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Integration in a Deep-Southern Town

Willie Morris

Publication Year: 2012

In 1970 Brown v. Board of Education was sixteen years old, and fifteen years had passed since the Brown II mandate that schools integrate “with all deliberate speed.” Still, after all this time, it was necessary for the U.S. Supreme Court to order thirty Mississippi school districts—whose speed had been anything but deliberate—to integrate immediately. One of these districts included Yazoo City, the hometown of writer Willie Morris. Installed productively on “safe, sane Manhattan Island,” Morris, though compelled to write about this pivotal moment, was reluctant to return to Yazoo and do no less than serve as cultural ambassador between the flawed Mississippi that he loved and a wider world. “I did not want to go back,” Morris wrote. “I finally went home because the urge to be there during Yazoo’s most critical moment was too elemental to resist, and because I would have been ashamed of myself if I had not.” The result, Yazoo, is part reportage, part memoir, part ethnography, part social critique—and one of the richest accounts we have of a community’s attempt to come to terms with the realities of seismic social change. As infinitely readable and nuanced as ever, Yazoo is available again, enhanced by an informative foreword by historian Jenifer Jensen Wallach and a warm and personal afterword on Morris’s writing life by his widow, JoAnne Prichard Morris.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-lvi

Willie Morris’s Yazoo: Integration in a Deep-Southern Town, which appeared in book form in 1971, originated as a long article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1970 under the intriguing title “Yazoo . . . notes on survival.” Morris was guaranteed...

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pp. lix

Paul Anthony, Paul Gaston, and their team of reporters at the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta were particularly helpful in sharing their documents and findings. Luther Munford of Jackson, Mississippi, and the Princeton Class of '71 generously allowed me to read his perceptive thesis on...

Part 1

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pp. 3-7

The last time I had been there, I had gone to see my grandmother, whom I call Mamie. She is ninety-five years old, the youngest of sixteen children and the only one of them still alive. My mother, who lives alone with her now, telephoned me in New York to...

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pp. 8-13

My grandmother had survived the stroke, and this time, in January and later in March, I went back to Yazoo for different reasons. The United States Supreme Court had ordered thirty school districts in Mississippi to completely integrate their schools...

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pp. 14-21

One can only imagine what slavery was like in the delta land around Yazoo City-the black alluvial soil, once the very floor under the sea, which had to be fought through all the seasons and elements, reclaimed from the swamps in unbearable...

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pp. 22-27

The town has changed remarkably little in twenty years, and as I drive these streets which are a map on my consciousness, I see the familiar places-the hills and trees and houses-in a strange, dreamlike quality, as if what I am seeing...

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pp. 28-32

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which of all the federal appellate courts has been the most active in implementing the racial decisions of the United States Supreme Court, gave the Yazoo schools, after a series of delays, until January 7, 1970, to comply...

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pp. 33-38

Yet elsewhere, all over town, there were suggestions that something new was coming to the surface here, something never quite articulated with any degree of force or with the courage of numbers in many Deep-Southern towns, some painful...

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pp. 39-45

January 7, 1970, dawned clear and bitterly cold, a cold that rarely comes to Mississippi. It was 16 degrees on South Main Street, the trees along the older avenues were seared and deathly, and the water in the potholes of the roads in the Negro...

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pp. 46-50

At the start of the school year in September of 1969, the Manchester Academy, the all-white private school which held its classes in churches and paid them a nominal rent, had an enrollment of 335 students through the first nine grades...

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pp. 51-84

Herman DeCell is the state senator from Yazoo, Sharkey, and Issaquena Counties. In 1967, he was elected by about 350 votes out of 12,000, and he concedes that his active stand on behalf of the public schools and his generally moderate position on race...

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pp. 85-90

In the total school-age population of Yazoo, grades one through six have a heavy black majority; grade seven is the break-even point, after which the whites gradually become the majority. But the drain to the private school, even if not as large as...

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pp. 91-97

I was invited to give a talk one morning to one of the brightest classes in the high school, a class of twenty whites and two blacks. From the first semester, only one out of twenty-three in the class had dropped out in favor of the private school...

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pp. 98-101

I came back two months later, when the wildflowers and bushes, the vines and trees, were just beginning to show the wild disordered promise of the great Mississippi springtime. I had kept in touch by telephone; there had been one bomb scare, and a fist fight...

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pp. 102-106

In the black students' classes you can count the no. of whites present in one or two counts, while in other classes the black students can be counted on one hand. I think the classes need to be desegregated on a ratio of 50 to 50. After this is accomplished the situation will be a success...

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pp. 107-110

All through the Deep South, the towns which, by the spring of 1970, had been most successful in complying with the stepped-up integration orders were those where careful plans were made in advance and where reliable information...

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pp. 111-116

Less than one year after the integration of the first thirty Mississippi school districts, in late 1970, the effects of the Alexander decision had spread throughout the entire South. Those states which had been the most successful in adjusting to...


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pp. 119-132

I was having dinner across from the state capitol with Bill Minor, the Mississippi correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. We had left the restaurant and were standing outside, in a cold and luminous November evening. Rain clouds were...

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pp. 133-136

But from the old surfaces, from the immemorial orders of life, something ironic and momentous was slowly emerging. An immense facade was beginning to crack, barely perceptible at first, but to a writer and a son of Mississippi, it was the little...

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pp. 137-150

In Jackson, the town where I was born, there were decals of American flags now on hundreds of cars. There were more flags of the Grand Old Union on moving vehicles than I had seen on taxicabs in Brooklyn, or for that matter on hard-hats in Manhattan. I was...

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pp. 151-162

But I had already found that out. The first thing I had done when I got there from Jackson this time, in a still and wonderful November twilight in a rented Hertz, was to drive once more into the cemetery to his grave. For the cemetery had always been the most...


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pp. 165-176

I have a moviemaker friend in New York, a somewhat cranky and conservative exile from Louisiana, who told me he was emigrating to London. "It's not just the robots in the subways," he said, "or the surly manners, or the pollution, or the...

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pp. 177-183

One of the more perplexing ironies of my life is that the longer I live in Manhattan, the more Southern I seem to become, the more obsessed with the old warring impulses of one's sensibility to be both Southern and American. It is an irony I take...

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pp. 184-192

The last night I was in Mississippi, I had dinner with Hodding Carter III, editor of the paper in Greenville, the Delta Democrat-Times. Hodding's father, whom people call "Big Hodding" or sometimes just "Big," had retired now from the paper; he was one of my...

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pp. 193-204

I still have the June 1970 issue of Harper’s Magazine with its iconic cover—a full-bleed close-up of the rear end of a yellow school bus, as if the reader is following too close behind it. “Willie Morris in Mississippi,” the heading reads. I had eagerly awaited...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781610754989
E-ISBN-10: 1610754980
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289834
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289832

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Segregation in education -- Mississippi -- Yazoo City.
  • Yazoo City (Miss.) -- Race relations.
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