A Gay Congressman from Mississippi

Jon Clifton Hinson was born in Tylertown in Walthall County in southwestern Mississippi, in 1942, and attended public schools. In 1959, he worked as a page for Democratic U. S. representative John Bell Williams, who subsequently became governor of Mississippi in 1968. Hinson graduated from the University of Mississippi at Oxford in 1964, and joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve, in which he served until 1970.

Hinson worked on the U.S. House staff as a doorman in 1967, and then served on the staffs of representatives Charles H. Griffin, a Democrat, and Thad Cochran, a Republican. In 1978, Cochran ran successfully for the United States Senate, and Hinson was elected to succeed Cochran in the U.S. House of Representatives for Mississippi’s 4th congressional district. With 51.6 percent of the vote, Hinson defeated the Democrat John H. Stennis, the son of U.S. senator John C. Stennis, who finished with 26.4 percent of the vote. The remaining ballots were cast for independent candidates. Hinson entered the House in 1979.

During his re-election campaign in 1980, Hinson admitted that in 1976, while an aide to Senator Thad Cochran, he had been arrested for committing an obscene act after he exposed himself to an undercover policeman at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Hinson denied that he was homosexual and blamed his problems on alcoholism. He said that he had reformed and refused to resign. He won re-election with a plurality of 38.97 percent of the vote. Independent Leslie B. McLemore polled 29.8 percent, and Democrat Britt Singletary received 29.4 percent. Hinson was arrested again on February 4, 1981, and charged with attempted sodomy for performing oral sex on an African-American male employee of the Library of Congress in a restroom of the House of Representatives.

At that time, homosexual acts were still criminalized even between consenting adults. The charge was a felony that could have resulted in up to ten years in prison, as well as fines of up to $10,000. Since both parties were consenting adults (and social attitudes were changing), the United States Attorney’s office reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. Facing a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, Hinson pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted sodomy the following day and was released without bail pending a trial scheduled for May 4, 1981. Soon thereafter he checked himself into a Washington, D.C.-area hospital for treatment. Hinson later received a 30-day jail sentence, which was suspended, and a year’s probation, on condition that he continued counseling and treatment.

Hinson resigned on April 13, 1981, early in his second term. He said that his resignation had been “the most painful and difficult decision of my life.” He was succeeded in the House by Wayne Dowdy, a Democrat, who won the special election held in the summer of 1981. Soon afterward Hinson acknowledged that he was homosexual and became an activist for gay rights. He later helped to organize the lobbying group “Virginians for Justice” and fought against the ban on gays in the military. He also was a founding member of the Fairfax Lesbian and Gay Citizens Association in Fairfax County. He never returned to Mississippi but lived quietly in the Washington area, first in Alexandria, Virginia, and then Silver Spring, Maryland. Hinson also disclosed that he survived a 1977 fire that killed nine people at the Cinema Follies, a Washington theater that catered to gay customers. He was rescued from under a pile of bodies, and was one of only four survivors.

It’s safe to assume that there are closeted government officials at every level—federal, state and local, doubtless from both parties—who are representing their electorate in good faith to the public trust with which they’re invested. From our perspective Hinson’s crash and fall seems not so much a tragedy as it is a farce, the ridiculous result of a man coerced, perhaps even forced into a role he could not play. It’s impossible for us to imagine the pressures put upon him to become a pillar of the Republican Party in its struggle for a stranglehold on the state of Mississippi, but the weight broke the man, reduced him to disgrace, poverty and exile. Hinson himself is far from blameless; as an openly gay man he would never have been elected to any office in the state of Mississippi, but there’s no reason to doubt that he could have represented his district capably had he exercised more discretion if not to say caution in his personal affairs. Perhaps that’s what he was trying to do, but it’s more probable that like many gay men of his generation in the South, he only knew clandestine solicitation as a venue for sexual commerce.

Hinson, unremembered for any legislation and with no other legacy than creating an eddy in the incessant tide of Republication domination in Mississippi, died in July, 1995 in Fairfax County, VA.

Jeff and Oscar

In what must be one of the more improbable encounters in history, Oscar Wilde, a giant, tragic figure, paid a visit to Jefferson Davis, the towering icon of another, greater tragedy, at Beauvoir, Davis’ home on the Gulf Coast. I reproduce the following passage about the meeting from Hudson Strode’s final volume of his biography, Jefferson Davis: Tragic Hero, the Last Twenty-Five Years, 1864-1889 (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964), in its entirety, since it provides a well-rounded account. I also include a passage from a letter Wilde wrote a week later that mentions his visit.

Through the winter and spring of 1882, Mrs. Davis had been reading accounts of the sensationally successful lecture tour of an eccentric young British poet named Oscar Wilde. When she learned that he was to deliver a lecture in Memphis on June 12, she regretted that it would be inconvenient for her to visit the Hayses (friends in Memphis) at that time. But Maggie Hays sent her a copy of a thin paper called Meriwether’s Weekly, dated June 17, 1882, which further excited her interest. Lee Meriwether had had an interview with Wilde in his suite at Gaston’s hotel in Memphis. His older brother Avery had said to him, “Wilde wears knee breeches and keeps a sunflower pinned to the lapel of his coat, but there’s more to him than that. Go and interview him.”

Meriwether found Wilde’s sitting room “in disorder, with magazines and photographs strewn on the floor, and on the table were the two volumes of Jefferson Davis’s Rise and Fall published the year before.” Meriwether told Wilde that he had been Mr. Davis’ neighbor in Memphis and during his childhood had known him well. “Jefferson Davis is the man I would like most to see in the United States,” Wilde said, and declared that it was remarkable that it took Northern armies numbering three million soldiers four years to whip him.” He asked where Davis lived now. Lee told him on the Gulf Coast about four hundred roundabout miles from Memphis. “That’s a long way to go to meet anyone,” said the poet-lecturer, “but not too far to go to see such a man as Jefferson Davis”

Wilde’s manager, however, had already secured an engagement in New Orleans and he arranged one in Mobile two days later. In time, Wilde wrote the ex-President a “most winning” letter, asking to be allowed to stop at Beauvoir and pay homage. Mrs. Davis urged her husband to invite him to stay the night. Davis was reluctant; he could not help but conclude that, despite his tremendous successes on the lecture platform, Wilde with his knee breeches and sunflower was a bit silly. At best, Davis did not care much for worldly people, not did he fancy people for their fame.

In the Mobile Register of June 23 Davis read an announcement that had undoubtedly been inspired by Wilde’s manager. “We understand that ex-President Davis has invited Mr. Wilde to pay him a visit at Beauvoir, his Mississippi home; and that the aesthete has accepted … It is scarcely conceivable that two persons can be more different than the ex-President of the Confederacy and the “Apostle of Aestheticism,” as known to report; and we confess sufficient curiosity to desire to know the bent of their coming, protracted interview.”

Wilde was reported by the New Orleans Picayune to have “very sensible views about the Southern Confederacy.” In an interview he spoke of his great admiration for the ex-President. He had never spoken to the Chief, he said, but had followed his career with much attention. “His fall after such an able and gallant pleading in his own cause, must necessarily arouse sympathy.” The cause of the South in the late war Wilde compared to that of contemporary Ireland. “It was a struggle for autonomy, self-government, for a people. I do not wish to see the Empire dismembered, but only to see the Irish people free. People must have freedom and autonomy before they are capable of their greatest result in the cause of progress. I look forward to meeting Mr. Jefferson Davis.”

But it is doubtful if Wilde got as much pleasure as he expected in the meeting, which took place on June 27. Though Mrs. Davis and Winnie and a visiting cousin, Mary Davis, found Wilde enchanting as a conversationalist, Mr. Davis felt something indefinablly objectionable in his personality. Even at twenty-six (Davis had turned seventy-four on June 3), Wilde’s thick, sensual lips gave him a slightly gross look. At dinner Davis let his wife and Wilde carry on most of the conversation; he remained courteous, but aloof. Pleading doctor’s orders for some temporary indisposition, Davis excused himself early. Wilde had felt restrained in the presence of this sincere man. By simply being himself, Davis had held up to Wilde a mirror which reflected an image that was not flattering.

After his host had retired, Wilde brightened perceptibly and charmed the three ladies beyond words. Mrs. Davis made a very good pencil sketch of the poet while he chatted. And he presented her with a copy of a recently published English edition of his poems and inscribed it glowingly. The four talked until after midnight. When Mary Davis, who was to grow into a proper spinster, had undressed for bed, she went to the window and stared out enraptured. There on the beach in the moonlight she beheld the tall figure of Oscar Wilde sauntering up and down the sand with a handful of pebbles, which he moodily tossed, one by one, into the shallow waves. (Mary Davis, though terribly shocked over Wilde’s subsequent tragedy, admitted later that she was “never mentally free of the man’s charm.”)

Wilde had charmed most of America, but not his American hero. After the Britisher had departed the next day, Mrs. Davis chided her husband for not being more cordial to their celebrated guest. He only said quietly, “I did not like the man,” and would give no reason. When he went out to his pavilion office, Davis found propped up on his desk a 12×10 photograph of the lecturer-poet. It was inscribed “To Jefferson Davis in all loyal admiration from Oscar Wilde, June—’82—Beauvoir.”

In a letter written on July 6, 1882 to Julia Ward Howe (American author and reformer (1819-1910, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”), Wilde wrote:

“I write to you from the beautiful, passionate, ruined South, the land of magnolias and music, of roses and romance: picturesque too in her failure to keep pace with your keen northern pushing intellect; living chiefly on credit, and in the memory of some crushing defeats. And I have been to Texas, right to the heart of it, and stayed with Jeff Davis at his plantation (how fascinating all failures are!) [my italics: jly] and seen Savannah, and the Georgia forests, and bathed in the Gulf, and engaged in Voodoo rites with the Negroes, and am dreadfully tired and longing for an idle day …”

Spuds 101

Consider the potato. Opposition preceded the acceptance of the potato into nearly every country of Europe. At first it was arraigned on the grounds that it encouraged flatulence and lust, which in itself is not surprising in an age (late 16th, early 17th centuries) when salamanders were believed to live in hot coals and harmless little old ladies were burnt as witches. The resistance of European populations to both the tomato and the potato can probably best be explained by a state of mind then prevalent in the intellectual milieu, that being the Doctrine of Signatures.

The Doctrine of Signatures can trace its roots back to a brilliant quack named Paracelsus. Paracelsus (1493?—1541) was a Swiss physician and alchemist. His original name was Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, so of course he changed it to Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus as soon as he could (wouldn’t you?). He was both popular and controversial. On the plus side, he rejected Galen’s humeral theory of disease, which had dominated and stultified medicinal science for the past thirteen hundred years; he advocated the use of specific remedies for specific diseases; he introduced the use of such chemicals as laudanum, mercury, sulfur, iron and arsenic into the medical battery; and he noted the hereditary patterns of certain diseases (e.g. cretinism).

On the negative side, he promulgated the Doctrine of Signatures. Basic to this doctrine is the notion that “like cures or affects like,” which is the underlying principle of sympathetic magic. This ancient principle enjoyed such a grip on the medieval mind that even someone as astute as Plutarch might say, “Such is the nature and such the temperament (of any given creature) that it draws out and receives the malady which issues, like a stream, through the eyesight.” Thus, they held that if someone with jaundice looked at a stone-curlew, and the bird looked back, he or she would be cured of the disease. Taking this into consideration, the virtue of the curlew lay not in its color—which is a rather drab mottled brown—but in the iris of its eye, which is large and golden, lending it a natural ability to draw out `yellow’ jaundice. Likewise, if you wanted a good ruddy complexion, you’d eat beets. If you wanted a pale complexion, you’d eat mushrooms. If you wanted bigger breasts or a larger penis, you’d eat . . . well, you get the drift.

Unfortunately for the potato, the early varieties cultivated in Europe produced irregularly shaped tubers, often with white nodules and knobby finger-like growths, which to the superstitious minds then rampant recalled the swollen, deformed feet and hands of lepers. Followers of Paracelsus made much of the supposed likeness between a particular plant and the outward manifestations of a disease, but, far from becoming celebrated as a cure for leprosy, the potato became to be condemned as a cause of the disease. Granted, this is something of a reversal of the first principal, but the potato, unfortunately, appeared on the scene when the main proponents of the Doctrine of Signatures had passed away and the potato’s condemnation was the outcome of popular inversion of the principle.

How ironic that the potato, a plentiful source of starch and rich in ascorbic acid, should find itself spurned by a population that constantly lived on the brink of starvation and suffered from epidemic scurvy. In France, the Parliament of Besançon banned the cultivation of the potato out of fear of leprosy in 1630. The potato had a particularly hard time in France, where it was still suspect as late as 1771, and it was not until 1787 that the potato became acceptable, and even then mostly by virtue of its flowers. Both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette wore the blue blossoms as ornaments in an ill-fated attempt to influence public opinion towards a more favorable attitude of the vegetable, but given the couple’s incredibly poor record in public relations, it probably did more harm than good. Catherine the Great shocked the Russian court by eating a dish of the tubers in public around the same time, and pronounced them “tres bien”. Catherine was an enlightened monarch, respected in many courts, and due to her blessings upon the potato, it was soon being used as a fermenting base for the making of vodka all over the Russian Empire. Potatoes became a staple in France (and Russia) by the beginning of the nineteenth century, and quickly became accepted throughout Europe.

On a more favorable note, perhaps at least from the vantage of this time of license, potatoes also enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac. This attribute largely came about due to its association with the sweet potato (all potatoes derive their English name from the sweet potato’s name among the Taino, batatas), which played a role in every dish intended to “incite Venus.”  Shakespeare made use of this aspect of potato lore when he wrote of the tuber in two plays, the first written in 1597, the next in 1602:

FALSTAFF:
My doe with the black scut! Let the sky rain potatoes, let it thunder to the tune of “Greensleeves,” hail kissing-comfits, and snow eryngoes*. Let there come a tempest of provocation, I will shelter me here…
The Merry Wives of Windsor, V, v., 18-22

*sea-holly, Eryngium maritium, enjoyed primarily for its roots, candied with sugar and orange-flower water which, as Evelyn noted in his diary, were a specialty of Colchester, and esteemed an aphrodisiac.

THERSITES:
How the devil Luxury, with his fat rump and potato finger, tickles these together. Fry, lechery, fry!
Troilus and Cressida, V, ii., 54-56
Shakespeare here is referring to the sweet potato (Ipomea batatas) rather than the common potato (Solanum tuberosum) in these plays (written in 1599 and 1602, respectively), since the potato did not put in an appearance in England until 1597 and was still scarce, but the sweet potato was already well-known and being sold in the streets in 1617 when John Fletcher penned this bit:

I have fine potatoes,
Ripe potatoes!
Will your Lordship please to taste a fine potato?
`Twill advance your wither’d state,
Fill your Honour full of noble itches.
The Loyal Subject III, v.

In the early days of the South, the sweet potato dominated the table. It is easy to grow, even in poor soil, and is baked, fried, boiled and even made into home brew. After the War, sweet potatoes were dried, roasted and ground to provide a sort of ersatz coffee. Vardaman, Mississippi, in my home county of Calhoun, bills itself as the “Sweet Potato Capital of the World,” and every year the town plays host to the Sweet Potato Festival the first week in Novembers, featuring arts, crafts, and contests of all sorts, culminating in the Sweet Potato Bowl Game on Saturday Night, when our Sweet Potato Queen is crowned.

Pearl potatoes

My Father

Jesse L. Yancy, Jr. was an attorney, politician, and humanitarian who served the people of Bruce, Calhoun County and Mississippi from 1956 until his death in 1970.

Born in Springville, Mississippi in 1926, Yancy moved to Bruce ten years later, where his father, Jesse L. Yancy, Sr. established a general store. He graduated from Bruce High School in 1944, joined the Army Air Corps in 1945 and served overseas in the Pacific. He attended the University of Mississippi School of Business and School of Law, earning his J.D. in 1951. In 1952 he married Barbara Young. They had three children.

Yancy was first elected to office in 1960 as district attorney for the Third Circuit Court District. During the Meredith Crisis at the University of Mississippi, Yancy entered the national spotlight when a Lafayette County grand jury issued an indictment against Chief United States Marshall James P. McShane, Meredith’s escort to registration at the University, for inciting a riot. While serving as D.A., Yancy became president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association. Elected to the Senate in 1968, during his first term Yancy, as chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, guided the state’s first Open Election Law to passage. A member of the Senate Commission on Appropriations, he wrote and gained approval for the Idle Funds Bill, which authorized the investment of in place funding for the state, a key piece of legislation that has garnered Mississippi millions of much-needed dollars for over four decades.

Yancy served as an attorney for the City of Bruce for 17 years. His most influential act in that capacity came in 1961, when Bruce had outgrown its fledgling infrastructure and the city was badly in need of repairs and updates to its streets, water and sewer systems. Yancy commandeered a grant of $25,000 for the city to hire Cook Coggin, an engineering firm in Tupelo, to conduct a survey of what repairs and improvements were needed. On completion of this study, the city secured a loan of $500,000 to fund the improvements. Yancy helped Bruce to grow into a clean, attractive town, appealing both to current and potential citizens as well as businesses and industry. He was a president of the Bruce Rotary Club, the Bruce Chamber of Commerce, the Calhoun County Bar Association and a founder and commander of VFW Post 5571. He served on the Pushmataha Council of the Boy Scouts of America and taught Sunday school at the Bruce United Methodist Church.

For all his accomplishments, Jesse Yancy, Jr. is most remembered simply as a man, a friend and neighbor willing to help others. His generosity is legendary, encompassing all in his vision of community, unity, and compassion.

The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi by Monette Morgan Young with Introduction by James M. Young

Monette and Tom Young named me James Morgan: James, after both my uncles; and Morgan, my Mother’s maiden name. My parents and my two sisters and I grew up in Calhoun county in north central Mississippi where our ancestors have lived for almost 200 years. I went to three different high schools in the county since Mother had to move about to work as a nurse after my father died unexpectedly in 1946. After earning an engineering degree at Mississippi State and a commission through the Air Force ROTC program, I was called to active duty immediately and became a career officer, spending 28 years before retiring as a Lt. Colonel. My last active  assignment was in northwest Florida, and I have lived here ever since.

Mother was born in 1915 and was a lonely only child, her little brother having died shortly after he was born.  She grew up on her parents’ isolated small farm in the hills on the edge of the Reid Community in northeast Calhoun county. An early settlement in this area had been called Cherry Hill but it had vanished by the time Mother was born. This area included rich farmland in the Skuna River bottom area and smaller farms in the hills south of the river. The white settlers here were primarily of Scots, Irish, Welsh, and English heritage, coming mainly from Virginia and the Carolinas and traveling through Alabama and Tennessee to get here as the Chickasaw Indians were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1830s.  Most of these arriving families were large, as were needed to raise the crops and cattle needed for basic living. As the number of settlers increased, churches were organized and the small amount of community social life here revolved around Rocky Mount and Poplar Springs Baptist Churches organized in the mid-1800s.  Schools were small, one-roomed, one teacher, even in the early 1900s.  Monette’s mother Eula was one such teacher at whatever school in the area needed her. During the school months she and Monette often boarded with a local family and got back to their home only on weekends.

Mother loved to read and to listen to older family and friends tell their stories about their growing up days in the 1800s.  High schools were beginning to be established and she attended one year at the county Agricultural High School at Derma and then finished her high school at Vardaman, boarding with a local family there.  Vardaman High School is where she met Tom Young and they married while both of them were still teenagers. They began their married life in Vardaman and their three children were born there.  Tom died unexpectedly in his sleep in 1946 shortly after returning from WWII service and Monette began working to support her children. She became a Licensed Practical Nurse in a small local clinic and eventually moved to Memphis to get a better position.

Her interest in the community and people of her youth continued and was intensified in her middle years. Some of her older kinfolk were also living in Memphis and she began to work with them to learn and document all that they remembered about Reid and the families there. She used the library facilities in Memphis for her research and corresponded widely by phone and mail with folks who had lived in the Reid area or who had information about that area that they would share. She, her cousin Clarence Morgan, and her grandson Jesse Yancy III walked through many of the graveyards where ancestors, kinfolk, and childhood friends were buried. She taught herself to do genealogical research and was one of the charter members of the national Murphree Genealogical Association, her mother’s family line.

Her handwriting was hard to read (she said it was because her mind was so much faster than her writing), so she bought a typewriter and taught herself to type. However, most of the letters she sent me were handwritten because she knew that I could easily read them. Over the years she had occasionally sent me information about our family history and genealogy, but in the 1980s she began to send much more. She said that I might not be all that interested in the history of our family and the community where she grew up, but that my children or grandchildren might.  I was impressed by what she was sending and, as my interest grew, I realized that, with a little editing, this material would make a great book.

I began that task as a surprise for her next birthday. It took a while for me to type all that she had sent. I used an early early form of word processor that was available in  my job and worked at this after hours and on weekends. After I got it all typed, I went through and rearranged the material into logical groupings and added a few photos and maps and a comprehensive index. I also included a census of the Poplar Springs Cemetery which had been created by her cousin Clarence and his family. She had added a significant amount of genealogical information to this census and it seemed to fit perfectly as an appendix to the book.

I put the information about the families of the Reid area, the history of the community itself, the importance of the Poplar Springs church, and her memories of the community life in the first part of the book.  In the second half, I put her detailed memories of her daily life as she was growing up on the small farm during the time of World War I and shortly afterwards.

She was delighted with the book and said that if she had known what I was going to do she would have added this or that and she would not have said this or that.  So I revised the book to make those changes and gave her the original and several copies, keeping a couple for myself.  She suggested that it be titled “The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi”.

Over the following years as people heard about the book, she made about 100 photocopies of it which were provided, for the cost of copying, to anyone who asked for one.

Mother died in February 2000 in Jackson, MS, where she had moved to be near her daughter Barbara. Her funeral was in Vardaman, and I was surprised at the number of people who attended. Many told me that they had not known her, but loved her book and wanted to pay their respects.

A few months later, I updated the book into a second edition to include a few additional changes and a few corrections that she had mentioned, and had 200 copies professionally printed. Copies were donated to the libraries in Calhoun County and to the Mississippi collections at Mississippi State and Ole Miss.  The other copies were sold for the cost of the printing.  When those had been sold and I found that people were still asking for copies, I made it available through Amazon.com for the price of printing plus a small royalty fee which is donated to the Calhoun County Historical and Genealogical Society. I also made it available for download at no charge as a PDF from several places on the internet.

From reviews and comments that I’ve received from librarians and readers, this book has become a unique and well-regarded resource for information about the history of this part of north Mississippi, of the Reid and Poplar Springs area, and of the people who settled there. It turned out to unusual in the amount of detail it provided about those times and places.  One person who bought the book from Amazon wrote: “If you come from this area, it is a must have. I often use this book for reference. Many references to my ancestors among the area. The writing is very easy to read and enjoyable. It is like sitting listening to my grandmother or mom tell stories of the past.”

The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi by Monette Morgan Young

An Olympian from Calhoun

In 1936, with the world on the brink of war, Olympic games were held in Berlin, where Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler was to stage a celebration of his rise to power and a confirmation of the Nazi ideal of Aryan racial supremacy, an ideal that was shattered by African-American athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in the track and field events. Among Owens’ teammates that year was another gold medalist, a native of Calhoun County, Mississippi, who rose to a commanding position in track competitions at Louisiana State University, dominating the 400 meter hurdles around the world throughout the 1930s and offering equal competition in the 400 meter flat race.

Glenn “Slats” Hardin, was born July 1, 1910 near Derma, Mississippi, a small town in the southern half of Calhoun County, Mississippi. The family moved to Greenwood when Glenn was in the 2nd grade, and there Hardin became one of the most outstanding athletes of his generation, earning his nickname “Slats” because of his long legs. He began competing in state track and field competitions during his junior year. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported in May, 1930 that “the tall blond boy ran the 220-yard hurdles in 25 flat. The old record was 25.6. He stepped the quarter-mile in 50 and the half-mile in 1:59, slipping 5 seconds off the latter record.” According to observer Fletcher Oaks, “He was a tall, lanky, long-legged boy. There was a guy I went to school with in south Mississippi, Jack Burnett. Jack had won the 100-yard and the 220. Hardin had won the hurdles and the half-mile. They both competed in the quarter on the second day, and while Jack ran a good race, he was no match for Glenn. Burnett had to run hard, but Hardin was just loping out there, with the easiest–looking stride, just like a deer running.”

Hardin, to the chagrin of athletics at both Ole Miss and MSU, attended Louisiana State University, which dominated the old Southern Conference in track during the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. While at LSU, he won four NCAA individual titles, the 440 in 1933 and 1934 and the 22-yards low hurdles in the same two years. Hardin was a member of the LSU Tigers outdoor track and field team that won the school’s first ever NCAA Championship in 1933. In 1935, his senior year, he finished second in the hurdles at the NCAA championships to an Ohio State runner with whom he would compete in Berlin. That runner was Jesse Owens. Hardin qualified for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where he finished second in the 400 m. hurdles in 52.0 but was given credit for a world record when the winner, Bob Tisdall from Ireland, knocked down a hurdle, an error that in those days disqualified a performance for world record consideration. Hardin lowered the record to 51.8 in the 1934 AAU championships and then bettered it to 50.6 during a meet in Stockholm later that year. That record would stand for the next nineteen years.

Hardin along with Owens qualified for the Olympic team at the trials in Randall’s Island, N.Y. in 1936. Owens was certainly a good bet to win his three individual events—the 100, 200 and long jump—in Berlin, and Hardin was close to a sure thing for a gold medal in the 400 hurdles where in the final of six runners, Hardin drew the outside lane. U.S. Teammate Joe Patterson, running from the inside, went out so fast that he was actually ahead of Hardin at the half-way point despite the difference in the staggered start, but in the third 100 meters, Hardin surged past Patterson and entered the final straight one meter ahead of John Loaring of Canada. He held the lead to win the gold at 52.4.

Hardin retired from athletics after a failed effort to organize a professional track circuit, married in 1937 and settled in Baton Rouge, never finishing his degree at LSU. He worked for the Ethel Corporation and his wife taught high school history. In the late 1960s he began to travel for the state overseeing voting machines. His second oldest son, Billy, was also an NCAA champion hurdler for LSU in the 1960s and made the Olympic team in 1964 for his dad’s event, the 400 m. hurdles. Glenn Hardin died in Baton Rouge, 1975.

 

Visiting Jackson

In this short excerpt from his Journals, artist and naturalist John James Audubon, who knew the older cities of the state on the Mississippi well, describes his only visit to Mississippi’s new capital city on the Pearl.

May 1, 1823 – “I left the bayou on a visit to Jackson, which I found to be a mean place. The hotel atop the bluff was the lowest sort of dive, a rendezvous for gamblers and vagabonds. Disgusted with the place and the people, I left and returned to my wife in Natchez.”

Contemporary visitors echo Audubon’s impressions; Anthony Bourdain called it a “ghost town.”  Jackson is still a mean place, in every sense of the word, crippled by petty avarice and racial tension.

Nannie Faulkner’s Beaten Biscuits

This image from A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi (The Clarion-Ledger: 1980) accompanied an article by Dean Faulkner Wells, “The biscuits Nannie and Callie baked for the boys.” Into 1 qt. sifted flour work well 1 tblespn each lard, butter and teaspn salt. After well worked moisten with 1/2 pt. (sweet) milk and make stiff dough. Beat by hand. Bake quickly.

Sansing’s History of Calhoun County, Mississippi

David Sansing was—and remains—a towering figure among Mississippi historians. A native of Greenville, Sansing received his Bachelor and Masters degrees from Mississippi College and his PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi. He began teaching at Ole Miss in 1970. Sansing wrote about various aspects of the state’s history in eleven books. He wrote this history of Calhoun County in 1959 for his master’s thesis at MC.

Why Sansing, a Delta native (and of Greenville at that) chose Calhoun County, which is in the hill country of the state, for his thesis study presents something of a mystery to those of us familiar with Delta/hill contention, but he give us a clue: “Calhoun County has changed very little in the last fifty years.” Perhaps for Sansing, the county provided the opportunity to document a place thus far sheltered from the winds of change he saw coming swept through the state. We natives of Calhoun should take great pride in having our past documented by a giant of Mississippi history.

David Sansing: A History of Calhoun County

Photo by Robert Jordan

Home to the Flowers

The most evocative personal memoir to come out of Calhoun County, Mississippi, Home to the Flowers is described as an “anecdotal history” in Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967, and though it’s certainly populated with folk tales—some of them quite “earthy”—Smith’s account of his life in the area during the first two decades of the 20th century is lyrical and poignant, the detailed observations of an educated man living in a quasi-frontier setting.

Tilmon Henry Smith, son of Tilmon Holley and Fannie Hawkins Smith, was born in 1883 in Water Valley, Mississippi, and received his M.D. from the University of Tennessee in 1915. He began practicing medicine in Banner, Mississippi in 1915. He moved to New London, Ohio in 1922 where he remained until his death in 1969. His memoir, Home to the Flowers was published privately in 1964.

When Smith was six, the family moved to Pittsboro, where his father was postmaster before becoming pastor of a church in Ellzey, where they built a home, he remembers his mother surrounded with flowers, particularly roses. Young Smith attended the school there, which was established by brothers W.T. and B.G. Lowery and T.C. Lowery, who later founded Blue Mountain College. When still a boy, he and his brother started a brick manufacturing business and built the J.D. Richards store in Vardaman, which is still standing. Smith moved to Vardaman in 1901 after his father’s death. He was still in the brick business, but he also worked on Mississippi river barges and as a logger in Yazoo County to help support the family. He attended Meridian Medical College, and graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School after a short stint in the Chicago School of Medicine. He served as the health inspector for Calhoun County throughout World War I and beyond.

Here he recounts the struggles of the people of Calhoun in the early decades of the 20th century against typhoid and the devastating influenza epidemic of 1918:

“One must realize the primitiveness of our existence to understand. These people had no indoor water supply or toilet facilities. Water was secured from a well in the yard, or a spring or a creed–often a quarter of a mile away. Toilet facilities were at best an outdoor privy in the back yard. Many times, during this period, my first duty upon arriving at the patient’s home was to bring buckets of water from the spring and remove the offal from another bucket beside the bed.

This time of trial and ordeal gave me an abiding faith in people. They exhibited gallantry far beyond the call of duty. Some people had a mysterious resistance to the flue germ. A dozen people would be stricken down around them and they would nurse and care for them all. When this group was reasonably comfortable and cared for, they would walk to miles to minister to other friends or relatives who had no well person to look after them. Some people cut and ran. They used all sorts of low excuses, but it came down to the fact that they were overwhelmed by the solid fear of death. I was continuously amazed by those who really had the sand, as well as those who did not. There were so many heroes and heroines in this terrible tragedy that all cannot possibly be mentioned, but some of my expected friends let me and themselves down, as well as their dependents. I do not remember this with bitterness or condemnation, but with pity.

During the epidemic the community drunk, faced with adversity, found himself and became one of the noblest men of my acquaintance. He sobered up for the first time in years and walked the roads giving help to all in need. It was not unusual to find him carrying water to the sick in one community, and a day later he would be ten miles away cutting wood to warm another family, both of which had probably ignored him in the past. It was just as astounding to find a logging camp lady of the evening bending over the sickbed, tending the sick with all the tenderness of a Florence Nightingale. My dear old mother always referred to her in a disdainful manner as a scarlet woman. I thanked God for this scarlet woman, and learned again that nobility of the soul is sometimes lodged in strange places.”

Fannie Hawkins Smith