I wrapped up January’s reading by finishing my third book of the month today on the train in to work. A smidge off the required pace, but it has been a crazy month. Book 3 was Todd Moye’s Let The People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1945-1986.
This was a departure from my usual fare, and it may even be considered fancy book learnin’. I came to read this book by virtue of the fact that I know the author, Todd Moye. I’ve never known anyone personally who has written a book (other than my college professors, but they don’t count), so I felt compelled to pick this up. The first thing that struck me about this book was the last year in the title. 1986!? You gotta be kidding me. But then, this is Mississippi, where Todd reminds us that Trent Lott was taken to task for pining for the good old days of Jim Crow way back in 2002.
Next I became concerned about the author’s scholarship. References to Hortense Powdermaker and the town of Itta Bena certainly sound made up. But a quick run over to Google and his story checked out. Fun fact: Baby Face Nelson asks “Is this the road to Itta Bena?” when he picks up the boys in O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
It was a little strange at first. Knowing the author, I read most of the Prologue in his voice. That was pretty distracting, but I got over it.
The book is very focused on the freedom movements in a specific time and place, but I think it gives insight into how similar movements evolve elsewhere. There were several things that I hadn’t realized that were brought to my attention by this book. The first is that the Civil Rights Movement was not a single unified activity. Rather, there were many different movements that took place over time and were very specific to their locale and time. Secondly, I didn’t realize that some of these movements contained differences in opinion between classes in the black community itself. I also didn’t realize that white resistance to these movements was as organized, if not more so, than the freedom movements were. It seems rather obvious in retrospect, however.
The white resistance, when not violent and scary, was at times pretty absurd. For example, when it came time to integrate the Indianola library, all of the tables and chairs were removed so that black boys and white girls wouldn’t sit next to each other. Another example was the absurdity of the response to integrating schools. The first thought was to pass legislation eliminating public schools. That’ll show ‘em. What actually ended up happening was just as ridiculous. The state repealed it’s mandatory school attendance law, which resulted in plummeting school attendance for all students. That’s a fine way to plan for your state’s long term future and overturn that backwards image. Yipes.
I also learned that this is a good book to have read if you are driving with your wife for 8 hours from Georgia, through Alabama and Mississippi to Louisiana and back. You’d be surprised how often roadside reminders bring up interesting points from the book.
Speaking of history, you know who’s an idiot? This guy. Yes, who wants their history coming from quote unquote intellectuals. I prefer mine from a jackass, thank you. If anything, I expect we’ll see more titles like that on the best seller shelves under the current administration. Cheney’s wife famously (?) opposed proposed history standards because it bad-mouthed the USA. God help us all. Keep up the important work, Mr. Moye.