Mississippi Summer – 1994

Mississippi Summer – 1994

In front of the Mississippi State Capitol, resting securely between the artillery that points toward Mississippi Street, is a statue dedicated “to the women of the Confederacy whose pious ministrations to our wounded soldiers soothed the last hours of those who died far from the objects of their tenderest love.” There is no avoiding the statue. It sits in the middle of a walk. Your only choice is whether you pass it on the left or the right.

But the old Mississippi is also alive in other ways. The souvenir counter at the Jackson airport still carries picture postcards of the Confederate flag, and at the grave of James Chaney, one of three civil rights workers killed during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, the work of vandals who used high-powered rifles to deface his headstone is still visible.

The most telling sign of the old Mississippi is, however, to be found at the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, where Kirk Fordice, a Republican who came into office on a campaign based on opposing affirmative action and reducing welfare, has been deftly playing the race card since 1992. For Fordice, the key to holding on to his constituency is making sure that the old racial tensions remain. This summer, when the volunteers and organizers of the Mississippi Freedom Summer held their thirtieth reunion, Fordice went out of his way to make it clear that as far as he was concerned, little good could come from it. “These people feel that they want to relive what happened for their own reasons,” he observed. “I think the sooner we put that behind us the better.”

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima