Review

Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy

by Paul Hendrickson



In SONS OF MISSISSIPPI, Paul Hendrickson profiles seven Mississippi
sheriffs who were photographed admiring a billy club, in
anticipation of beating a would-be student who planned to integrate
the University of Mississippi. This photograph, which appears on
the book's front cover, illustrates what transpired during the
civil rights era, as well as the aftermath years later.

Why did Hendrickson feel the need to write about these men, whose
legacy is racial intolerance? He hoped to answer these questions:
Is racism genetic? Are the sons of the perpetrators are just as
racist? In other words, how did this affect the families of these
men, who had to witness the shock and sorrow inflicted by their
loved ones? The answers to these compelling questions, which are
Hendrickson's ultimate focus, are provided by the sons and
grandsons of the seven men. He follows the careers of the sheriffs
up to their deaths, with quips, quotes and anecdotes, and also
interviews various other key players in the Civil Rights
movement.

Hendrickson begins with a wrenching retelling of the Emmett Till
lynching --- seven years before James Meredith fought for and
finally won admission to Ole Miss, a bloody story Hendrickson also
recounts (in addition to a fascinating recent interview with
Meredith himself). I found this part of the book revealing; it gave
credence to the depths that Hendrickson took to solidify his
research methodology.

The final third of the book tries to get at the legacy of
Mississippi's particular brand of segregation, but tells us nothing
we don't already know. He profiles the children of the men in the
photo --- and of Meredith --- with sad and inconclusive results.
Hendrickson can be quite intrusive in telling readers how to
interpret his subjects. However, he does include electric interview
material and deftly places these men within the defining events of
their times, adding yet another chapter to a period that
Mississippi would rather see dead and buried. This book --- and the
story it tells --- should be placed among other works that give a
semblance of understanding the mindsets of racists.

Reviewed by Alvin C. Romer on January 23, 2011

Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy
by Paul Hendrickson

  • Publication Date: March 18, 2003
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0375404619
  • ISBN-13: 9780375404610