This book first caught my attention one day while walking around a Barnes & Noble in State College. When you walk through the history section and a book pops out to you related to a setting where you spent a year of your life it tends to make you curious.
The story covers almost 100 years of Jim Crow era history between when William Hardy sat in a thick pine forest for lunch all the way through the 1960's. The text jumps back and forth between white Hattiesburg and black Hattiesburg. White Hattiesburg basically was what people think of present day downtown Hattiesburg, while black Hattiesburg was located in a flood plane a few blocks away and is a shell of its former self.
The book tackles a lot of difficult subjects including refusing to allow black people the right to register to vote; limiting employment opportunities; not allowing black residents to enroll in now present day Southern Miss; multiple great exoduses; secondary school opportunities and advancing the black community. It seemed like a very appropriate read considering the times we currently live in.
I feel that William Sturkey did an excellent job collecting a lot of information for this book. The story doesn't have great flow, but I read the book in 10-12 page chunks. This ended up being good, because it allowed me time to reflect on what I just read. I really enjoyed how he kept much the experiences of the black and white community separate, because of how vastly different the experiences were. I found myself rooting for specific people such as the Smith family throughout my read.
What I Learned:
1. The character that most touched me was Clyde Kennard. He was a U.S. Veteran and was an outstanding student throughout his time in school. He was continuously denied the right to enroll at Mississippi Southern College. Eventually, he earned a meeting with the school president who tried to discourage him from continuing to apply. After the meeting Kennard walked out to two police officers that claimed they caught him speeding. Another later crime was tacked on that he did not commit and because of these crimes he was now ineligible to enroll at the college.
2. In the current conditions we live in it added some depth at a single community's level to me on why some of the black community does not trust the police. Everything from police involvement in the KKK, to allowing mobs come in and take away prisoners later to be lynched and the example of Clyde Kennard above. This isn't to mention the virtual impossibility of a black resident being able to bring a crime against a white resident and actually gain a conviction out of it.
3. The amount of patience by the black community to slowly advance is amazing to me. At times it felt like the conditions were getting worse, but also that each generation made their three steps forward and one step back. This isa song and dance I think we continue to see today.
4. Many of the early industry barons in the town dependent heavily on both black and white labor. Of course, white labor was paid more, given less dangerous jobs and had the opportunity for advancement. Despite all of this, many of the black population scraped together enough funds to have somewhere to live, a place to eat and send their kids to schools for at least a while. Their American dream was giving their children better opportunities and experiences than their generation. Something I think we can all sympathize with.
5. This gave me a lot of perspective: the good, bad and ugly of a town where I spent a year of my life and walked many of the streets mentioned in the book. It should be mandatory reading for every resident and student to better grasp the roots of the place where they live.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.