Myths and Representations2018-04-25T16:55:44+00:00

Myths & Representations

I. European Colonization through 1900

The notion of Mississippi as an especially southern place did not occur to Native Americans or early European explorers and settlers—and certainly not in the ways and for the reasons that later definitions of the South were created. The place we call Mississippi was colony and frontier well before it was a state with a widely shared sense of its history, traditions, and image. The land was the home of thousands of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Natchez, Tunica, Biloxi, and Pascagoula, all with their own cultures, foundational narratives, and sense of the land and their place in it.

Early descriptions of Mississippi resemble those found in explorers’ narratives of other areas of what became known as the Gulf South. Spanish and French explorers commonly marveled at the land’s bounty and beauty, viewing the South as a new Eden ripe to fall into their hands. At the same time, and often in the same accounts, Europeans painted the land as a savage and uncivilized place, teeming with dangerous Indians. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto led an expedition through the Southeast that spent the winter of 1540–41 in Mississippi. Journals kept by members of the expedition show that the explorers were fascinated by the native peoples and by the native flora and fauna. The journals also record Spanish misunderstanding and abuse of the Indians, leading to what would become a familiar pattern of violence and retaliation. Over time, Mississippians’ stories about the state’s original inhabitants became consistent with larger heroic American narratives of discovery, exploration, conquest, and settlement.

More than one hundred years passed between the de Soto expedition and the establishment of the first permanent European settlement in Mississippi. Between 1699 and 1702 French explorers (and brothers) Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, and Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, established bases on Cat Island and near what are now Ocean Springs and Biloxi. From that point through the end of the eighteenth century, stories and representations of Mississippi fit within broader tales of the struggle between the British and the French and their Native American allies for hegemony in North America. Following the construction of Fort Rosalie on the Natchez Bluffs in 1716, the Natchez District and the Mississippi River became rich producers of Mississippi images and myths. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Natchez developed a reputation, still celebrated, as a rough and cutthroat gambling den, with coarse men from Mississippi riverboats drawn to the city’s Under-the-Hill port district. Myth and legend also grew surrounding the Natchez Trace, which connected the city with Nashville, Tennessee, especially the road’s robber gangs such as the Masons and Harpes.

Before Mississippi became a southern state, it was the southwestern frontier of the United States. The new country asserted a claim to Mississippi in 1783, but the land remained essentially in Spanish hands until the end of the century, when it became a US territory before achieving statehood in 1817. By the 1830s the state’s population, both free and enslaved, boomed as part of the southwestern Cotton Kingdom. In Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi (1853), Joseph G. Baldwin memorably described the state’s raw conditions, social and economic fluidity, and boom-and-bust mentality. Mississippi in the early decades of the nineteenth century is just as accurately described as the West as it is the South. Like many other Americans in states such as South Carolina and Tennessee that later seemed quite southern, Mississippians in this period were ardent nationalists who embraced the expanding Union and saw its values as their own.

Some of the most persistent narratives and representations of Mississippi stem from the state’s experience with slavery, Confederate defeat in the Civil War, and struggles during Reconstruction. As in other Deep South states, Mississippi’s economy and broader culture became deeply invested in the production of cotton using slave labor. That is not to say that most Mississippians owned slaves or became wealthy cotton barons. The state’s surviving antebellum mansions, particularly those in Natchez, are singularly unrepresentative. Most white Mississippians lived under much more modest, frontier-like conditions. Further, the Delta, the area of the state most typically associated with cotton production, did not come under broad cultivation until the late nineteenth century. Whatever the average white Mississippian’s economic relationship to the South’s peculiar institution, the white population in the decades before the Civil War largely viewed slavery as a positive good and almost universally supported white supremacy as a doctrine and political program. The state’s African American population, of course, rejected these ideas and constructed beliefs and practices that told a much different story of their aspirations and sense of how the world should be. Nevertheless, the white population’s defense of slavery and white supremacy demanded and created myths and narratives that continue to influence the state and its people to the present day.

Most white Mississippians became ardent defenders of slavery after the 1830s, when federal treaties opened the northern two-thirds of the state to white settlement. In this period, Mississippi’s black population rose dramatically, and white Mississippians, slave owners or not, largely came to believe that control of the enslaved population constituted a vital state interest. From the 1830s through the coming of the Civil War, white Mississippians, like other southerners, grew increasingly sensitive to northern and international criticism of the region’s manners and institutions.

Mississippi had a vigorously competitive two-party system into the 1850s, but the polarization caused by the politics of slavery fractured the Mississippi Whigs so completely that for many generations the memory of an antebellum two-party system disappeared beneath exhortations that all white Mississippians had always shared the same basic political faith. The state cast its lot with the Confederacy, experienced what whites perceived as a galling and inexplicable defeat, and by the end of the century joined the rest of the white South in remembering the experience as a tragic Lost Cause. Such myths were not without foundation. Battle and disease killed thousands of Mississippians; thousands more returned maimed. Memories of civilian hardship in cities burned or besieged by Union forces lingered well into the twentieth century. Particularly with Jefferson Davis’s postwar residence at Beauvoir on the Gulf Coast, many Mississippians came to believe that they had a special responsibility for ensuring that the Confederate experience was piously remembered. Conversely, Black Mississippians regarded Confederate defeat as the deliverance for which they had long hoped.

In the wake of the war, black Mississippians aspired to economic advancement and the enjoyment of basic civil rights. White Mississippians rejected these aspirations, and the state soon became nationally known for its commitment to racial segregation and white supremacy. White recollections of Reconstruction and its meaning became one of the state’s most fundamental and orthodox tenets. For more than a century after the Civil War, one of the most enduring Mississippi narratives was that of Reconstruction as a carnival of vice and folly. This impression of Reconstruction animated generations of white Mississippians and seemed to offer self-evident proof that black Mississippians had no capacity for self-government. At the same time, the vociferousness with which the state’s newspapers, textbooks, and politicians denounced Reconstruction persuaded many black Mississippians that most whites would never accept African American political participation. During the late nineteenth century, white Mississippians searched for the meaning of Confederate defeat and how to make sense of that legacy as well as the recent and frightening insistence by black Mississippians that they deserved the same constitutional rights and economic opportunities as did whites.

Following Reconstruction certain stories became staples of white belief: the Civil War was a response to northern interference and invasion; during the war, the loyalty and docility of slaves offered touching evidence of the essential benignity of the institution; Reconstruction was a misguided festival of corruption that forever proved the folly of black political participation; a group of valiant white Democrats, the Redeemers, restored democracy and offered the only safe political leadership for the state; and finally, both races found segregation the best way to handle race relations. At the same time, both native whites and many outsiders wished to see in Mississippi some of the remnants of a way of life that elsewhere was gone with the wind. These accounts stressed the courtly manners and hospitality of the state’s residents and commonly presented slaveholding as admirable and enviable. Mississippi suffragist Belle Kearney’s memoir, A Slaveholder’s Daughter (1900), neatly summarizes what became a widely held if exaggerated view of a “very rich and very proud” Old South: “Its wealth consisted of slaves and plantations. Its pride was masterful from a consciousness of power. The customs of society retained the color of older European civilization, although the affairs of state were conducted according to the ideals of a radical democracy. Its social structure was simple, homogeneous.” By the end of the nineteenth century, dominant voices in Mississippi society proclaimed that the state’s white population stood as one in honoring the sacrifices of the Confederate generation and safeguarding the Jim Crow society that now seemed central to the Mississippi Way of Life.

II. Since 1900

Especially since the end of the nineteenth century and for good or for ill, the state of Mississippi has been viewed as particularly and intensely southern. The state’s name conjures up a variety of intense images: stately Natchez homes, Delta plantations, cotton fields, and magnolias; demagogic politics, racism, poverty, hardship, and want; anti-intellectualism alongside stunning achievements in creative writing and music; searing images of violent resistance to social change along with an intense concern with manners, hospitality, and courtesy. For much of the twentieth century many other Americans and not a few Mississippians and former Mississippians viewed the state as backward if not actually evil. “Everybody knows about Mississippi,” sang Nina Simone in 1963, the same year that Bob Dylan declared that he wasn’t “a-goin’ down to Oxford town.” More than most other states, Mississippi has generated sharp and often dissonant narratives and myths: the land where a blues musician might offer his soul to the devil at a crossroads, the most southern place on earth, the worst state in America to be black, a land the ambitious leave, a place that offers a warm Magnolia State welcome and grace and sense of place, a land of slow-paced down-home living and traditional values—and more recently a place attempting to preserve the best of its customs and culture while coming to terms with and perhaps overcoming the tragic and painful legacies of its past.

Many iconic images and impressions of Mississippi seem indistinguishable from broader southern myths and narratives: sharp and lingering memories of the Civil War as a tragic Lost Cause; front-porch hospitality, storytelling, and iconic southern foods such as fried chicken, iced tea, greens, and a variety of dishes involving pork and corn; an enthusiasm for sports, particularly football, amounting practically to a civil religion; evangelical Christianity, religious revivals, and river baptisms; mules, cotton fields, country stores, a love of the outdoors and the traditions of fishing and hunting, especially such landmarks as the opening day of deer season, and a pattern of life still influenced by rural and agricultural ways; and a lingering respect for traditionally defined roles for men and women, manifesting themselves in ways such as a veneration of military service for men and a respect for beauty pageants.

Scholars have long argued that whatever it means to be southern, Mississippi is it. Historian Dunbar Rowland’s admiring Mississippi: The Heart of the South (1925) represented what was by the twentieth century a common view of the state. John Shelton Reed often points out that almost any definition of the South today begins with Mississippi and Alabama and moves out. Fred Hobson has written that “Mississippi is the guts of the beast, the stomach with a Bible Belt wrapped around it. . . . Mississippi . . . is visceral.” Indeed, some have argued that Mississippi images have overly influenced people’s impressions of the larger South: Paul Conkin notes that in talking about the South, some people really mean “a South largely defined by Alabama and Mississippi . . . or even the area around Oxford, Mississippi.”

As with any stock of myths and narratives, many of those generated by Mississippians are quite self-conscious and serve a variety of ends. Certainly since the late 1800s Mississippians have engaged in very deliberate acts of memorialization and assertions of identity. Obvious examples would include the Confederate monuments that stand in front of many of the state’s courthouses, joined later in the twentieth century by memorials to those who died in later wars. Many Mississippians not only deeply prize kinship and family ties but also avidly trace their genealogy at local and state historical societies and more recently via the Internet. Because of their interest in tradition, custom, and history, Mississippians are sometimes accused of living in the past. But Mississippians’ interest in the past and the way that it is remembered have always been very closely tied to arguments about the present and its values, whether the issue is the design of the state flag or the erection of memorials to heroes of the civil rights movement. As with many traditions, Mississippi’s are often of relatively recent vintage, beginning with the commonly held idea that Mississippi’s customs, institutions, and general way of life have always existed in what is basically their present form. Like all people’s myths and narratives of identity, those generated by Mississippians explain to themselves and others their views of the world and how it works.

White Mississippians have generated most of the memorials, textual or otherwise, that laud the state’s virtues. Black Mississippians have understandably been less praiseful of a place that long denied them basic civil rights, decency, and respect. For example, Richard Wright’s novels and autobiographical writings and Anne Moody’s memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968) demonstrate that neither time nor distance could provoke nostalgia for the place they were born. James Meredith, on the other hand, expressed the complex mixed feelings that many other black Mississippians have held as he described coming home: “There is the feeling of joy . . . to enter the land of my fathers, the land of my birth, the only land in which I feel at home. . . . There is a feeling of sadness . . . because I am immediately aware of the special subhuman role that I must play, because I am a Negro, or die. [And] I feel love because I have always felt that Mississippi belonged to me and one must love what is his.” Since the mid-twentieth century Mississippians have produced a flood of memoirs and fictional works about their home state. While residents’ experiences of race vary widely, of course, one notable feature of these narratives is that they show that Mississippians of all races, especially in rural areas, praised and valued and experienced many things in common—an attraction to the land, attention to agricultural rhythms, and church, family, and kinship ties. These factors and many others provided a texture to everyday life that was more alike than most Mississippians recognized.

Myths and representations of Mississippi have long followed a broader national pattern of viewing the South in conflicting and sometimes irreconcilable ways. Are the state and the region the last refuge of a religious sensibility or of a broader way of life uncorrupted by twentieth-century materialism and consumerism? Is Mississippi somehow a cultural and social backwater, a place that has failed to evolve and progress? Or is the state perhaps the nation’s pathological abyss in which one can view cracked and warped perversions of American dreams and aspirations? As with any symbols or cultural practices, those created by and about Mississippians are open to multiple interpretations. One example might be the powerful if sometimes frustratingly amorphous confection of manners and etiquette noticed by Mississippians and other Americans alike. These manners, such as respect for one’s elders and regard for kin and neighbors, have often drawn favorable comment, while other practices, such as Jim Crow racial etiquette, stultifying gender roles, and an emphasis on hierarchy and rank, have been central to a much less flattering image of southern culture. This Janus-faced presentation, or duality, one might call it, was observed by Bernard Lafayette, a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a 1960s civil rights organization, as he recollected his first visit to the state: “The first sign I saw was a huge billboard that said, ‘Welcome to Mississippi, the Magnolia State,’ and a beautiful white magnolia blossom. . . . [T]he next sign I saw said, ‘Prepare to Meet Thy God.’”

While white Mississippians have long winced at one-dimensional representations of the state, other Americans and many black Mississippians have unquestionably associated the state with a fundamental racial consciousness and commitment to white supremacy that by the 1960s seemed anachronistic compared even to other states of the Deep South. Civil rights worker Robert Moses said that Mississippi in 1964 was “a little apartheid.” The state’s name, then, long served as shorthand for racial discrimination. Perhaps understandably, many Mississippians have resented the broad strokes in which the state has been painted, insisting that there is more to Mississippi than racial discrimination. Many of these Mississippians praise themselves for their devotion to family, church, and community. In their eyes, the state has held firm to values, manners, and practices of which the rest of the nation has lost sight. Like many Mississippi self-images, devotion to these practices can be seen as a negative as well as a positive. To outsiders, the state can feel clannish and exclusive in its definition of community and hostile to those who challenge or simply do not share the majority’s adherence to conservative values and evangelical Christianity. One finds this sense of Mississippi as essentially one homogeneous community in the Works Progress Administration’s Guide to Mississippi (1938), which described the state as “the great neighborhood called Mississippi, a neighborhood where the birthright of knowing the drive of the plow in the puissant earth binds the sections more closely than geographical boundaries, a neighborhood of earth-rooted individuals who know and understand one another.”

The state and its customs, particularly Jim Crow and the politics associated with racial segregation, attracted the attention of social scientists in the 1930s and 1940s. John Dollard’s Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1937), a study of “Southerntown” (actually Indianola) and Hortense Powdermaker’s After Freedom: A Cultural Study in the Deep South (1939), another study of Indianola, helped circulate the image of Mississippi as race-obsessed and caste-ridden. Other critics were more vociferous if less scholarly. H. L. Mencken, while a fan of the values that he believed the Old South to embody, enjoyed tweaking Mississippi in the 1920s and 1930s, consistently terming it the most “barbaric” state in the Union. Most white Mississippians dismissed this criticism, while some, such as David Cohn, in Where I Was Born and Raised (1948), and William Alexander Percy, in Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son (1941), attempted to explain the state and its customs to a national audience.

Business and progressive interests in Mississippi have long been sensitive to the stereotypes that other Americans hold about the state. Campaigns in the 1930s such as Gov. Hugh White’s Balance Agriculture with Industry aimed to convince investors that the state’s folkways could accommodate the development of business. By the 1950s and 1960s many white Mississippians certainly knew that in the eyes of other Americans, the state conjured up images not only of violent resistance to civil rights but also of the rejection of broader American myths of equality, opportunity, and progress. As newspapers and television began covering the civil rights movement in Mississippi and the rest of the South, black and white Mississippians were well aware of the light that the media threw on their state and its customs. Many white Mississippians maintained that the civil rights movement was the product of outside agitators—a way of preserving their belief that black Mississippians were largely content with the Mississippi Way of Life. White Mississippians also commonly declared that Yankees unfairly maligned and picked on the state, failing to see their own prejudices and provincialisms. Some Mississippians’ automobiles displayed license plates declaring that Mississippi was “The Most Lied about State in the Union.” The state song, “Go, Mississippi,” adopted by the legislature in 1962, clearly responds to official white Mississippi’s impressions of outside criticism: the state is “on the right track,” “cannot go wrong”; “ev’rything’s fine,” and the state is “leading the show.” At the time the song was adopted, only the last assertion seemed indisputable—and not necessarily in a positive way.

Mississippi has always produced its own dissenters and critics. In the 1960s, however, dissent less often produced progressive change than excited popular denunciation that merely confirmed many existing conceptions regarding the state. In the wake of what he perceived as the failure of the state’s political leadership during the integration of the University of Mississippi, history professor James W. Silver wrote Mississippi: The Closed Society (1964). For that, Silver was hounded from the state. Hodding Carter’s So the Heffners Left McComb (1965) seemed to most readers not the story of one family’s attempt to understand the social change in their community but rather a familiar tale of Mississippi intolerance. Other critical voices held out hope not only that Mississippi might accept social change but also that the state might have lessons to teach the rest of the nation.

Mississippi’s musical and literary traditions have provided powerful and not always flattering representations of the state to the nation and the world. Blues lyrics, to take one example, provide a powerful testimony of the meaning of Mississippi to many of its black citizens. Similarly, for much of the twentieth century, the state’s writers commonly took as their material Mississippi’s struggles with race and poverty and the weight of the past on the present. To many readers, Yoknapatawpha County is Mississippi, with Thomas Sutpen, Quentin Compson, and Joe Christmas all representing something true about the state’s encounter with history. Most white Mississippians scorned William Faulkner and other Mississippi writers such as Richard Wright during their most productive years for their critical representations of the state. For several decades, Willie Morris made a career of reflecting on the state’s recent past and his feelings about it. From his father’s admonition to leave the state for the better educational opportunities that Texas provided to his encounter with Robert Frost during which he said that Mississippi was the worst state in the Union, Morris relished examining and discussing the history of his family and state.

Artists from outside the state also helped to fashion myths and representations of Mississippi. Bob Dylan’s “Oxford Town” casts a familiar image of white Mississippians as violent, prejudiced, and essentially un-American. On the other hand, Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mississippi, You’re on My Mind” reminds us that not all representations of Mississippi center on race. That song presents the state’s hold on the narrator via a procession of familiar images: barbed wire fences, honeysuckle, tar paper shacks, John Deere tractors, lazy dogs, and oven-like heat. Along with press and television coverage of the state, Hollywood has created and perpetuated lasting images of Mississippi. As with many other movie representations of the South, those of Mississippi tended to fall into one of two broad categories: comic, sassy, colorful, and favorable, such as Crimes of the Heart (1986), or coarse, crude, racist, and unregenerate, such as In the Heat of the Night (1967) and Mississippi Burning (1988), which is also notable for its condescending view of black Mississippians as powerless but prayerful.

In recent years many Mississippians have hoped that the state can escape, atone for, or simply stop thinking and talking about its history of racial prejudice and discrimination. In some accounts, the state has arrived at a sort of promised land beyond racism, and if Mississippi is not yet a beloved community of racial harmony, it is at least a workable and useful model of honest attempts at racial reconciliation and a day-to-day ability to live and work together. Attempts to carry myths and representations of Mississippi beyond stories of black-white conflict surely are not without merit. Characterizations of the state’s population and history as Anglo-Saxon versus African American do not take into account the plain fact that the state has always been home to a variety of people with stories about themselves and their history that sometimes stand as counternarratives to and at other times weave easily into familiar Mississippi stories. Broader, more inclusive, and perhaps more workable narratives of Mississippi might include the long-standing communities of Chinese and Italians in the Delta, Choctaw Indians in eastern Mississippi, Southern and Eastern Europeans and Vietnamese on the Gulf Coast, and an increasing number of Spanish-speaking residents.

Recent years have seen a great deal of good-faith effort to craft narratives and representations of Mississippi that are race-neutral if not colorblind. The state’s media, universities, and most public forums honor Mississippi’s writers, musicians, and other public figures through the lens of race. Mississippians have begun incorporating the civil rights movement into the stories they tell about who they are. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s State Historical Marker program has commemorated more than eight hundred significant people, places, and events, a large number of which focus on black Mississippians’ experiences and history. The state’s Department of Travel and Tourism, to take another example, offers resources for those interested in visiting sites related to Mississippi’s African American history, including frank discussions of the civil rights movement that would have been unthinkable in a state publication a generation or two ago.

One of the clearest ongoing arguments over narratives and representations of the state is the extent to which past racial inequities deserve public attention and remediation. Perhaps the best reason not to declare a moratorium on the discussion of race in the state in that for most of Mississippi’s history, the conversation was very much one-sided. Black Mississippians long formed their own judgments regarding the state and its promise. Until recently, however, those views were largely confined within the black community, as the danger of expressing discontent with the status quo outweighed the likelihood of effecting change. The Great Migration is itself a testimony to many black Mississippians’ view of the state as an unpromising land, but census figures have begun to show an African American return migration to the state, itself a commentary on the state’s image. African Americans’ narratives of Mississippi have recently displayed an increasing desire to claim the state as their own and on their own terms. W. Ralph Eubanks’s Ever Is a Long Time (2003) describes the author’s attempts to learn about the history of the state during the 1960s, a story his parents shielded from him as he grew up during those years. Clifton L. Taulbert’s Once upon a Time When We Were Colored (1989) tells a story of warmth, community, and identity during the Jim Crow years and is not far removed from other celebrations of growing up in rural Mississippi. Musician Afroman’s “Mississippi” brags of his sexual exploits but also expresses pleasant surprise that he attracts white fans, possibly because of their shared love for marijuana. And rapper David Banner’s “Mississippi” is the state “where yo grandmamma from” and invites the listener, “Now come on home get you somethin’ to eat.” Conversely, he also describes the state as a place “where a flag means more than me.”

The state flag controversy is an indication that Mississippi still struggles to craft inclusive narratives of community and identity. On one level, of course, many white Mississippians see the argument as a referendum not so much on a particular flag as on whether they accept the version of the state’s history that other people insist that the flag represents. Symbols such as the state flag are highly meaningful within and across various communities of Mississippians, even if those meanings are highly contested. Mississippians argue about the meaning of flags, statues, college mascots, and street names, and those arguments are often so heated because these symbols do not have absolute meanings.

Many Mississippians recognize that the state continues to have an image problem. While some merely resent what they consider an inaccurate and exaggerated stereotype, others make efforts to correct it. Indeed, a state advertising agency’s public relations campaign, “Mississippi . . . Believe It!,” promotes the state’s achievements in the arts, sports, science, and technology.

Mississippians continue actively to craft representations of and stories about the state. Many have learned that money can be made in marketing the state as a provider of culture, especially literature, music, and history. Where the state once had a reputation for shunning outsiders, Mississippians now avidly seek patrons to gamble in casinos and to make movies in picturesque small towns. Every year, the calendar is filled with festivals, homecomings, and reunions, drawing on and promoting an image of the state as family and kin. Tourists and native Mississippians come to century-old events such as the Neshoba County Fair and to decades-old celebrations such as the Natchez Pilgrimage as well as to events of more recent vintage, such as the Medgar Evers Homecoming Celebration, the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival, or the Oxford Conference for the Book. Mississippians have discovered that culture is a commodity that can be marketed to burnish the state’s image to investors as well as cultural arbiters. Even authenticity can be marketed or even created. Today, tourists come to Mississippi to find the “real South,” and entrepreneurs and local people have learned to supply it.

Unflattering representations of Mississippi continue to appear in the media, as the state consistently ranks near the top (or bottom, as the case may be) in national rankings of obesity, teenage pregnancy, and venereal disease. Unfairly or not, to many other Americans, the state’s name still conjures up images of the 1962 riot in Oxford or the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County. A younger generation of Americans became familiar with that image of the state from Eyes on the Prize, a history of the civil rights movement televised on PBS in 1987. Many Mississippians complain that the rest of the country and the world view the state wrongly, that the Mythic Mississippi that Hollywood, the media, and many academics see is harsh and distorted and bears little resemblance to the state today. However, the state’s past does not change simply because current conditions have changed. Myths and representations are often tenacious and are famously oblivious to fact and reason. So Mississippians continue to tell about themselves and their culture. Whenever the national spotlight shines on the state, many residents attempt to show the rest of the country a New Mississippi, one in which the real story is the state’s “racial evolution” and not its “murderous past,” as an Associated Press story on the 2008 presidential debate in Oxford put it. However they wish its story to be told, those who call Mississippi home can broadly agree with Faulkner’s reflection on the state: “You don’t love because; you love despite; not for the virtues, but despite the faults.”

Trent Brown

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Dorothy Abbott, ed., Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth, vol. 1, Fiction (1985); Charles Angoff and H. L. Mencken, The American Mercury (September, October, and November 1931); Joseph G. Baldwin, Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi (1853); Marion Barnwell, ed., A Place Called Mississippi: Collected Narratives (1997); Bradley G. Bond, ed., Mississippi: A Documentary History (2003); Paul Conkin, Journal of Southern History (February 1998); Hodding Carter, So the Heffners Left McComb (1965); David Cohn, Where I Was Born and Raised (1948); Paul Conkin, Journal of Southern History (February 1998); John Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1937); W. Ralph Eubanks, Ever Is a Long Time (2003); Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, Mississippi: The WPA Guide to the Magnolia State (1938); Fred Hobson, Southern Cultures (Spring 2000); Bernard Lafayette, in Cornbread Nation 4: The Best of Southern Food Writing (2008); Belle Kearney, A Slaveholder’s Daughter (1900); James W. Loewen and Charles Sallis, eds., Mississippi: Conflict and Change (1974); James Meredith with William Doyle, A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America (2012); Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968); William Alexander Percy, Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son (1941); Willie Morris, North toward Home (1967); Willie Morris, Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home (1981); Hortense Powdermaker, After Freedom: A Cultural Study in the Deep South (1939); John Shelton Reed, My Tears Spoiled My Aim and Other Reflections on Southern Culture, 1993; Dunbar Rowland, Mississippi: The Heart of the South (1925); James W. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society (1964); Clifton L. Taulbert, Once upon a Time When We Were Colored (1989); Richard Wright, Black Boy (1946); Richard Wright, Uncle Tom’s Children (1938).

Further Reading

  • Dorothy Abbott, ed., Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth, vol. 1, Fiction (1985)
  • Charles Angoff and H. L. Mencken, The American Mercury (September, October, and November 1931)
  • Joseph G. Baldwin, Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi (1853); Marion Barnwell, ed., A Place Called Mississippi: Collected Narratives (1997)
  • Bradley G. Bond, ed., Mississippi: A Documentary History (2003)
  • Paul Conkin, Journal of Southern History (February 1998)
  • Hodding Carter, So the Heffners Left McComb (1965)
  • David Cohn, Where I Was Born and Raised (1948)
  • Paul Conkin, Journal of Southern History (February 1998)
  • John Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1937)
  • W. Ralph Eubanks, Ever Is a Long Time (2003)
  • Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, Mississippi: The WPA Guide to the Magnolia State (1938)
  • Fred Hobson, Southern Cultures (Spring 2000)
  • Bernard Lafayette, in Cornbread Nation 4: The Best of Southern Food Writing (2008)
  • Belle Kearney, A Slaveholder’s Daughter (1900)
  • James W. Loewen and Charles Sallis, eds., Mississippi: Conflict and Change (1974)
  • James Meredith with William Doyle, A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America (2012)
  • Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968)
  • William Alexander Percy, Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son (1941)
  • Willie Morris, North toward Home (1967)
  • Willie Morris, Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home (1981)
  • Hortense Powdermaker, After Freedom: A Cultural Study in the Deep South (1939)
  • John Shelton Reed, My Tears Spoiled My Aim and Other Reflections on Southern Culture, 1993
  • Dunbar Rowland, Mississippi: The Heart of the South (1925)
  • James W. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society (1964)
  • Clifton L. Taulbert, Once upon a Time When We Were Colored (1989)
  • Richard Wright, Black Boy (1946)
  • Richard Wright, Uncle Tom’s Children (1938)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Myths & Representations
  • Author
  • Keywords myths, representations
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date May 23, 2019
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 25, 2018