I’ve been prepping for Rabbit Box Storytelling at the Melting Point tomorrow night- I have eight minutes to tell about a rabbit hole I went down. The decision is difficult- ever since I was a kid I’ve loved to immerse myself in history- I’m still obsessed with the Holocaust. Forced exercise, Arbeit Macht Frei, Eichmann "only following orders”- so many parallels to Escuela Caribe in my teens.
However, I decided to focus on 2010’s summer obsession- when I began exploring the untold histories of Greenwood, Mississippi, my hometown. I'd begun writing about this amazing teacher, Mrs. C., who taught me in 9th grade- I adored her- because she was one of the few adults who told us the truth about where we lived. How Emmett Till was lynched in our county. And how (when I was in high school) Medgar Evers’ murderer still walked the streets and bragged, and how when Kennedy was assassinated people in my town celebrated. Take note: that scene in the Help (which I only saw because it was filmed in my friends’ houses in Greenwood) where all the white people were crying over Kennedy’s murder, was a white wash.
In 2010, I began writing about the Delta, and, because I’m obsessive, discovered so many things I am not going to have time to tell. How for a brief period, my hometown was a civil rights hotbed- Medgar Evers, Dick Gregory, Bob Moses, Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, James Bevel, Sam Block and so many others sacrificed so much to make Greenwood a better place. Dr. King came twice. Stokely Carmichael was provoked into delivering the black Power speech in my town. There was so much brutality, so many murders- it sickened me- but also beauty- that part in Don’t Look Back where Dylan is playing in the cotton field, it happened right near where I grew up.
But what I am focusing on is how white people behaved in Greenwood, and the segregationist literature, particularly 1957’s Manual for Southerners, which was printed in my hometown. Because it’s important for people to understand how hate speech programmed generations of Southerners, of Americans, to be racist, and also that the painful history I unearthed was not just from Greenwood, but from Athens, and all over the world. It's important to explore unwritten histories, no matter how painful- because knowledge is power- it's the only way to create a better world.