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Sons of Mississippi

by Paul Hendrickson

Library Journal Hendrickson (The Living and the Dead) uses a photograph published in the July 1962 Life magazine as a focus for examining race and racism in late 20th-century American society. The picture, taken in Oxford, MI, by Charles Moore, centers on seven white law enforcement officers. One, Sheriff Billy Ferrell, holds a billy club, while the other four look on smiling. These men were called to Oxford with others to curb anticipated violence accompanying the integration of the University of Mississippi by James Meredith. All seven participated in the riots that left two people dead and hundreds injured. Hendrickson uses the lives of these men to explore Southern racial attitudes of the period, giving us biographies of photographer Moore and of Meredith, whose interesting life since has included working as an aide to Sen. Jesse Helms. Hendrickson then extends the study to examine contemporary racial views through portraits of the lawmen's grandchildren and Meredith's son, Joe. Hendrickson uses a large number of interviews as well as archival materials and periodical literature to create a thoughtful and illuminating portrait of American racial attitudes. Highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/02.]-Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Parkesburg Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Book list The author was on the staff of the Washington Post for 23 years, and his journalistic experience stood him in good stead in preparing this fascinating, creative, and deeply resonant look at the civil rights struggle in the U.S. from the perspective of white opposition. Hendrickson uses as his metaphor, as his jumping-off point, a photograph that appeared in Life magazine in 1962, in which seven white sheriffs, standing in a frightening group, are preparing for the violence anticipated on the morrow, when James Meredith would integrate the University of Mississippi. Certainly, these men did not congregate there out of support for racial integration. The photograph struck Hendrickson, when he found it, as an indelible image of the racism of the times. He looked the men up and talked to them, their sons, and a grandson to learn whether the racism the seven sheriffs represented had been carried, like a gene, to their descendants. In his words, "Where did the hatred and the sorrow go that flowed out of the moment?" --Brad Hooper

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Choice Former journalist and writing teacher Hendrickson weaves an elaborate narrative of southern racial attitudes around Charles Moore's photo of seven Mississippi sheriffs taken shortly before James Meredith attempted to enter the University of Mississippi in 1962. The photo, published in Life magazine, shows smiling Sheriff Billy Ferrell holding a billy club with his colleagues looking on approvingly. Haunted by this photo, Hendrickson asks, "How did a gene of intolerance and racial fear mutate as it passed sinuously through time and family bloodstreams?" To answer his question, he interviewed two of the surviving lawmen and their sons and grandsons, as well as James Meredith and his sons. Hendrickson's detailed biographies suggest genetics provides no answer to racial attitudes. Despite his familial legacy, Ferrell's grandson Ty, a US border control agent, shows no zeal for arresting illegal aliens. James Meredith went to work for archconservative Senator Jesse Helms and supported David Duke's political candidacy, while Meredith's son Joe disagrees with his father's views. In the end, though, Hendrickson's riveting individual biographies leave readers wondering why poor working-class men like Billy Ferrell embraced white supremacy and revered the Ku Klux Klan. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels/collections. M. Greenwald University of Pittsburgh

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly "Nothing is ever escaped," is the woeful reminder Hendrickson imparts in this magisterial group biography-cum-social history, a powerful, unsettling, and beautifully told account of Mississippi's still painful past. Hendrickson, author of the searching Robert McNamara chronicle The Living and the Dead (an NBA finalist), sets out to profile seven Mississippi sheriffs photographed while one of their number postures with a billy club just before the 1962 riots against the integration of the University of Mississippi at Oxford ("Ole Miss"). The picture, shot by freelance photographer Charlie Moore, was published in Life magazine soon after, and it captured Hendrickson's imagination when he came upon it decades later. Chapter by chapter, Hendrickson reconstructs the everyday existences of the seven sheriffs, concentrating on the time of the photo, but taking his subjects through to their deaths. None are now living, but Hendrickson interviewed former Natchez sheriff John Ed Cothram in the early '90s, and the Cothram chapters comprise a paradigmatically subtle and eerie portrait of the intelligence and banality of evil, and how it destroys individuals. The number of telling quotes, interviews with friends and family, primary and secondary sources, allusions to art and history, and gut reactions Hendrickson offers are what really make the book. He begins with a wrenching retelling of the Emmett Till lynching-seven years before James Meredith fought for and finally won admission to Ole Miss, a bloody story Hendrickson also recounts (in addition to a fascinating recent interview with Meredith himself). The book's final third tries to get at the legacy of Mississippi's particular brand of segregation-the whites and blacks Hendrickson interviews throughout articulate it masterfully-by profiling the children of the men in the photo and of Meredith, with sad and inconclusive results. While Hendrickson can be intrusive in telling readers how to interpret his subjects, he repeatedly comes up with electric interview material, and deftly places these men within the defining events of their times, when "a 100-year-old way of life was cracking beneath them." (Mar. 24) Forecast: Fallout from Trent Lott's remarks have refocused national attention on Mississippi, evidenced by a spate of recent New York Times articles on the state of the State. This hybrid "whiteness studies" style analysis offers some answers to the "whys" of Lott's remarks, and its 50,000 copy first printing anticipates a stint on the bestseller list, and major award nominations. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal To help us understand racism in America, former Washington Post journalist Hendrickson tells the story of the seven white Mississippi sheriffs shown admiring a billy club in a famed 1962 photograph.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.