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Death in the Delta

Uncovering a Mississippi Family Secret

Molly Walling

Publication Year: 2012

Growing up, Molly Walling could not fathom the source of the dark and intense discomfort in her family home. Then in 2006 she discovered her father's complicity in the murder of two black men on December 12, 1946, in Anguilla, deep in the Mississippi Delta. Death in the Delta tells the story of one woman's search for the truth behind a closely held, sixty-year old family secret. Though the author's mother and father decided that they would protect their three children from that past, its effect was profound. When the story of a fatal shoot-out surfaced, apprehension turned into a devouring need to know.

Each of Walling's trips from North Carolina to the Delta brought unsettling and unexpected clues. After a hearing before an all-white grand jury, her father's case was not prosecuted. Indeed, it appeared as if the incident never occurred, and he resumed his life as a small-town newspaper editor. Yet family members of one of the victims tell her their stories. A ninety-three-year-old black historian and witness gives context and advice. A county attorney suggests her family's history of commingling with black women was at the heart of the deadly confrontation. Firsthand the author recognizes how privilege, entitlement, and racial bias in a wealthy, landed southern family resulted in a deadly abuse of power followed by a stifling, decades-long cover up.

Death in the Delta is a deeply personal account of a quest to confront a terrible legacy. Against the advice and warnings of family, Walling exposes her father's guilty agency in the deaths of Simon Toombs and David Jones. She also exposes his gift as a writer and creative thinker. The author, grappling with wrenching issues of family and honor, was long conflicted about making this story public. But her mission became one of hope that confronting the truth might somehow move others toward healing and reconciliation.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

Primary and Secondary Players

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Two stories are imbedded in this narrative. The first tale is a deeply held, sixty-year family secret that came to light in 2006, and involved the murder of two black men in the Mississippi Delta after World War II. The perpetrator was, allegedly, my father. At ...

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CHAPTER ONE: Out of the Blue

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pp. 3-6

The phone rang. It was my brother, Jay, calling from the road, driving from our uncle Tom’s funeral in the Florida Panhandle home to Asheville. He had something startling to tell me. It could have been anything, if it had to do with our family—some oddity, ...

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CHAPTER TWO: A Secret Will Out

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pp. 7-12

I asked myself, “Who was my father?” if what they tell me now is true. July 18, 1943, North Africa, World War II From Dad, age twenty, to the family in Anguilla, Mississippi: ...

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pp. 13-22

Before the heat under a pot of water reaches 212 degrees, the liquid becomes vexed, and it roils around the edges while bubbles rise off the bottom and gain momentum. Mississippi and other southern states began to simmer under new pressures that ...

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CHAPTER FOUR: My Mother’s Version

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pp. 23-32

While I prepared to make my first return visit to Mississippi since my grandmother died in 1984, my focus shifted once again to the past. I became engrossed in reconstructing my parents’ early married years in Mississippi. After the war, Dad returned to the Delta ...

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CHAPTER FIVE: The New Mississippi

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pp. 33-50

It was a beautiful spring in Asheville in May, two months after Uncle Tom died, as I prepared to go to Mississippi and find out the real story of the shoot-out. When I moved here in 2001, I bought a new arts and crafts–style bungalow that fit with the art ...

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CHAPTER SIX: What King Evans Told Me

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pp. 51-60

I could hardly wait to get back to Asheville so I could call the mayor from the quiet of my home. But driving the 650 miles across the South with Jay was not going to be quick or direct. Only an hour out of Anguilla, he wanted to stop in Yazoo City to visit the Willie ...

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pp. 61-77

Before venturing back to Mississippi, I vacillated between thinking about Dad the writer and Dad the gunslinger. One thing was for certain: he was bigger than life. In fact, my mother quietly gave Dad the nickname “Big,” and used it when he was out of ...

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pp. 78-96

For as long as I can remember, my father drank. When we were young children in Knoxville, he often displayed a youthful vibrancy. The mood changes that occurred in him when he had consumed too much slipped by me without much notice. What ...

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CHAPTER NINE: Revelations

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pp. 97-102

I set the trip odometer at zero, locked my doors, and positioned the map of Mississippi on the passenger seat. I decided to take the southern route through Atlanta, but I only made it into South Carolina before stopping at a busy new gas station where I bought ...

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CHAPTER TEN: Yet Another Version

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pp. 103-112

Oh, my God. For the second time that day, my body registered new information with a shudder, my stomach tightening into a hard knot. My grandfather, whom I never knew, seemed to have been adored by his wife and children, though they rarely spoke of ...

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CHAPTER ELEVEN: Silencing of a Community

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pp. 113-122

Both black people and white people in the Deep South were so fearful of each other, so intimidated by the potential for power struggles to erupt into violence, that the safety they found in their own numbers contributed to a hardened code of silence. My family ...

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pp. 123-132

I’d spent the fall studying the family tree, sifting through photographs, poring over my notes. I could accept, intellectually, that Dad walked into a quagmire when he and Mom moved to the Delta after the war. He encountered opposition at the Pan Am that ...

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pp. 133-146

When I spoke to Charles Weissinger, the attorney in Rolling Fork, he suggested that Fielding Wright might have represented my father before the grand jury. In 1939, Wright left his law firm to become governor of Mississippi and moved to Vicksburg. After ...

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pp. 146-156

Rose. I could not stop thinking about the lovely woman sitting on her daughter’s sofa weeping softly as her sister recounted the tragedy of their uncle Simon’s death. She appeared to be reconnecting with the loss that happened when she was a child, still ...

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pp. 157-163

After months of being stymied, I sat with the unresolved story until I felt a nudge to revisit a primary source, Aunt Sis. Maybe time had softened her resolve to keep the secret to herself. I wrote her a letter setting out my findings and asked if she would talk ...

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pp. 164-176

Mid-August 2000, Uncle Tom called to tell me that Dad was in the De Funiak Springs hospital in Florida. “What’s wrong?” I asked—as if I didn’t already know that too much alcohol for too many years was high on the list. “He has congestive heart failure and a massive aortic aneurism ...

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pp. 177-193

When I moved to Asheville in 2001 and contemplated how ill prepared I was to deal with grief, to care for the terminally ill, I signed up for hospice training. A year later I was recruited as a trainer to set up programs in faith communities. My job involved ...

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Springtime in Mississippi

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pp. 194-201

I made phone call after phone call to forensic labs in Mississippi after my friend, a district attorney in Tennessee, suggested that the scene where Simon and David were shot could still yield valuable information. She told me that a retired specialist might be ...

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CHAPTER NINETEEN: Reasonable Doubt

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pp. 202-208

Somehow the materials I photocopied at the Rolling Fork library shuffled themselves into a tall stack of papers on my desk. When I ran across them again, I found the June 1948 issue of the Staple Cotton Review. It interested me because on the front page was a ...

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pp. 209-216

I wanted to broach the subject with Mom yet again, but conversations in the past had turned to bitterness, anger, and mutual defenses. Why should I go through that again? Why should I subject her to painful memories? But it had been many months since ...

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pp. 217-218

Had I known when I started writing Death in the Delta that it would require so much of me, it is doubtful that I would have had the strength of will or the confidence to see my way to the last page. Providence stepped in and provided me with an extraordinarily ...

A Note on Sources

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pp. 219-220

E-ISBN-13: 9781621036159
E-ISBN-10: 1617036099
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617036095

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012