My morning routine typically involves walking the dog and then sitting down with a cup of coffee to read and/or write for an hour between 6:00-7:00 before getting ready for work.
Yesterday morning, I started reading James Cobb‘s The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity, which has been sitting on the shelf for quite some time. In a lovely coincidence, as I made my way to work shortly thereafter, NPR aired this story about southern folklorist William Ferris: “Keeper of Southern Folklife is Up for Two Grammy Awards.”
An interesting parallel worth noting: Although we tend to imagine (romanticize?) Mississippi (and the Delta in particular) as a place stuck in the past, it is in fact more similar to the rest of the nation than we like to believe.
These experiences of documenting and talking to people — especially those most disadvantaged — in the American South has shaped Ferris’ perspective on race in America. “The cheapness of black lives is a theme that runs throughout our entire history, from slavery to the present.” Ferris says. “Sadly, what was associated in my mind with Mississippi is now familiar throughout the nation. Hatred is a toxic kind of presence.”
Meanwhile, according to Cobb:
The Delta that ultimately emerged from my study was no mere isolated backwater where time stood still while southernness stood fast. Indeed, many of the major economic, political, and social forces that have swept across the American landscape during the last 150 years have converged in the Mississippi Delta.
Joseph Crespino has likewise argued (in In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution):
[T]oo often Mississippi has served as an icon of southern intransigence, the key setting for what has become the modern American melodrama in which the nation finally dealt with anomalous Deep South racists and made good on its promise of equality for all its citizens. . . . The pages that follow, then, recover how many white Mississippians saw themselves: not as American pariahs but as central participants in a conservative counterrevolution that reshaped American politics in the closing decades of the twentieth century.