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I grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, hometown of the great American novelist, William Faulkner. Today, everyone in Oxford loves him. But it wasn't that way when he was alive, or as I was growing up. He was known as this disreputable character who was sometimes unfriendly and often rude and wrote horrible things about Mississippi.

Problem was, Faulkner believed in truth. And he wrote the truth as he saw it. That can get you into trouble anywhere. But in Mississippi, it just wasn't done.

Telling the truth was something that polite Southerners just didn't do. At least not in public. A lot of them still don't.

William Faulkner in Japan during USIA tour. Taken from USIA film, which is held in the National Archives.
These still images are Copyright, 2012 by Passage Film Inc.
I was also born in a particular time - 1954, one week after the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. the Topeka School Board. That case ended the legal basis for segreation and Mississippi was ordered to integrate its schools "with all due haste". Instead, the State formed a secret police organization, called the Sovereignty Commission, organized a racist political party, the Citizens Council, and essentially became a police state dedicated to waging a war against equal rights.

Mississippi wasn't a democracy back then, since half the population wasn't allowed to vote.
Black school in the Mississippi Delta in 1950.
The Phay Collection, Archives and Special Collections at the John D. Williams Library, The University of Mississippi

James Meredith came to my hometown in 1962 to see whether the US was serious about protecting the rights of all its citizens.

Kennedy had to occupy Mississippi with 36,000 soldiers and guardsmen just to let one man study at Ole Miss.


Front: Kennedy speaks to the country about Ole Miss
Behind: Governor Ross Barnett remains defiant
Front: Ross Barnet had white support across the State
Behind: The consequences. Insurrection in Oxford.

James Meredith is one of America's great heros for what he did in 1962. If you want to see more about his impact on Mississippi, watch my film, The Most Segregated Hour. It talks about what happened in 1962 and how that relates to segregation between the churches.

I'm working now on a new film that will focus exclusively on Meredith and Ole Miss.

James Meredith at Ole Miss in 1962
Mississippi newspapers in 1962

There's a lot more to say about Mississippi and what I know of it but I don't have the space for it here. I hate it and I love it both at the same time. At its worst, it's hell on earth. At it's best, there's a bit of heaven.

If you doubt me, just listen to the music.

Front: road outside Oxford
Behind: Cotton in the field
Front: Oxford Square at dusk, from my old office
Behind: Faulkner in Japan.
Musicians at the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour
Front: Ole Miss Gospel Choir at the Radio Hour
Behind: Music in a black church in the Delta
Click to read: "Crossing The Mighty River: Race, Religion and Mississippi" – Article reprinted from Jackson Free Press