goes. In Mississippi, it may be a long time before it returns.