Changes, viewed from afar, have been impressive|Part 12 – Conclusion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 8, 2008

This is the last of the series of articles under my byline that The Vicksburg Post will be publishing. I want to thank Charlie Mitchell for encouraging me to share with you these stories from my boyhood.

My growing up and looking back at Vicksburg from different cities and cultural groups resulted in profound changes in my assessment of many things, especially Mississippi politicians. Of course, having left Vicksburg on my 15th birthday, I was not capable then of making mature judgments. All I know is that I was mightily impressed by the rhetoric of the politicians who came to speak on the lawn of what is now the Old Courth House Museum. They were as full of fire and brimstone as a revival preacher with a full tent. They used the “N” word freely, and usually in a pejorative sense. They were “agin” outsiders butting into local affairs. They redefined the term, “populist.”

While I was in the Air Corps, Sen. Theodore Bilbo was well-known for his bigoted viewpoints, which he freely expressed, predictably scandalizing the media. He was the first of a series of populist politicians whom I came to dislike intensely, even though I was far removed from Mississippi. It came to a point where, when people asked me where I was from, I would answer, “Memphis.” Yes, I had moved to Memphis, and graduated high school there, but my character was largely shaped by my Mississippi childhood.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

‘Never in a million years, when I wore clothes to school that everyone knew were distributed free by the government, did I dare to dream that my Vicksburg upbringing would catapult me as far as I have come.’

Now I know that Memphis under Boss Ed Crump was every bit as backward as Mississippi in honoring human rights.

Gradually, after the shameful tragedies that occurred during the years leading up to and during integration, a new breed of politicians took over. I came to realize that they were doing the best they could, given the economic and educational situation of the state. Each election seemed to bring improvement, but bootstrapping an entire state into prosperity and enlightenment takes a very long time.

I even went to the extent of working very hard to lose my Vicksburg accent. I spent so much time on stages lecturing that I tired of people commenting, “I just love your accent.” That told me that they were listening more to how I said things than to the content of my message. Now, I wish I had it back, because my more or less neutral accent marks me as an outsider when I come back to Vicksburg. And by the way, I don’t hesitate now, when asked where I am from, to answer, “Vicksburg.” I read every book I can find about the Deep South, and have particularly benefited from the WPA series, “Great Rivers.” The volume titled “Lower Mississippi River” was particularly enlightening.

That book told me about Louisiana and Huey P. Long’s dictatorial shenanigans. I didn’t understand his fascist leanings until I read how he froze out Hodding Carter when he decided to expand his Delta newspaper into Baton Rouge. Huey’s thugs “persuaded” advertisers not to buy space in Mr. Carter’s new newspaper. Huey could control the editorials in the existing paper, and he didn’t want a loose cannon in his grand, new state capital. We subscribed to the Sunday Times-Picayune as well as the Post-Herald, but the New Orleans paper was generally laudatory about everything Huey did. Mississippi didn’t have a monopoly on venal politicians.

I am proud of the earnest and effective way that Vicksburg has been governed for several years. My friends, Bryan and Joy Brabston, keep me supplied with clippings from the Post. Governing isn’t easy when the infrastructure of a town is quite old and when industrial growth has been slow. I can’t speak to the effect that casinos have on the local economy, and can only hope that the upside more than balances the downside.

If I may insert a personal note, I am extremely proud of the progress made by my Vicksburg cousins and their children, with advanced degrees proliferating, and each generation moving up. Never in a million years, when I wore clothes to school that everyone knew were distributed free by the government, did I dare to dream that my Vicksburg upbringing would catapult me as far as I have come. Nor, when I was helping to haul water from a spring when the cisterns ran dry, and during all kinds of weather using a two-hole privy, did I believe I would have running water and indoor plumbing. (When I was 9 years old and visiting my beloved aunt Marie Hitesman, she had to explain to me the function of a flush toilet.)

Which leads me to wonder, how have the descendents of a couple of black sisters who lived on the road past the Logue’s house fared? They were girlhood friends of my mother and they went on to get the education required to teach school. We visited them one day and I could see that, culturally, they were several steps ahead of us, genteel, well-spoken and tastefully dressed. One of them played a piano piece for us. I gathered that they were descended from freedmen and owned their own property.  The sisters would be long gone now but, wherever they are, I want them to know that they made a positive  impression on me that has persisted all these years.

Jim Wilson, an honorary Master Gardener in eight states, was a presenter for 10 years on PBS’s “Victory Garden” and is the author of 10 gardening books. He now lives in Missouri and in this series remembers his youth in Vicksburg. Mail reaches him at 4200 E. Richland Road, Columbia, MO. 65201 and e-mail reaches him at