Monday, October 04, 2021

The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant

The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant is an interesting work of nonfiction about Natchez, Mississippi. The book is noted to be part history and part travelogue and details a very different world than most people know.

Natchez is a town of ~15,000 on the Mississippi River across from Louisiana and is described as more like New Orleans than the rest of Mississippi and a city conflicted about whether it should be celebrating its past or breaking free from it. Natchez elected with 91% of the vote a gay black man for mayor, yet prominent white families dress up in elaborate hoopskirts and confederate uniforms for celebrations of the Old South. The book jacket notes that Natchez once had more millionaires per capita than anywhere in America, with much of that wealth built on cotton slavery, and the town and surrounding area contain the greatest concentration of antebellum homes in the American South. Women from two competing garden clubs ever year host Pilgrimage, where they put on hoopskirts and receive, or welcome visitors into their homes and ply them with tales of confederate days. Additionally, the Tableaux is an annual pageant that started in 1932 and features celebration of the good old days. 

Grant portrays a town where most people, even those hosting events like this, aren’t racist, but don’t want to let go of celebrating a past which clearly was racist. The description from a quote is that they love their history, but their own self-serving mythological version of that history. It’s such an interesting conflict between people respecting history as it actually was and those wanting to keep up the parts of the past they like, such as the pretty buildings, while also trying to have tourism money keep flowing into the town.

Also in the book are the stories of Prince Ibrahima from Futa Jalon (what is now Guinea) and his enslavement in Natchez and his late in life effort to return to his homeland, the failing public schools, the famous thriller writer Greg Iles who lives in town, and the Santa Claus Parade that features men getting drunk and driving around behind police escorts and giving out Christmas presents and dinners to the poor.