Catastrophic flooding brings long-term harm to the psychology of residents and the spirit of a community. In Princeville, a community built upon the self-organization and determination of Black people, it seemed the damage might never be repaired.
We also wasn’t really allowed to be mad about the death of King or what we had seen in that museum. The Museum—the motel where King was assassinated—now is the Black hole around which this constellation of white economies of new Memphis thrives.
Author’s note: This past March, the Southeastern Women’s Studies Conference met at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. SEWSA is the oldest and largest regional women’s studies conference of its kind. This was a return to home for me—I had served as SEWSA’s newsletter editor in 1980, when that meant running the publication off on a purple-stencil machine. For this year’s conference, I made the four-hour drive over from my home in Alabama to offer some personal and political memories. I gave these words in honor of three ancestors from Mississippi who are no longer with us: Eddie Sandifer, a gay, white, anti-racist communist from Jackson who died in 2016 at the age of 87 after serving as a “drum major for justice and equality;” Brenda Henson, who died in 2008, a refuge from anti-woman and anti-lesbian violence who opened Camp Sister Spirit in Ovett, Mississippi, with her partner Wanda in 1993; and Laura Cates, who died in 1984 in her 80’s, an African-American farm, factory, and domestic worker who migrated to Alabama from the Mississippi Delta and was the person who raised and taught me.
As we face this new decade which already promises so many dangers from our failures to reckon with our local and global histories, we share this editorial from our Fall issue to reflect on who we are as a country, and what lessons we might carry into this new era.
Editor’s note: Since 2016, Death Row prisoner Lyle May has provided Scalawag readers with critical insights into North Carolina’s criminal justice system. From lyrical essays that humanize prisoners, to reporting that unpacks complex policies, May’s writing has expressed bold truths from one of the most marginalized parts of society. And he’s accomplished this under increasingly difficult conditions, which have interfered with his ability to do this work.
Most recently, May has been inexplicably denied access to college coursework for a degree program he was completing. Other prisoners have been denied access to higher education as well, while officials in the state Department of Public Safety have announced that the agency is in “dark days” with assaults, understaffing, and other problems creating chaos. So why take away the few programs that improve life on the inside by engaging incarcerated people in meaningful endeavors?
May’s account explains more about his current situation in this short essay.