For most of the 20th century, blacks were buying one-way tickets out of the Jim Crow South in hopes of a better life. Nearly 6 million African-Americans followed the railroads to places like Detroit and Chicago, never dreaming that their children and grandchildren would someday lead a return migration, chasing the American dream back down the Mississippi and straight across the Mason-Dixon line.
It was well past dark when the man and the boy finally got the cattle unloaded. The road was empty and the man was tired. The boy had been driving farm trucks around the family ranch for several years. The boy was ready, the man figured. He handed over the keys and climbed into the passenger seat to catch some much-needed shuteye.
Last year, when James Seal left his job as an insulator at shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Miss., he said goodbye to his Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. Since then, he and his wife have paid cash for medical care or visited the hospital emergency room. But mostly, they’ve gritted their teeth through health challenges. It is a strategy that has worked for the most part.
Hot-button issues like racial profiling, police stop-and-frisk practices, and social justice have joined global causes like immigration reform, women’s rights, and issues affecting other minority communities, suggesting a blurring of the lines between the ideological underpinnings of today’s youth-led civil rights movement and that of the 1960s. Call it Civil Rights 2.0.
Death did not ride in with a thundering of horses’ hooves on a cloud of gun smoke, though no doubt Heaven is a bit more lively since Macedonia native Bessie Morton’s arrival April 27. After a lifetime of adventure, it must have seemed anti-climactic, but at 87, she had slowed down a little, so perhaps death took note and crept softly, so as not to awaken Noxubee County’s self-proclaimed honky-tonk angel.
She left her clothes on the back porch. She left her gold, Hunt High School Class of ’56 ring on the dresser. She left her baby, Gloria, in her sister Betsy’s arms. And then, on a hot summer day in 1960, Lyrian Wyvonne Barry boarded a Greyhound bus bound for St. Louis and disappeared behind a cloud of Mississippi dust.
It has become the benchmark by which all storms are measured. It has become the stark demarcation between life before and after, with Hurricane Katrina sitting squarely in the middle of coastal residents’ collective memory — as vivid today as the muddy water lines and red spray-paint which can still be seen on homes uninhabitable, abandoned.
The teenager turned, walked back to the pool, slipped off his shirt and slid beneath the cool waters. Maybe his curiosity had been satisfied. Maybe he knew that Edward Yeates, head of Father’s Child Ministry, takes a no-nonsense approach to mentoring children who lack, and crave, a father’s presence. He gives them freedom, and he reins them in. Mostly, he loves them.