Folly

Bill Miles

Regardless of how the elections come out in November or next year in fact, this age-old description is more apt than unique. A person I know was talking about his life’s observations the other day. According to him he has watched his native domain resist equal opportunities based on race, economic and social standing and religion. Usually, he claimed, a powerful ‘few’ manipulated the rules so that they benefit while others lose. One instance he recalled was hearing his father narrate a scene he observed between the ‘race baiter’ Theodore G. (The Man) Bilbo and one of his silk stocking supporters during a campaign in a rural Northeast Mississippi setting. The short in stature Bilbo was observed proudly explaining how he had used the (N. word) to rouse up the farm oriented audience. “And you know what?” Bilbo asked, according to the revelation. “Every red-necked one of them is gonna vote for me.” I’ve heard Bilbo sometimes represented himself as a preacher. In re-reading “Revolt of the Rednecks”, a rare history book, I learned that many of the state’s ‘Delta Barons’ had affection for blacks but disdain for the ‘poor whites’. The classless ‘poor’ were manipulated into thinking they were “at least better than somebody else.” In the 1960s while I prodded the concrete seeking tips on what Ross Barnett might do next as he impeded integration I gradually accepted logic was in short supply and truth was not a commodity found among many officeholders. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Few, I suspect, would be comfortable if they knew their grandchildren and beyond would have to defend their overtly held prejudiced views. Even governors, presidents and ordinary folks want to be ‘well thought of’ after they’re gone. I chide a retired preacher friend asking did he ever feel like he needed to look in the casket to see if the notes he’d been handed were about the same person he was supposed to eulogize. I’ve observed that the electorate does not want to evaluate a plan of action if it takes more than about 30 seconds to reveal. William Winter tried to appeal to reason when he first ran for governor in 1967. He had a ‘Winter Plan for Education’, a ‘Winter Plan for Highways’, a ‘Winter Plan for Jobs’ and maybe another or two. They made sense if you read them. That year blacks were exercising their political rights following the Civil Rights Legislation of 1964. Winter led the first primary ticket in a field that included John Bell Williams, Jimmy Swan, Ross Barnett, Bill Waller, Sr. and perhaps ‘Blow Torch’ Mason. Williams, a U. S. Congressman, had lost his committee power in Washington because he bucked the party and supported Republican Barry Goldwater for President in 1964. Jimmy Swann, a segregationist espousing radio personality from Hattiesburg, was third. Ross Barnett, who could not succeed himself in 1963, was attempting to return to the Mansion. He was fourth. Another candidate that year was Bill Waller, Sr., the Hinds County District Attorney who had tried unsuccessfully to convict Byron DeLa Beckwith in the killing of Civil Rights Champion Medgar Evers. John Bell beat Winter. If very many voters read Winter’s grandiose plans, his opponent’s racial views held sway. Most reacted adversely when word spread that organized blacks had voted for the Grenada champion. Twelve years later and another defeat for the state’s highest position elapsed before Winter gained the governorship. History continues to herald his vision. I recall having a Winter bumper sticker on my car and driving up to a service station. A group of folks who had the left out Jimmy Swan stickers on their vehicles were sitting nearby. They remarked about my sticker. Then one announced how they felt. “You ain’t never ‘heered’ of no black swan, have ya?” A large bell hauled on a flatbed truck snaked through the communities revving up enthusiasm mixing gospel music, clanging sounds and a loud voice urging voters to “Ring for John Bell.” They did..

If you would like to contact Bill Miles you can email him at bill.t.miles@gmail.com

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