"Mayor Polk can't be here this morning, apparently he ate too many watermelons," joked the owner of one of Jackson County's largest auto dealerships, as he held a microphone announcing the beginning the Pascagoula kids parade. The car salesman was talking about Ira Polk, the recently hospitalized black mayor of Moss Point, Mississippi, a rugged little gulf coast town with a population that is about 70 percent African American.
|Mayor Ira Polk|
I awkwardly gathered up my camera, microphone, tripod and light stand, like a vacationer on the beach, trying to usher his cooler, lawn chair and umbrella off the sand before a midday rain shower floods his day. "Can I talk to you?" I wheezed as I poked my sweaty finger at the wealthy car dealer, "Of course!" he chirped in the slow, friendly drawl I had grown to love during my time as a reporter in Mississippi during the early 90's "Did you think that watermelon joke was funny?" I asked pointedly as I thrust my mic into his face, "uh, I..." he said caught off guard, expecting me to inquire about the how long the kids floats took to make, or if the heat would ruin the fun of the yearly Mardi Gras tradition, "I was just pokin' fun?" he reply in a question, as I coiled up my mic cable, and headed back to my tiny office on Market street to broadcast a story about racism in Mississippi.
As I slammed the trunk closed on the news car, and slid onto the scalding red interior of my 4 door Ford Tempo, within seconds the bag stuffed between the seats of the vehicle began to chip loudly, it was my boss on a new fangled cell phone, "Chris, I just talked to (can't remember the car dealer's name) and he says he made some off color jokes, that you might be putting on the air tonight," News Director Dave Vincent announced into the phone, "Now Chris," he continued in his grandfatherly monotone, "I think it's pretty clear that these kind of comments happen down here, and although we can't condone them, I think broadcasting them, doesn't do any good for anyone."
|Confederate Veteran's Cemetery (Beauvoir)|
I'd only been in Pascagoula for a few months when I got a taste of how race and racism was treated in the South.
In Mississippi, as in much of the south, "The War Of Northern Aggression," is quietly revered around every corner. Just 45 minutes West of Pascagoula, on Highway 90 is Beauvoir, the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The pristine shrine to the former head of the insurrection is a a museum honoring Davis and Confederate veterans. The regal, plantation is dotted with statues of Davis, a presidential library and a Confederate cemetery, often emblazoned, like a field of flowing raspberries, with blood red rebel flags.
|Picture taken by MSSC, numbers indicate people on whom they spied|
|Mississippi state flag|
As I sat in the small, hot converted restaurant, with a ceiling fan struggling to push the humid air around the small room, I watched the graying black man think about injustice. I thought about the story about the racist car dealer that I never aired, and the regret I felt, but also the sad realization that in a state with a profound history of racism, my little story likely wouldn't have made much difference.