A Story of Race and Its Legacy
Sons of Mississippi recounts the story of seven white Mississippi lawmen depicted in a horrifically telling 1962 Life magazine photograph—and of the racial intolerance that is their legacy.
In that photograph, which appears on the front of this jacket, the lawmen (six sheriffs and a deputy sheriff) admire a billy club with obvious pleasure, preparing for the unrest they anticipate—and to which they clearly intend to contribute—in the wake of James Meredith’s planned attempt to integrate the University of Mississippi. In finding the stories of these men, Paul Hendrickson gives us an extraordinarily revealing picture of racism in America at that moment. But his ultimate focus is on the part this legacy has played in the lives of their children and grandchildren.
One of them is a grandson—a high school dropout and many times married—who achieves an elegant poignancy in his struggle against the racism to which he sometimes succumbs. One son is a sheriff, as his father was—and in the same town. Another grandson patrols the U.S. border with Mexico—a law enforcement officer like the two generations before him—driven by the beliefs and deeds of his forebears. In all the portraits, we see how the prejudice bequeathed by the fathers has been transformed, or remained untouched, in the sons.
For its sense of fragile hope, Sons of Mississippi is a profoundly important, revelatory work of still-evolving history. A stunning book by a masterful writer.