I was raised in the Jim Crow south during the era of segregation. My grandmother and I first lived in Kentucky and then when I was eight we moved to her hometown in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. I was always considered and outsider: no father, from the north (Kentucky,) not Baptist and on top of that I was small for my age. When I was nineteen I left Mississippi, joined the Navy and never returned.
Decades later, when deciding to retire, my wife agreed to move to the small town in western Kentucky where I spent my youngest days, a time that had produced fond memories.
The south is still covertly segregated. The people in the south aren’t bad people; they are congenial, thoughtful and resourceful, with strong family ties. But, their religious bred ignorance so permeates every facet of their life that it made the six years we spent in Kentucky uncomfortable. Their religious prejudices are as strongly held as the Jim Crow prejudices held during segregation.
The only good memory I have of Mississippi is the food. Mississippi home cooking, strongly influenced by the black community, was in a class by itself. Fried chicken, not breaded but lightly rolled in flour and then fried in bacon grease in a cast iron skillet until the skin was crispy; greens cooked with ham hock – cooked for hours until it surrenders a rich pot liquor – eaten with a dash of Louisiana Hot Sauce; catfish and hush-puppies with white beans; fresh slice, tart, acidy tomatoes with a dollop of mayonnaise, salt and pepper; homemade biscuits and eggs cooked in bacon grease with a side of grits with butter for breakfast; these were common fare and the memories I still carry.
And Oh yes, the music – the Delta Blues
Black people in that Mississippi Delta town were looked down on, considered inferior in every way, exploited and often brutalized. The irony is that today the only claim to fame that Mississippi town promotes is as the home of Muddy Waters.