There are people who insist that Black Americans must forget the pains of their past and “get over it” when an issue containing a racial element arises. That’s an easy pill to swallow for someone who has had little to no pain manifested in their history, or in the case for some Blacks, to have been so far removed from the pain for one reason or another. My upbringing and hometown have both work in accordance to mold my understanding of not only race relations on a wide level but in day to day interactions.
History has taught me that Shubuta, MS was a bustling town on the path to greatness. Once one of the largest towns on the route from Mobile, AL, this town was home to just over 600 people by the time I was born in 1980. Unknown to me, the Old South was still present years after the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. Jim Crow may have been outlawed, but the stains of an oppressive society was visible throughout the small town. Black residents did not live near the center of town for one; even the more prominent Black residents chose to reside in areas on the outer edges of town or out of town altogether. Many homes were small 2 to 3 bedroom wooden homes, mobile homes (many modified), or brick homes that existed as part of a community we called Pecan Grove. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the people who would play a role in my childhood lived in low lying section of town on the east side of town, Pecan Grove in the southwest area, or the far west end of town referred to as Red Hill, which was also home to the Shirley Owens School.
Shirley Owens was the school for Blacks during the time of segregation. I’ve been told that since there was no bus system, many of the students walked to the school; it was just over a mile from my first home. Less than a block from our house was the location of Shubuta High School. It was still standing but had not been in use for years since the schools of the county had been consolidated down to two after integration. Shirley Owens became a mill some time before I was born.
Then there was the bridge. I was in for a shock when I learned the real meaning around the time I was 10…
I recall seeing the bridge once in my lifetime. Not many people are willing to visit the area due to its remote location and the history surrounding it, but neither would you find many to speak on it during that time. The taboo treatment of the racism of my town set me on a path to never want to return after I became an adult. To know that there are still bloodlines in the town related to those that were hung by the thugs of the city, really brought home the aspect of what it meant and still means to be Black in Mississippi, the south, and America. My mind will never let me think that the bloodlines of those thugs were also still present in the town as I walked among them as a young boy. Both hangings occurred within 25 years of one another and the most recent less than 40 years before my birth. It’s not as ancient history as racial pacifists would lead us to believe.
Many other aspects of this town and its race relations would play an integral part in my development for years.