Page 8


THE MAGNOLIA JUNGLE, by P. D. East, Simon and Schuster, 1960, 243 pages, $3.95. AUSTIN Out of the deepening anguish of Mississippi, home of the world’s greatest living novelist, the best college football team in the land, two consecutive Miss Americas, and the timid expatriate who writes this response, comes a remarkable document of the times. The autobiography of P. D. East tells a brutally honest story. Though by reputation he is an eccentric boondocks humorist who has chosen to apply “the feather rather than the elephant-gun” to events in the Magnolia Jungle, what emerges here from a tangle of sometimes poor prose and often unfocused narrative is a human trauma: a man driven to the final brink of despair by his own sense of persecution and by the greater persecutions which surround him. Willie Morris “One thing I knew but had not admitted,” he writes, “that in the Magnolia Jungle there were no paved streets, no curbs, gutters, or sidewalks . . . I saw no possible way out of the jungle, and I wondered if indeed the jungle were of my own making .. . The jungle around me continued to close in; there was no possible way to clear the dense brush of stupidity, ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry.” How much is a man responsible for his own sense of guilt and frustration? How much can he blame his environment? P. D. East was born in south Mississippi. He moved around backwoods sawmill camps with BRAINPOWER Is OUR MOST VITAL RESOURCE! You can’t -dig education out elf the earth. There’s only one place where business and industry can get the educated men and women so vitally needed for future progress. That’s from our colleges and universities. Today these institutions are doing their best to meet the need. But they face a crisis. The demand for brains is increasing fast, and so is the pressure ed college applications. More money must be raised each year to expand ficilities bring faculty salaries up to an adequate standardprovide a sound education for the young people who need and deserve ft. Ass practical business measure, help the colleges or universities of your choicenow! The returns will be greater than you will If you want to know what the taw aisis means to you, write for free booklet tog HIGHER EDUCATION, lox 36, Times Square 31Mess, New York 36, New Yob.. Shaw Transportation Company, Inc. Musk* *. Texas “BOW” WILLIAMS Automobile and General Insurance Budget Payment Plan Strong Stock Companies GReenwood 2-0545 624 LAMAR, AUSTIN Let’s Abolish the Poll Tax! his foster parents, he grew up fighting, snarling, and barefoot among other exploited children of the exploited forests. His earliest memory, he writes, is the charred corpse of a young Negro girl, burned to death in a tenant shack. He remembers a cat whose skull he \\smashed with a baseball bat, a baby being fed dry lima beans, a Negro friend stabbed through the heart with an ice-pick. He went with his mother to the evangelical meetings, was frightened along with the others by the promise of a fundamentalist’s hell, and became an agnostic at an early age. He learned that he was an adopted child and that his neurotic mother had given him away to the first family she could find. At high school, and later in. a rural junior college, he hardly had enough money to buy a change of clothes, and could not buy his textbooks. He was discharged from the army on the advice of a psychiatrist and became an agent of a Southern railway. Assigned to a train running to Northern cities, he filed fictitious reports with the home office. Once he reported: “From Corinth, Mss., to Memphis, Tenn., I found it necessary to put two niggers in their place by slugging them,” and nothing was ever said. Or again: “I traveled from New York to New Orleans and didn’t open my mouth to a single person. The train was on time, and I was glad, glad, glad! Do you hear? I was glad!” Later, he started making good money editing two union newspapers. r AST STARTED the Petal Paper, L just across the river from Hattiesburg, with the expressed aim of making more money. He joined the Kiwanis Club and glad-handed his way into a lucrative proposition. The editorials in his first issue discussed the causes of forest fires, the Great Baby Boom, and the cattle population of the nation. “We have no bones to pick with anyone,” East wrote in his statement of policy. “Therefore, there will be no crusades, except when it is to the public interest.” On the day of the Supreme Court decision. of 1954, he was “photographing an egg which measured ten inches around the long way, eight inches the other, and weighed over a quarter of a pound. I was more concerned with the size of a hen’s rump than I was with the basic rights of one man in every ten.” What follows, as East tells it, was a gradual awakening to a worsening situation, in which he could not force himself, even for money, to acquiesce: the passing of “voter registration” laws which left only six Negroes out of 12,000 in his county eligible to vote; the silencing of the state University; the organization of the Citizens Councils; economic reprisals. As the reaction spread, East grew bolder. He began to lose advertising and readers, he bought a pistol and developed a perforated ulcer, he received phone calls telling him he was a “lowdown heathen.” After one call, he writes, “I went into my back room at ,home, sat on the side of my bed and wept like a child.” Out of the Deepening A nguish P. D. East: Life and Times of a Southern Editor The only threat of violence occurred when he was stopped at a traffic light, and a man walked from the curb and asked if he was P. D. East. When East nodded, the man said, “Well, if you’ll get out of that god-damned car, I’ll mop up the street with you.” East, “remembering I was a natural-born coward,” told the man that wasn’t sufficient inducement, and drove away. The results of his barbed attacks on the “Citizens Clan,” the Mississippi ministry, and his lowercase senator james o. eastland were devastating. His subscription list in Petal has dropped to two, and an increased readership outside Mississippi has just kept him in business. East describes his first meeting with William Faulkner, introduced by a friend anxious to get Mississippi “moderates” together. “The presence of Faulkner, with his soft-spoken, quiet voice, his strong face, had the effect of making me want to keep my own voice at a moderate pitch.” For two hours, in a sailboat on Sardis Reservoir, Faulkner was silent. Finally he turned and asked, “Well, East, anybody put any dead cats on your porch lately?” They discussed the idea of forming a moderate group in the state and decided against it. As Faulkner said, they would end up spending all their time fending off attacks and not get anything accomplished. Racked by doubts and fru.stralions, East says he has ‘several times tried to work up the nerve to kill himself. “I’ve never been able to make sense out of my life . . . I asked of myself, Who are you? What are you? What has value to you? . . . What do you want?” Nothing helped “to shake the ferment in my soul.” THE TRAGEDY of East’s career I as St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic Thomas P. Sherman writes, is that he feels no moral elation , whatever in having stood up for the things he believes. “The injustice and futility ‘of life .. . and the futility of things than I could take,” East writes. I was without hope of clearing a single poisoned leaf from the jungle which I called home. Someone had to hack away . . . Why me? Was it not better to be a good Kiwanian, minding my own business, than to be a confused, frustrated, depressed screwball who few persons could tolerate?” This brooding pessimism is occasionally relieved by specimens of East’s own off-beat humor from back issues of the Petal. Paper. Some of them are unroariously funny. East is a kind of populist’s beatnik, a piney-woods Mort Sahl but even beatniks can be traitors in Mississippi these days. The Mississippi situation is the situation any society invites when it largely succeeds in stifling dis THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 6 August 26, 1960 sent. On the race question, the overriding question as far as Mississippi is concerned, even the mildest deviation is being pressed out. There is no focus for moderation; the prevailing conservatism is absolutely monolithic and unbending; not even the slightest concession will be made through free choice. The dissenting professors have just about all left or been forced out. The universities are silent. The state is in the hands of a radically racist governor, whom even Orval Faubus avoids. With three or four exceptions, East included, the press ranges from desperate racism to dogmatic conservatism. The young people are leaving in droves. Many of them, I know from ac quaintance, are totally disillusioned with the idea and taboos they grew up among. Save for the second and third generation rich, they find. it best to leave forever, and ‘they are leaving. LUST THIS WEEK from a town in Mississippi I got this letter from a native Mississippian of my generation, a very intelligent, educated, and sensitive young man who this month is leaving: “On social, religious, and political questions, their views are nothing less than infantile. They Party Loyalty Sir: Your editorial August 19 is not only shocking but disillusioning to every person Who believes in party loyalty. V was under the impression that liberalism meant basic integrity in public affairs and adherence to principles irrespective of personalities. I must be mistaken if your editorial means what it implies. Your statement is: “For liberal citizens, the best course may be to vote for the Kennedy and Johnson ticket and write in, or vote Republican for senator, as a protest.” Apparently, the pledge we took when we voted in the Democratic primary and ‘attended the conventions and obligated ourselves to support the nominees of the party, means nothing. We are at liberty to violate that pledge because we do not like the law adopted ‘by duly constituted authority which permits a man to run for two offices at the same time. Although the courts have upheld that law, and you predict that they will coni’nue to do so, you nevertheless advocate violating the pledge to support the nominees because, as you interpret the Constitution, that law is not constitutional. The Southern segregationsts maintain with equal vigor that the law which requires integration in our schools is unconstitutional in spite of the courts’ interpretations. Is their attitude any less defensive than yours? are not just segregationists, not merely racists. They are determined to keep the Mississippi Negro ‘ground in the dust,’ or to kill him. Almost without exception the people I see are saying that the ‘Negro in. Mississippi’ will stay in his place, or get out, or, in the ultimate conclusion, be killed.” I can tell you there are young men of my generation who cannot go home again. We go home bodily, the intervals grow longer, we are haunted and tormented by the terrible beauty, the brooding sorcery of our native land, and we are leaving it. We know, although it is unfair to expect others to understand, that Mississippi itself is as resonant and complete as its name Mississippi. There is no place in our entire froster-frozen, tv-antennaed culture quite so interesting, so frustrating, or so complex. There is no place where the people entertain better, drink harder, or love longer. There is no place with such land. “That’s the one trouble with this country,” Faulkner says, “everything, weather, all, hangs on too long. Like our rivers, our land; opaque, slow, violent; shaping and creating’ the life of man in its implacable and brooding image.” Gerald Johnson, an exile Southerner of some vintage, writes in the Atlantic: “Even those who fled from the intellectual sterility of their early environment realize that its emotional wealth is prodigious; they may be able to think better anywhere else, but nowhere can they feel as intense ly P. D. East admits he had an intense desire “to get away from the jungle, to leave and not bother to look back.” He adds, “I could leave the jungle I grew up in, but not the jungle which was within me. From it there was no escape.” It seems that according to your interpretation, party loyalty and integrity are determined not by fundamental principles, but by whose ox is gored. If that is liberalism, I am glad that I am just a plain Democrat. L. Hamilton Lowe, Littlefield Bldg., Austin. .Shocking Sirs: I don’t normally read the Texas Observer, but I did just now and I sure was shocked. The paper was laying around where children could of come onto it and there was that ugly Head Line,, “3 Nude Blondes Seen on Escalator.” I was , sure shocked and then I read that piece three whole times to see what kind of trash you was writing on. And I don’t see where you got those 3 blonde’s because they was’n’t any more about them after the Head Line. Listen, Mr. W.M. I dont’ see why yOu want more sex in your paper. I was sure shocked about you calling all those important people on the phone to ask them about sex. Thas’ not what the tax payers pays them taxes for. sure be glad when your boss gets back and you can’t write that dirty filth more. Maybe he fire you I hope so if you think nasty like that. Sincerely, Mrs. Barnett Skoulder, Austin. \(We tried to find this lady in the phone book, but could not.