Tuesday, February 9, 2010

For Us the Living

When thinking of historic sites, the mental picture is usually one of an old historic building, perhaps colonial, Victorian, or early 19th century.

But there are also historic sites that are chillingly ordinary. Just another house on a suburban block. Nothing unusual. Any of us might have grown up there.

2332 Margaret W. Alexander Drive, Jackson, Mississippi

Doesn't ring a bell?

On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers pulled up in the driveway, and stepped out of his car. As he walked into his home, ready to greet his wife and children, he was shot in the back with a bullet that richocheted into his home. He died 50 minutes later, just as President John F. Kennedy was concluding a nationally televised speech in support of civil rights.

The South being what it was, the shooter, a member of the White Citizens Council and the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, was arrested over a year later. The South being what it was, the shooter (who will remain nameless here, because why contribute to his memory?) was acquitted twice by all-white juries.

And yet again, the South being what it is now, brought the shooter to trial 30 years later, in 1994, and this time the jury convicted. The shooter, after living free for three decades, spent the rest of his life in prison, dying incarcerated in 2001.

From For Us, the Living, by Mrs. Medgar Evers, written in 1967:

Somewhere in Mississippi lives the man who murdered my husband. Sometimes at night when my new house in Claremont, California, is quiet and the children are in bed I think about him and wonder how he feels. I have never seriously admitted the possibility that he has forgotten what I can never forget, though I suppose that hours and even days may go by without his thinking of it. Still, it must be there, the memory of it, like a giant stain in one part of his mind, ready to spring to life whenever he sees a Negro, whenever his hate rises like a bitterness in the thraot. He cannot escape it completely.

And when that memory returns to him, I wonder if he is proud of what he did. Or if, sometimes he feels at least a part of the enormous guilt he bears. For it is not just that he murdered a man. He murdered a very special man -special to him, special to many others, not just special to me as any man is to his wife. And he killed him in a special way. He is not just a murderer. He is an assassin.

For Us, the Living by Mrs. Medgar Evers (Myrlie B. Evers) published 1967, offered for sale by Chewybooks, as of February 9, 2010.

The Medgar Evers Museum

2332 Margaret W. Alexander Drive

Jackson, Mississippi 39213


Open by appointment

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Crackers in Bed

Except that this is a boy, this could be my childhood.

Always reading in bed, with more books piled up next to me so that I wouldn't run out. Pup curled up on end of the bed and a handmade quilt.

Life should be so good for everyone.

Crackers in Bed (1921) by Norman Rockwell.

Happy Birthday Norman! Thanks for painting the memories that matter.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Monarch of All I Survey

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, where-in all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. Written by Himself, or Robinson Crusoe, is a novel by Daniel Defoe.

But before Defoe wrote his novel there was a real Robinson Crusoe by the name of Alexander Selkirk, an Scottish seaman. In 1704, he was serving on the ship Cinque Ports when it dropped anchor at the uninhabited islands of Juan Fernandez to re-stocking fresh water and supplies.

Selkirk had his doubts about the ship's seaworthiness and tried to convince his crewmates to desert and remain on the island. Unfortunately, his fellow sailors saw no need to jump ship, however the irritated captain decided he would grant Selkirk his wish, dropping him off on the island with only a musket, gunpowder, carpenter's tools, a knife, a Bible and his clothing.

Robinson Crusoe island, Juan Ferandez archipelgo, 418 miles west of South America, now a World Biospheres Reserve

Although Selkirk was marooned on the island for five years, he was correct about the Cinque Port. It later was lost at sea, along with most of its hands.

On this date, 301 years ago, February 2nd, 1709, Alexander Selkirk was rescued from his island by a privateer. He returned home to Scotland and great public acclaim, was interviewed by journalists, and then eloped to London with a sixteen year old dairy maid, whom he did not marry. By 1721 he had gone back to sea, managing to catch yellow fever and finally dying at sea off the west coast of Africa.

Statue of Alexander Selkirk in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland

From Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe:

"September 30, 1659 - I, poor miserable Robinson Crusoe, being shipwrecked during a dreadful storm in the offing, came on shore on this dismal, unfortunate island, which I called "The Island of Despair"; all the rest of the ship's company being drowned, and myself almost dead.

"All the rest of the day I spent in afflicting myself at the dismal circumstances I was brought to; I had neither food, house, clothes, weapon, nor place to fly to; and in despair of any relief, saw nothing but death before me; either that I should be devoured by wild beats, murdered by savages, or starved to death for want of food. At the approach of night I slept in a tree, for fear of wild creatures; but slept soundly,though it rained all night."

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, published April 25, 1719.