Traveling down the river

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Medgar Evers home in Jackson, MS. He was assassinated in his driveway.

 

A good friend of mine who teaches at a private school in NYC invited me to join her on her summer ramblings. She teaches Huck Finn, and she wanted to get closer to the River and to Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. She was starting in Cairo, IL and driving down to New Orleans. I said YES, and flew to meet her in Jackson, MS.

I have never been to Mississippi, and I must say that I think they invented humidity. That said, I do like it. People are lovely. You will learn their life story if you give them the slightest encouragement, and the pace is slow. It’s late June and it is hot. I am reminded often of a text that I teach, To Kill a Mockingbird. “A black dog suffered on a hot day,” Scout the narrator tells us. And indeed, no one is out on the street in this heat. As our Natchez landlord said, “I don’t call this walkin’ weather.”

Jackson, MS (like all the cities that we have visited so far) is a real place. Real people live there. It is not a museum or living history. From maintained homes in manicured neighborhoods to real poverty and what appears to be FEMA tagged houses. There is the ability to look right into the eye of past injustice (the Jackson Civil Rights Driving Tour is one gut punch after another) and the use of the passive voice as a means of avoiding the reality of enslaving people to make an economy and a way of life possible.

We had a nice meal of Gulf shrimp at a local spot where it was trivia night. We stood on Medgar Evers driveway and imagined his assassination. We poked through the Old State House and marveled at whose portrait does (and does not) appear there and the impressive use of the passive voice.

We toured Eudora Welty’s house and gardens. She was a delightful woman, it seemed – with a sense of humor and many talents. She worked as a photographer as well, and her photos are really wonderful with a humanity that I really love. She was an avid writer of letters, and she carried on a wonderful, flirtatious correspondence with Ross Macdonald that has been collected in a volume (delightfully titled Meanwhile There Are Letters). I could write in that house, a Tudor Revival with some wonderful light and public/private spaces.

Jackson was a great place to start this trip. So far Vicksburg and Natchez have very different focus points, and will get their own posts.

“It isn’t as it used to be in the old times. Then everybody traveled by steamboat, everybody drank, and everybody treated everybody else. ‘Now most everybody goes by railroad, and the rest don’t drink.”
Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

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