A LITTLE JAUNT INTO OLE MISSISSIP’ \(Jim Presley, reporter for a Shreveport daily, and contributor to the Observer, took a car trip into Mississippi recently. Conveying his notes about this to us, he said, “Mississippi and this part of Louisiana make . East Texas look like a liberal oasis.” LOUISIANA, MISSISSIM The sign just outside the package store by the road announced this was our “last chance” for drinking supplies, so we pulled the Renault into Delta, La.; before crossing the long bridge over the Mississippi River. The man . behind the bar was big and heavy-set, with loose fat on his frame and blue eyes staring cautiously out of a florid face. He greeted us without smiling, took our orders, and pushed the cans toward us. He was not particularly talkative at first, but we prodded out of him the fact that it was nothing to get beer and whiskey in Mississippi. He volunteered that he made most of his money. at his “last chance” *Stand, from tourists. Another customer arrived, a young Negro in his early twenties. He seemed to dance in and edged up to the bar close to ‘where we sat drinking and talking. “You, git over there if you want to buy something,” the bartender said in a surly voice, gesturing menacingly with a sweeping wave of his hand. “Yessir, mister bossman sir, don’t hit me !” the Negro said, in what seemed to be a parody of what he thought he was supposed to say. He Sidled over to the cash register, a place by the bar where there were no seats. The bartender continued to scowl, but he took the Negro’s order and his money. His jaw muscles flexed as he watched the Negro, Bourbon pint in hand, rejoin his friends outside. “I oughta’a hit that ,” he growled. “Well, the customer is always right, they say,” I said lightly, trying to match his redneck accent. “Not if he’s a nigger he ain’t right,” he said, looking me over suspiciously. SAN ANTONIO A question of parksthe construction of a “tourist center” in the middle of the courtyard where the Texans and Mexicans died in the Battle of the Alamo, the mutilation of Brackenridge Park with a 300-foot-wide super-road to save merchants on existing streets financial inconvenience divides kinds of people. On such questions as this we find out nature lovers, romantics, and materialists. Realists, toothe social dynamics crowd, expatiating on tensions and outlets, routine and’ valuesdefend the parks, but they make no impression on materialists. “A man has a house, a big car, lots to eat, movies to go to, and television every nightwhat’s he need parks for ?” No ; in talk on parks, we love nature, history, or money. The materialists call their asphalt path “progress,” by which they mean “profit,” a quick switch of the suffix from the long green to _the green no longer. We know what they mean ; they know what we mean. They got the money and we got the time. Unfortunately for their case, the money-grubbers have to bear up under the off-point arguments of some of their more genteel associates. Like Paul Thompson, the San Antonio News columnists, , arguing that in 1970 San Antonio will have “ONE MILLION PEOPLE,’ as he wrote it down, as though a million people don’t need parks to get away from each other in town as much as they need roads to get away from the whole mess. If the boys would come forward and say what they meanwe want He took a bottle of Bourbon from under the counter, opened a SevenUp, and poured himself a drink into a cup of ice. “Ten years ago, he wouldn’t’a done that.” “Done what ?” Bill asked. “Done what hell, man, didn’t you see him ? That nigger was gonna stand over there where you are. You gotta stay after ‘ern to keep ’em in their place now:” We still had most of our beer. left when one Of his friends came in. The newcomer was short, rather pudgy, and had one eye closed and a cigar stump sticking out of the other side of his face. The bartender told him about the Negro. The one-eyed man grunted his displeasure. “That sounds like one of them niggers works for Jones,” he said, then turning to us. “That son-of-a-bitch- he’s white, toohe lets ’em talk to ‘im like you or me. Why, I’ve seen that bastard let those niggers come up and talk to him when his wife is right there with ‘im. Ain’t’ ‘that right, Willy?” He waited a moment for the impact of his disclosure to strike ts, but we must have looked blank. “That’s what’s wrong with these niggers,” he explained, “these white men let ’em do anything. I tell you, that Jones got plenty of money; and he’s got land, toobut he ain’t no better’n` a nigger hisself.” “I’m gonna hafta get me a nigger baseball batI’ll slap some of these wise niggers around with it,” broke in the red-faced Willy. The other laughed his approval. “Vail,” he said,. “last nigger I killed, I ground ‘im up into hamburger meat.” “Bilbo, he didn’t use those long damn words you didn’t understand. Why, he talked like you and me,” said Willy. The one-eyed man had met Bilbo several years before. “I was with my pappyPappy was purty well knownand we went to see Senator _Bilbo at a rally. Hell, he set there talking to us, like here with ‘ you and me. He told us about when he was a kid, he was out plowing in the field one day. He ‘stopped the mule and he saw a woodpecker out on a dead tree, just pecking away. ‘I the superhighway through the park, because nobody we know loses any money that way, and besides, Ole Buddy Smith will make a mint on his land near the new roadwaywe could come to grips with the question and everybody keep their temper. As long as city people don’t go completely lunatic in their daily lives, why call each other names about splitting a park in twoor three, or four ? But they go on this jag about “progress,” and “one million people,” and we know about that too well ; For Thoreau knew, as long ago as that, “I see young men, my townsmen ; whose misfortune it is to have inherited’ farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools. … Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born ? . always promising to pay, promising to pay, tomorrow, and dying today, insolvent ; seeking to curry favot, to get custom, by how many modes, only not state-prison offenses ; lying, flattering, voting, contracting yourselves into a ruAliell of. civility … making yourselves sick, that you may lay tip something against a sick day. … As if you could kill time without injuring eternity. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation ‘is confirmed des , peration.” Parks will not give a man freedom when he goes to them. but he can think less desperately in them ; the places where his culture got its meaning will not give him strength, but he can remember something other than his personal life there. What happens in San Antonio now would have mattered to Thoreau. R.D. looked at that peckerwood and I said to myself’he said-1f that peckerwood can make a living with his head, I can, too.’ That’s how he got started,” Mississippi One-Eye explained proudly. “He sure was smart,” concluded Willy. 2 Crossing over the toll bridge, we rolled into Vicksburg. Before going out to the National Military Park \(where the Texas Legislature this year voted to spend $100,000 erecting a monument to Civil War participants and an unconstitutional beer in a downtown cafe. Someone in the cafe explained that Mississippians had to pay a legal “black market tax” ‘to sell illegal booze. 1After a spirited chase among the battlements of another age we turned toward Jackson, the capital. En route we nosed into a roadhouse, the kind you used to hear about in the 1920’s and 1930’s, a long, white frame which reminded me of one I saw in’ East Texas in the 1930’s, in a grove of pine trees. Saturday afternoon cronies were ganged together at one end of the Jim Presley bar, next to the juke box. I saw a scattered stack of cards next to the cash register.. I picked up one and read. “ROSS BARNETT IS ROLLING TO VICTORY WIN. WITH ROSS !” Vigorous segregationist, not a moderate Champion of states’ rights, Southern UnityEquality for Agriculture Econo. mic DevelopmentStaunch Advocate of Local Self GovernMent. The Leading’ Candidate! Mississippi’s Next Governor.” And sure enough, he is. He was the most on segregation, enough to make the other man seem moderate. When the bartender came back I pointed toward the row of bottles on the shelf behind him and asked how it was he could sell his liquor so openly. “According to the law you can’t sell it in Mississippi, I thought,” I said. He stopped, as if the question has stunned him, and scratched his head with a frown which indicated the question was unusual and profound. “Well, I dunno, it’s allus been like this,” he began.’ “I dunno, I think it’s sorta like local option, you know, it’s sorta up to the local sheriff, whatever he thinks about it.” “I see,” I said. “I always wondered how it worked.” On the way back from Jackson we could not but be depressed by the prospects for human progress in Mississippi. As we sped through the night we sighted two Negro boys by the side of the road ahead, thumbing a ride. I stopped and let them into the back seat. They were going to Ray ville. Neither ‘had been out of the state. One had not been 100 miles from home. They were 16 and 17. They went to school. We talked about how the colored man had to Jive here, ‘ down South. They were silent. “Ever talk to anybody who’d been West, or up North ?” Bill asked. “Yessuh, I have a brother living in California,” the older boy said. “How does he like it?” “He likes it, suh !” “You don’t have to say sir to us,” Bill said. “My name’s Bill Godfrey, this is Jim Presley; we don’t want to hear any more sir stuff.” We all shook hands around, but we could tell leaving off the sirs and using first ‘names with white men was foreign to them. They lost some of their silence, though ; they agreed the colored man had a hard life in the South. “Let me tell you something,” Bill said, “soon as you’re able, get the hell out of here and go to California or somewhere else where they judge a man by what he can do and not what color he is.” “YessuI mean, I sure would like to. I wanta go to California,” George, the older one, said. When we drove, into Rayville, I Asked if there was a place we could get some beer. It was almost midnight. There was a colored place where they were going, they said We drove them there, off the highway several blocks. It was a large frame building with a big dance hall, in the middle of the local Negro settlement. We started in the front door. but George politely told us we would have to go in through the back. They wouldn’s allow it otherwise, he said. He waited for us by the car. Inside, a white man with one Negro waitress behind the bar ran the place. The other employes and the customers were Negroes. We ordered two cans of beer. The white man stared grouchily back at us, slowly got the cold cans of Pearl out of the box, and slipped them into a paper bag. “Hey, open ’em !” I told him. He stared back sullenly but complied. The foam boiled out of Godfrey’s can, and he applied his mouth to it fast to stop the flow. “You cain’t drink that in here,” the man rasped, his eyes glaring. “I’m not drinking it, I’m just getting the’ foam off,” Bill retorted. We stared back at the angry little man and went back out the way we had come, laughing at his discomfort. George was there by the car when we got back. “He’s a bad ‘un, he sho’ is hard on colored folks,” he said. We talked briefly. He apologized for a vessuh which came before he realized it. and we all smiled. “I know one thing,” George said. “P’all’s the friendliest white b folks I ever saw. ” JIM PRESLEY Peri-Wig AUSTIN The Luce publications have had a good deal to say, from a number of points of view, about Senator Johnson, The current issue of Fortune Magazine combines what might be called the idealist with the whimsically literary perspectives. In a bit called “The Texas. Peri-Wig,”. the business magazine of the Luce stable says: “Some of Senator Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic troops are restless ; they say they are disappointed in . his leadership. But do they understand leadership? Senator . Johnson once made his ideas clear in a letter to Fortune -“Fortune had submitted to seven leading Democrats thirty-six questions on matters of national interest in that presidential year unemployment, labor; agriculture, housing, education. taxes, etc. Senator Johnson, refusing to answer any of the questions, “explained” that even to ask such questions of “a legislative leader” was to strike at “the base of the legislative process. The only safe and intelligent way for me to reach a considered opinion … is to study the reports of the committees bn the particular legislation. This statement, I assure you, is not an evasion.” We are reminded of James Russell Lowell’s statesman: Ez to my princerples, I glory In hevin’ n.othin’ o’ the sort; I ain’t a Wig, I ain’t a Tory. I’m just a candidate, in short; That’s fair and square and tarpon But, cf the Public cares a fig To hey me an’thin’ in. partseier, Wy, I’m a kind of peri-wig.” \(The Oxford Dictionary says a periwig is “An ,artificial imitation of THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 5 September 18, 1959 Mr. Thoreau’s Cause
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