When I showed Willis this photo of a white fruitcake he sneered in disdain.
“See how they’re pushing that post-menopausal philosophy so innocently,” he said, dangling a beer in his left hand and a cigarette in the right, “even going so far as to bleach such a dark, nutty intensely sensual confection.”
“Willis, It’s a just fruitcake, for Pete’s sake.”
“Oh, yes,” he said with a wink. “It’s also symbolically homophobic, exclusive of anything of a sexual nature. Short of an old white woman, it’s the very physical expression of spinsterhood.”
“You can’t deconstruct a fruitcake, Willis.”
Jack Myers stood at the forefront of gay rights in Mississippi for over fifty years, running a series of gay bars and clubs in the capital city of Jackson. In this interview Myers talks about the many places he ran and shares his memories of others.
This all started back when I was in high school, we’re talking 1962-63. I finished radiology school, lived in Memphis for a while, lived in Eupora for a while, worked at the state hospital and at the VA. While I was at the VA they sent me to Duke for a year for in-service training, and was hoping for a position in Jackson, but they never got the position open, and I gave them 30 days to decide if they were going to give me more money, but they just kept putting it off, so I left after 30 days.
The first gay bar I can recall going to was called the Sportsman’s Lounge. You go down here and you turn on Mayes Street, Cowboy Malone’s used to be right there by the tracks, and there’s a little bitty building on the other side of the track and it was called the Sportsman’s Lounge. As a matter of fact, I had my 21st birthday there. I worked there when I was… it was in ’60-something. I was in X-ray school at UMC at the time. There have always been clubs in Jackson that weren’t openly gay but where gay people were welcome. I remember T.C. Schilling, one of the first people I met when I came out here, he used to own Jackson Commercial College, and he talks of some places that he used to go and one was down there on West Capitol Street, and there was a place off Robinson Road, you know where East Ford used to be? Where Robinson Road crosses Hwy. 80? If you leave here and go out Robinson Road you’ll cross Ellis Avenue, and right before you get to Hwy. 80 on the left facing Hwy. 80 used to be East Ford. You get behind the Ford place and you turn right, there’s a long road that goes through there, and he said he used to go to a place, there was a woman that had a bar out there. He said she’d take up for the gays in a minute, wouldn’t let anybody bother anybody. And there’s a lot of (gay) people I know used to go to the Walthall Hotel downtown. That was in the ‘60s.
I worked at the Sportsman’s Lounge, then he closed that bar and opened a place on McDowell Road where the police shooting range is now. That was all wooded then, it had a drive that went up to this big old house; it was called the Mansion. The guy lived upstairs, and one side of the downstairs was the bar. And if the sheriff’s department or the police came by and two guys and two girls were dancing, they’d just switch partners.
I know when I first came out, on Woodrow Wilson, where you take a left and get on Bailey Avenue, they took several old houses and made them into businesses and there was a place called Chez Pierre’s that was gay-friendly. The Glass Kitchen on Five Points was a popular restaurant. When I was in school at UMC from ’64-66 all of us who were in school would go to Delta Drive because they’d taken a lot of old houses up there and turned them into bars and they had bands, you took your own bottle, they only sold beer. There was the Pepper Mint Twist Lounge, the Hilltop A-Go-Go, the Sirloin Room; the Sirloin Room always had this great band called the Poppas.
I can’t remember the exact year I opened my first bar, but it was in the early ‘70s. It was on Delta Drive, now Martin Luther King Drive. And I moved from there downtown to the old Wagon Wheel which was on Capitol and Farish Streets upstairs. The entrance was on Farish. Then we bought the old Amite Theatre. It was behind Jack’s Saloon, it was on the corner of Amite and Roach; they were back-to-back. There was a Dr. Wade Windham who opened a bar there, a straight bar called the City Dump, I think it was. They took old cars and made benches and booths out of them. We sold them all for scraps. We completely remodeled it.
Bill’s Disco (black bar) was on the corner of Amite and Mill Streets there by the train station. It was called the Interchange when we had it. I’m thinking that when the old theatre burned we moved there and called it the Interchange and Bill Rimes ran it for us… well, the old theatre was called Bill’s Disco and it burned in 80-something. And then we moved on the corner across the street to that small building, opened it was the Interchange on Amite. They tore the old Amite Street Theatre down and built that monstrosity in the back; I can’t remember what it’s called (This is the catty-corner building on the corner of Roach and Amite.)
The dance bar on Capitol was Jack and Jill’s. It wasn’t the first bar; it was the first big dance bar. I don’t know if it was this article (in a local paper), but there was also one in the Washington Post that quoted me as saying that I had the first (gay) bar in Jackson, and no, I didn’t. There were bars years before I had one here. There was a girl bar where Amite Street gets to Capitol and crosses Capitol and turns into Robinson Road. I’m thinking that’s where it was. The road that goes by the train station, Amite, comes in (at an angle) there and crosses Capitol. There’s a little bar that sits there, there’s a parking lot out front. There’s been a bar there for years, but there was a girl that had it for a while. Her name was Polly Wilmer. In fact, I hadn’t seen her in years and Harry and I went by the Waffle House to get something to eat and this girl came by and said, “Are you Jack Myers?” I said, “Yeah.” “Well, this is Polly Wilmer,” she said. Oh, my God, I hadn’t seen her in years, and she’d gotten big, huge and she used to be a little tiny thing. We talked for a while; she used to have that bar, it was on Robinson Road, I think, used to be a Waffle House or something that sat right in here. It wasn’t Mississippi Street.
When I first opened Mae’s Cabaret on Delta Drive, now Martin Luther King, we got some hassle from the police. I was working at the Raincheck on Northside Drive; going west on Northside drive, you cross over the train tracks and as soon as you crossed over the tracks you took a left and there used to be a brickyard there. The only thing left there was an office; it was very small. It had a nice-sized room in the front, and a nice-sized room in the back, but to get to the back, you had to go through a hallway where the bathrooms were. And then you had the back room, where people could dance. When the police came in, the lady who ran the door would push a button under the desk and a light would flash and everybody would know to sit down. Because in order to have a dance license, you had to have an emergency exit off the dance floor, and there wasn’t a door back there. But one of the policemen said something to Doris about, “We know you have that light,” and she said, “I’m not worried about having a door back there, you know, trying to hem in a queen… (laughter).”
Doris wanted me and her to go into business, I worked with her for a long time, she wanted to open up a bigger place. I think I got a mortgage on my house; I had it paid for. So we opened up the place (Capitol and Farish?), and the police chief said, “The only thing I ask, you know, it’s fine having the show, but I want someone from vice and narcotics to come see the show.” And he did. It was Officer Fitzgerald. After that was over, he said, “Man, I don’t see anything wrong with these shows.” And I said, “Well, I did the right thing, paid the first people off when you told me not to have a show, and sent them back to Atlanta, but it’s not a strip show.” He said, “Well, I see that now, but somebody told us you were going to have a strip show.” That’s when we saw the chief and he said if the church could have their womanless wedding, then we could have a drag show.
When we had the old Amite Theatre downtown, we had a bunch in a pickup came by, they did not get out, just came by yelling stuff out to us. That’s the only incident we ever had like that. We always had off-duty city policemen working for us. Just a uniform; they could wear their uniforms. 95% of our protection was just them being at the bar. If you had an off-duty policeman working for you, you had to carry liability insurance and name the Jackson police department on that policy. That’s how you got to hire them. If you’re going to use a policeman, they want their ass covered. It wasn’t that expensive. It either paid a half a million or a million.
(In Jack’s bars) Momma and Daddy ran the door. And if Momma didn’t recognize you, the first thing she’d say was, “This is a gay bar, you’re welcome, and if you don’t like it or whatever, you can leave. If you cause trouble, we have a policeman here.” If it was someone (like a public figure) who might be looking around to see what was going on, she’d tell them not to be nervous, to come on in. Well-known people who were on the make’d go to New Orleans or somewhere like that where nobody could see them. People would come to me all the time and say, “I saw So-and-so (in this gay bar) in New Orleans.” They couldn’t come out up here but they could down there.
On August 21, a Notice of Intent was presented to Mississippi Landmarks Coordinator Katherine Anderson at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History. This notice was to inform her and the Historic Preservation division of MDAH that the owners of Smith Park, “the city of Jackson” intended to alter the park, which had been declared a Mississippi Landmark this past April 21. The notice reads, “In 1972 (sic) a concrete ‘creek’ was installed at Smith Park. This abandoned creek needs to be removed and filled in and sodded. It is dangerous at it is and non-functioning. This will generally double the size of the usable park, also smooth out berms and use dirt for filling in creek.” The date cited for initiation of this alteration is November 1.
Though the notice bears a stamped signature of Mayor Lumumba, the original was presented to Ms. Anderson by John Kane Ditto III. What this document proposes is nothing less than a razing of the park, essentially the first phase in the so-called renaissance that the “Friends of Smith Park” (of whom Ditto III is a charter member) have been planning, a makeover that would destroy the historical elements of the park (e.g. the Order of the Eastern Star Memorial, the iconic A-frame stage and the 1900 monument on the southwestern edge) and reduce its landscaping to a featureless, treeless plaza, nothing more than a nexus of concrete walks. The Notice of Intent states that the “creek”, which is actually a symbolic model of the Pearl River conceived by award-winning landscape designer Rick Griffin, has become “abandoned, ignored, a trash ‘receptacle’, dangerous and non-usable”. The fountains and pools are in fact functional, and they are no more “abandoned and ignored” or “dangerous and non-usable” than any number of many other features of downtown Jackson, Mississippi.
In affirming this document, Mayor Antar Lumumba–a self-confessed champion for the homeless–has abandoned his pledge to be mayor for “all the people” of Jackson and has thrown in his lot with the moneyed interests in the city, particularly those of Downtown Jackson Partners, a state-ordained fiefdom of Ben Allen, and the Dittos, who own the only available commercial property (200 North Congress) adjacent to the park. If this Notice of Intent is approved by the 9-member Mississippi Department of Archives & History board of trustees, which as it so happens is presided over by John Kane Ditto, Jr., then the last remaining greenspace in downtown Jackson will become a featureless “McPark”, without character, without history and without shade. If you, the citizens of Jackson, let your city government do landscaping for John Kane Ditto père et fils, then you’re a bigger bunch of suckers than I think you are.
The old Power School closed in 1954 because of structural problems. The following year a new Power opened at 1120 Riverside Drive with the same faculty and continued providing traditional elementary education until a significant and ultimately landmark event occurred in the early 1980’s. Funding was secured through an Emergency School Aid Act grant (ESAA Magnet), written By Dr. Swinton Hill, assistant superintendent for federal programs, with assistance by Joyce Holly. This program brought $1.2 million to the Jackson Public Schools. From September 1981 to June 1982, an initial block grant of $396,000 from this fund was used to introduce a new Academic and Performing Arts Complex (APAC) into the fourth and fifth grade curriculums. It also opened the door for additional funding for Bailey Magnet and Murrah High Schools, which would become key contributors to this farsighted educational network.
Dr. Jean Simmons, coordinator of the Power APAC Performing Arts Division, joined the academic planning in the early fall of 1981 as the program was being developed and put together a curriculum drawn from the expertise of each department chair and faculty. Her efforts established credibility with local professional area arts organizations, educational institutions and the general public.
All Jackson students are welcome to audition and test for inclusion in the APAC program regardless of income or background. Former student Amber Williams, a 2013 Power APAC student, credited the program for her developing interest in dance. “Power APAC influenced my interest in fine arts of all forms, especially dance. Dancing is my personal form of expression and artistic vision. Since enrolling in Power, I decided to add dancing to my academic pursuits.” Amber continues in her field of interest today having gained the ability to focus on her strengths and talents in order to make beneficial decisions concerning her future.
The four areas of the performing arts in which Power APAC shares instruction with Bailey and Murrah are dance, drama, music and the visual arts. In these areas Power has partnered with numerous Belhaven neighborhood and Jackson institutions to bring first hand experiences to students. Some of these organizations are New Stage, Belhaven University, Mississippi Museum of Art, ETV, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Mississippi Opera. Local artists with whom students have worked include Miss Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker Alexander, Beth Henley, Mary Ann Mobley, Gary Collins, Sam Gilliam, Ed McGowan, Jamie Wyeth and Leontine Price.
Power APAC has prospered under the leadership of school Principal Marlynn Martin who came to Power in June 2010 after a distinguished career in academia and school administration. The school has received a multitude of honors from local and national sources including the distinguished John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Schools of Distinction in Arts Education Award in 2010-11 and recently was designated a 2016-18 Exemplary School by the Arts School Network, the largest professional membership organization of specialized arts schools in America.
Old Power and Power APAC have been part of Belhaven’s basic education fabric for over 100 years. Regardless of the time and circumstance both share the goals of preparing our children for the world of their day and structuring their lives in order to achieve their maximum potential. They have been and are graced by excellent teachers and administrators dedicated to making society better than they found it in their own day. From Miss Marcia Gibbs to Dr. Marylynn Martin, the mission of each administration has been to teach children and encourage them to reach their highest level of achievement. John Logan Power would be proud of his namesakes and our neighborhood and city owe much to that fine name.
New Stage Theater began its life at 7:30 p.m. January 25, 1966, in a converted Seventh Day Adventist Church at the corner of S. Gallatin and Hooker Streets. It was a cold night, temperature 25 degrees, and what little heat generated in the building found ways to escape through cracks under its doors. Its first production was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a radical production for its time.
The theater was created the previous fall by a farsighted group of nine, Ford and Jane Reid Petty, Patti and Carl Black, Howard and Beth Jones, Kay and Jim Childs and Jackson Daily News Amusement Editor Frank Hains. According to Jim Childs, New Stage had three goals: the establishment of a serious theater with a professional director, staff and actors who produced contemporary works selected for their artistic merit; a theatrical forum open to all and a theater where you did not have to join and become a member to attend productions. Jane Reid Petty was the driving force behind the group who hired New Yorker Ivan Rider as its first director.
New Stage was a groundbreaker in Jackson during the 1960s. Not only did it bring productions of a modern and sophisticated content but through an association with Tugaloo College, courageously faced the issues of integration and civil rights associated with the arts.
No new artistic venture with any degree of unconventional mission could have survived and thrived during those formative years without influence. Eudora Welty, already well known and respected in the literary community, joined the New Stage board in 1970, placing her name among its roster of artists. Several members of the Tougaloo College faculty lent their names to the new enterprise as well as members of the theater department at Jackson State University. In the early 2000s, Bill McCarty, III, of the prominent Jitney Jungle family, stepped up from his role as a volunteer board member to full time general manager. Without Bill’s tireless work and family financial support New Stage would not be what it is today.
New Stage moved to Belhaven in 1978 when it acquired the Little Theater building and mortgage at the corner of Whitworth and Carlisle Streets. Today it serves a community far beyond Jackson as more than 35,000 Mississippians attend performances each year. It boasts a statewide educational touring program, school fest matinees for students, performs in touring shows and sponsors youth productions of Shakespeare in the Park each spring. In 1995, the theater’s education program received the Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Today, New Stage produces five main stage shows per season, has a 41 member board of trustees and is supported by ticket sales, grants, subscriptions and hundreds of financial donations from throughout the state.
While topical in its productions, New Stage does not hesitate to occasionally step back in time for a historical perspective. It recently concluded a record breaking performance of the Million Dollar Quartet which featured the music of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Nightly packed houses stood and cheered those magical memories and artists from 60 years ago. From Virginia Woolf to Jerry Lee is quite a stretch, but for over four sold out weeks, there was a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Virginia Woolf would have enjoyed it too had she been there.
We can’t leave this topic without a tribute to Jackson’s Little Theater. This amateur collection of volunteer actors and directors began its life on Carlisle Street in 1925. An outgrowth of similar European theater movements of the 1880s and 90s, it had its genesis in 1911 and 1912 with the formation of theaters in Boston, Chicago and New York. The movement reached Jackson in 1924 in the person of Margaret P. Green who organized the Little Theater Players of Jackson the following year. Its non-profit mission was to cultivate, advance and promote education in dramatic literature, expression and art. It did so for 53 eventful years.
In those 90 plus years when young and old took their friends and families to first the Little Theater and later New Stage they must have done so with a subliminal understanding of what William Shakespeare wrote so many years before:
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.”
As You Like It, II,vii
For four generations the Belhaven neighborhood has had the privilege of attending plays and musicals down on Carlisle Street. Many famous playwrights, actors, directors, audiences and supporters have passed through its doors and played their roles for entertainment and historical enlightenment. The curtain is set to rise on New Stage’s 52nd season, just another attraction to one of America’s great neighborhoods.
Baptist Medical Center Jackson has evolved since its inception in 1908, when Doctors Harley Shands and John Farrar Hunter united in a successful effort to provide Jackson’s first true brick and mortar medical facility. It has since grown from its origin at the southeast corner or Manship and State Streets to a six block long complex running from Fortification to Marshall. It is now Mississippi’s premier health provider. In addition to the main campus in Belhaven, there are 21 Center clinics with 107 providers in the metro area. With the addition of the clinics and the medical center, the entire organization has been named Mississippi Baptist Health Systems.
A 2016 report to the community shows a facility with 3,000 employees and approximately 500 physicians on the medical staff. Net revenue was $454 million with approximately $18 million in charity care.
The modern day Baptist has embarked on a multitude of local health projects. These include the Baptist Medical Office Building containing 13 specialty clinics, expansion of woman’s and cardiovascular services, a Madison Performance Center, a joint venture with MS Sports Medicine and SouthStar, and the Belhaven Building, a multipurpose facility, which opened in 2013 in concert with Landmark Healthcare. This building was constructed to accommodate a variety of professions and residents. It currently houses the Manship Restaurant, a Trustmark Bank, a parking garage and is backed on the south end with 11 luxury townhouses (Belhaven Village).
On May 1, 2017, Mississippi Baptist Health Systems signed a shared mission agreement with Baptist Memorial Health Care in Memphis. As a result of this agreement, Baptist Memorial became Mississippi’s fourth largest employer and the largest health care system in the state. Baptist Memorial hospitals offer patients in all areas access to the region’s largest network of doctors and specialists.
In February 2018, Baptist will launch an electronic medical record called Baptist OneCare. The software powering this program is used in integrated health networks, community hospitals, academic medical centers and children’s organizations. Its biggest convenience for patients is “My Chart”, a free app assessable via Smartphone or computer, allowing patients to schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, direct message their care providers, access lab results and much more.
As a good corporate citizen, Baptist continues to provide charitable support to community and philanthropic organizations. These include the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Head for the Cure brain cancer research, March of Dimes and Baptist Foundation’s annual Cyclists Curing Cancer Century Ride in September.
The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation and its constituency owe much to Baptist Medical Center. More than 16 years ago, Baptist and the Foundation began a partnership to preserve and enhance Greater Belhaven. Many of the improvements and benefits we see each day in our neighborhood were made possible through this partnership.
Baptist Medical Center has received numerous recognitions for its health care performance. In 2017, Healthgrades named the center one of America’s 100 best Hospitals for orthopedic surgery and one of the nation’s 50 Best Hospitals for vascular surgery. In addition, for two years in a row, Baptist received Healthgrades Outstanding Patient experience Award.
Awards were not limited to physicians and specialists. In 2017, after ten years of work, the hospital received the nation’s top honor for nursing excellence called the “Magnet”, given by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, an affiliate of the American Nurses Association. It was the only hospital in Mississippi to receive this designation.
There have been a number of other awards and recognitions received by Baptist Medical Center whose early health care developers had the foresight to lay the path for a long and eventful journey. There will be a number more to come. (6)
What would Dr. Shands think of his and Dr. Hunter’s idea spawned over a century ago? He is not here to tell us but in an interview with his granddaughter Susan Shands Jones, she felt she knew. “My grandfather was a stern but very professional man. He cared deeply for his patients and their families. When he was not growing camellias he was doing surgery and would be quite impressed with today’s modern and well-equipped surgical suites and how much heart treatment has improved”.
Baptist is coming up on its 109th year of service to the health needs of our community and state. Yet, the facility remains a good neighbor and enthusiastic supporter of our own future right here in the neighborhood where it first began.
Belhaven University has come a long way from Louis Fitzhugh’s dream of a Christian girl’s school in 1894 and that hot, windy afternoon in 1910 when the college’s second president Dr. James Rhea Preston’s daughters watched fire consume that dream a second time only leading to a third on the Peachtree campus in 1927. The college has survived these conflagrations, a depression economy, elusive accreditation, myriad ownership and four name changes. The school became a University in 2009.
Today’s Belhaven University is a private four-year liberal arts institution and occupies a Jackson campus composed of 42 acres. The site is bounded by Peachtree Street, Pinehurst and Greymont Avenues and Belvoir Place. It is composed of classrooms, residence halls and administrative buildings, a lake, a bowl stadium, a pavilion, a commons and lighted fountain. Every four years the City of Jackson hosts the International Ballet Competition and Belhaven University provides lodging for a majority of its participants from throughout the world.
As of 2017, there are a total of 4,500 Belhaven students, 1,200 traditional with approximately 600 living on the Jackson campus and 1,000 adult students on the LeFleur Campus in Ridgeland. Twenty-three hundred adult studies and graduate students are enrolled on campuses in Memphis/Desoto County, Houston, Orlando, Chattanooga/Dalton County and Atlanta, plus participating in an ongoing online program.
The school is a member of NCAA Division III, belonging to the Mid-South and Southern States Athletic Conference. In 1929, the college library of 2,000 books was short of sufficiency for accreditation. The Hood Library now has 115,000 volumes and 500 periodicals.
The Jackson campus has 88 faculty members including 68 with doctorates or terminal degrees. There are 54 undergraduate and eight graduate studies programs available with a wide variety of concentrations ranging from health administration to human resources. Associate degree programs are available as well. The Adult and Graduate Program, located in a facility on I-55 north in Jackson, provides an encouraging educational environment where adult graduate students can complete their degree while maintaining their careers and personal lives.
In just a brief time period, Belhaven University has experienced growth in all three areas of academic excellence – traditional, adult and online. The adult and graduate components have added four locations (the newest this year in Madison). The traditional campus on Peachtree has expanded Fitzhugh Hall to accommodate its nursing and science studies. In addition the school has built an international center, upgraded the athletic bowl to a state of the art multipurpose stadium, built an apartment style residence hall, added a 43,000 square foot visual and dance center, a walking trail and by 2018 will have a brand new track. A University Center for the Arts at 835 Riverside has been adapted to host musical and fine arts events. The entire metro area looks forward each December to the University’s Singing Christmas Tree.
Belhaven University is more than keeping pace with the times and demands of today’s education. It, along with First Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Medical Center and Power APAC School form the cornerstones of the special place in which we live.
This has been a brief history of our Belhaven Neighborhood from 1894 to August 2017. But like all accounts it cannot cover all facets of its legacy. Older citizens will remember the old blind institute at the northwest corner of State and Fortification streets where neighbor children would slide down it corkscrew fire escape although their mothers had told them not to. Further down on the west side of State Street was the old charity hospital and its park where kids from Davis and Power Schools would meet to play baseball in the spring, and to the north, Beth-Israel Cemetery (1860) and the site of several prominent family homes now gone. On the east side were Jess Willoughby’s Barber Shop and Patterson Drugs, about where McDonalds is today. Further down was Morris Pharmacy, now the Manship Restaurant, Jitney Jungle # 9 and the Snack Shop near Poplar. The wonderful Parkin Pharmacy, originally part of English Village and later a standalone where Lou’s serves lunch and dinner may remind some of John Archie and the “pill wagon” that delivered prescriptions to our homes. All have given way to progress but remain part of our heritage.
We know that what is the present today is history by the morning sunrise. With this in mind, there will be an additional segment on how our neighborhood’s future is being shaped and assured by far-reaching creativity and planning on the part of capable leadership and our residents’ faith in its vision. Look for it soon. You might find yourself in its picture.
Copyright: Bill and Nan Harvey 2017
I was always interested in art, but it wasn’t until 2000, when I was in my mid-thirties that I began going to galleries and taking a serious interest in painting. When I was living in Monroe, La., a local college was offering a painting class through their community enrichment program, so I signed up for a course, six hour-long sessions, and I became hooked at that point. I completed one painting in that course, and after that put it down for a while. Not long after that I was driving through my neighborhood there and saw an easel set up in a window. I found out a lady was teaching a class there, so I took that. We painted from photographs of old masters and I didn’t like painting from a photograph even back then. I learned how to mix paints, some composition, and basic things.
Shortly after that, I moved back to Jackson, this was 2007, I was painting on my own, improving basically by trial and error, still painting from images and still life, but I wanted to be legit, I didn’t want to be just basically copying somebody else. My uncle, who had taken art from Bob Tompkins, saw my paintings and said I should go see Tompkins. He was very helpful; he just didn’t go as far as I wanted to go. I wanted to paint the landscape. I asked him about that once, and he said that he was a studio painter.
But I wanted to paint outside; the artists I was drawn to painted on location from life. So I took a workshop from Roger Dale Brown in Nashville, who is a very well-known plein air painter, and I learned a ton from him about painting outside. After that, I struck out on my own and simply painted what I saw. My still lifes were very tight, very realistic; but when you’re painting outside, you don’t have a lot of time to fuss around because you only have like an hour or an hour and a half before the light changes. The painting of Fenian’s was different for me. I wanted to try painting at night, which has never really worked out well, but I was riding around, saw the rain, found a good place to stand, and really the subject isn’t so much Fenian’s as it is the atmosphere, the feel of the street, the clouds, the telephone poles.
The one in Vicksburg is different because it’s earlier in the day than I usually paint; I rarely paint in the middle of the day. It was also cloudy, and I couldn’t find a sunny spot to paint, and I like to paint when there’s a lot of sun. I like light and dark and shadow. I wanted to paint with the sky as the subject, the main part of the painting. The sun had come out a bit, but the light wasn’t as intense as what I normally paint. I visited Wyatt Waters recently, and I asked him about painting things that don’t really inspire me. I asked him if he had a hard time finding something to paint when he’s not inspired, and he said, “Inspiration is for amateurs; you’ve got to get out there and start painting and the inspiration will come.” So I’ve been trying to make myself paint even when I’m really uninspired.
When I moved to Belhaven, I wasn’t impressed and thought about leaving, but I kept putting it off. Then I started painting outside, and I fell in love with it. When I first moved here, I was thinking I simply wanted to paint landscapes. I didn’t want any man-made structures in a painting. I wanted it to look like an old master painting with nothing modern in it at all. There’s a dictum in art about not painting anything that’s beautiful, that you really can’t improve on it, and I think there’s something to that. I like stuff that’s funky and gritty. Now I really don’t want to paint anything unless it has a city street or a sidewalk or a telephone pole in it. It all kind of came together moving here. Being immersed in a locale, you see more.
I’m not much for change, and I’ve stuck with the same basic palette Bob Tompkins taught me; I even still set it up the same way he showed me. But Jarrod Partridge was a big help to me developing my palette because he studied under the colorists, like a of Mississippi painters. Sammy Britt, Richard Kelso, John Pat Marbury all studied under Henry Hensche, whose lineage goes back to William Merritt Chase. Jarrod helped me with my color, and I need good color because I want to make beautiful paintings, but still the most important elements to me are the light and dark, the contrast. I think someone would say I’m a tonalist, working with light and dark. I’ve heard it said that if the light and dark are correct, that the colors will work no matter what they are, but I consider myself just someone who paints what he sees.
Now that you don’t have everybody nagging at you six ways from Sunday about everything under the sun, maybe you’ll have time to read a little letter of thanks.
This might not mean that much to you since I’ve only lived in Jackson for fifteen years, but whenever I go to the Welty Library, I see your name on the dedication plaque near the door and the date—February 10, 1986—and I think how remarkable it is that you served on the city council for almost four decades. Now, I’m just a hillbilly hack and a lot of people are probably going to jump on me because they don’t think it’s my place to say so, but I think it sheds a bad light on the people of Jackson that nobody has given you a proper send-off after all your years of public service. Oh, I heard they had some little piddling thing in chambers at the city hall, but back where I come from we’d prop you up in a red Cadillac convertible, tote you around the town square a time or two and feed you a nice chicken dinner. Of course, you’d probably have to listen to every pompous ass in town say something, too, but God knows you’re used to that.
I also want to thank you for being a good neighbor. You and Al always stop by the garden on the corner when you see me out in it (more often than not with my fanny in the air) to ask me about what I have growing and how I did this or did I want something y’all had. It tickled me to pieces when Al told me you’d asked him what that white fluffy stuff was I had growing in the big concrete bowl. He said you’d probably never seen cotton growing up close because you’re a city girl, and don’t you fuss at him for telling me, either; four out of five people who pass by the garden in the fall ask the same thing. You both have always had a kind word, and that means a lot to someone with no family in a city full of strangers.
Thank you, Margaret, and I’ll get around to bringing you some zinnias once they get good and started. I planted that cactus kind this year!
With much fondness and gratitude,
This is a third in a series of articles on the Belhaven neighborhood by Bill and Nan Harvey. In it we look at some of our early institutions and neighbors who frequented them. Some are gone, some still remain; here’s their history.
Miss Eudora Welty (1909-2001) is generally acknowledged as Belhaven’s greatest literary treasure. A writer of true greatness and internationally recognized in that regard as well as for her Depression era photography, she was our neighbor on Pinehurst who shopped at Jitney 14, studied in our libraries, and visited along the sidewalks of our neighborhood.
Miss Welty won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1973 for The Optimists Daughter and was recognized internationally in 1996 when French Consul General Gerard Blanchot came to Jackson and pinned the red-ribboned star of the French Legion of Honor on her silk gown. Legions of articles and books have been written about Eudora Welty including a biography by Belhaven resident Suzanne Marrs. Her life and works are available in bookstores and libraries everywhere. Yet in spite of all her notoriety our famous neighbor was a gracious and humble lady whose kindness was a prime example of gentility.
There are hundreds of stories about Miss Welty, her gentle manner, and sly sense of humor. I have my own. Some of you remember the “hippie days”, when Beatle emulating young people wore their hair long, donned love beads and sported Nehru jackets. There was a restaurant at the end of South Jefferson Street which shall remain nameless, whose proprietors were of the old school. One summer evening Miss Eudora was escorted by two Belhaven College students to the establishment for dinner. The owners took one look at the young men and ordered the trio out. “We don’t serve men with long hair,” they proclaimed. Miss Welty thanked the restaurant owners and departed. Frank Hains, arts and entertainment editor for the Jackson Daily News, heard of the incident and wrote a scathing column in which he demanded an apology. Although the article could not have benefited the restaurant owners, Miss Welty defended the restaurant saying it was their right (then) to refuse service. When asked if she would return under different circumstances she smiled and evoked one of her favorite expressions, “We’d be fools if we didn’t.”
There was no facility to service automobiles in early Belhaven. Residents had to go downtown for gasoline, oil changes and minor repair work. However, that changed in 1928 when a little one pump gas station, designed by Jackson architect Hays Town was built at the northwest corner of Poplar and Hazel Streets. Through the years the little station, which resembled a miniature version of a colonial home, sold petroleum products, nostrums and notions until it closed in 1969. Architects Thomas Goodman and Sam Mockbee adapted the old station to their needs in 1978. According to Goodman, Mrs. Mathew O’Riley a Belhaven third grade teacher, named it “Shady Nook”.
Shady Nook was a way station for the neighborhood kids. Belhaven architect Bob Canizaro who lived on Kenwood, recalls he used his grass mowing money to buy fudge sickles there. Bill Harvey would meet other neighborhood kids on Saturday morning at the Nook to air up his bike tires, grab some Nabs and head for Laurel Street Park. But it was also once a popular hangout for Belhaven coeds as it sold ice cream, candy, soft drinks, peanuts, bobby pins, toiletries and….cigarettes. Today it serves as the office for Henry LaRose Realty. There were many things young ladies had to be shielded from in the 30’s and 40’s and not the least of these were cigarettes. We didn’t know as much about those things then as we do now and after all, Bogie and McCall smoked in their movies; they were stars so it had to be cool. After classes and on weekends, a few of the more daring young ladies from the college slipped down to Shady Nook to light up. No teachers or housemothers were present. Sophistication abounded. It was their refuge.
Throughout the late 1920’s and early 30’s Belhaven continued its eastward growth. Streets which had been named for individuals were now being named generically. Streets west of St. Ann and St. Mary were established but Piedmont, Howard, Divine, Myrtle, Belmont and Ivy were still in the process of being developed. One little street which ran from Riverside to Belmont no longer exists – a victim of the new interstate which eliminated it in the early 1960’s. That street was Enterprise and deserves a place in our history.
Whatever happened to Enterprise Street
One short block from head to feet.
From Belmont down to Riverside,
Eight little Houses side by side.
Like Persimmon and Olive Streets
It was one block long and 30 feet deep,
Like bigger brothers it was a part
Of children’s laughter after dark.
No curb or gutters or walk-alongs,
Just a row of Craftsman homes,
The pavement was of crushed grey slate,
Where boys and girls would roller-skate.
Over thirty years it had its place
Near the park it once did face,
And when it lost out in sixty-one
Its memory lies where the traffic runs.
Short and sweet was Enterprise Street,
No longer here for us to greet,
But like other pieces of our past
Its presence here will always last.
There are still mysteries on our streets. Some neighbors remember the little private library on the south side of the 2000 block of Laurel where concrete steps led to a side building no longer there. Where was Vinegar Bend? Was Poplar Boulevard designed to be a true boulevard with a median and sidewalks? Intersecting sidewalks leading into Poplar stop short of the street itself. Was that public land to be part of Poplar? Why was Persimmon never developed east of Greymont? Early maps show it going through to St. Ann. Were there walkways bridging the dead ends of Monroe? Where did Euclid get its name? Did Milsaps students name it for the father of geometry? Does anyone know?
In 1925, Belhaven Heights Part 2, an irregularly shaped subdivision, was platted. The subdivision bordered the Belhaven campus on the west, from Poplar north four blocks to Laurel, along St. Mary and St. Ann Streets opening up a much larger area going north to Riverside Drive and east from the college to Myrtle. Within this subdivision Jackson land developer L.L. Mayes saw an opportunity for affordable housing for young families. Mayes began the development of the Sylvandell subdivision in the late 1920’s and many of its homes of varied architectural style can be found on the east side of the 1400 block of St. Mary Street and around the southeastern corner of Laurel to what was then called Sylvandell Park.
Other developers were discouraged by the rough and hilly terrain but not Mr. Mayes then living with his family in a neoclassical home on Pinehurst. In addition to building homes he commissioned sculptor Joseph Barras, to design a concrete entrance of wide steps anchored by nymphs and leading down to the bucolic setting which became Laurel Street Park. Along the path into the park were fairy tale figures of Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf and others. Behind the homes on St. Mary and Laurel Streets were woodlands to the west and a meadow to the east. A descending natural stairway led from the white borders down to ravines, undergrowth, and two small creeks. The walkways coursed through rustic walls emulating old English countrysides. Homes were built of buff brick – trimmed in white, and topped with light, apple green tiled roofs. The homes were set among the trees, as if in a forest which was designed to make them more attractive from the street. The entranceway to what was to become Laurel Street Park was at the eastern terminus of Pinehurst Street. This stately entrance was guarded by the mythological Pan and his nymphs the remains of which are visible today.
Pan and his friends have gone back to the flocks and shepherds from whence they came and the little footbridge, children’s statues and walkways have returned to the soil. The creeks run quietly and children still play in the park but if you look carefully along the driveway at 1331 St. Mary, you will see Pan with his flute, a paean to what exists today, a subdivision whose beauty can be found nowhere else in our neighborhood.
Nearby additional developments were taking place. The Belhaven Park subdivision which includes Pinehaven, Parkhurst and River Park, platted 11/3/1939 by the Presbyterian Church USA. The Belvoir subdivision which includes Belvoir Place and Circle was platted 6/26/51 by the Belhaven College Board of Trustees. What was once the northern end of Belhaven Lake is now a sinuous tree lined street of stately homes, some the former residence of families who planted the live oaks along Riverside Drive.
Belhaven’s only church was organized April 8, 1837 by the Rev. Peter Donan and four members: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton, and Mr. and Mrs. John Robb. For two years there was only the pastor and the founding group but no deacons, elders nor individual house of worship until 1845.
The State of Mississippi owned large tracts of real estate in downtown Jackson and in the early 1800’s made land available to religious denominations in the vicinity of Smith Park. Several local churches located in this area and remain today but the Presbyterians felt preordained to exchange their tract for land at the northwest corner of State and Yazoo Streets. There they worshiped until relocating to 1390 N. State in August, 1951. The land on which the church rests today was owned by a group of developers in 1925. These were early Jacksonians S.S. Taylor, C.E. Klumb, S.K. Whitten, Jr., W.N. Watkins and H.V. Watkins. The group sold the land on December 4, 1925 to W.N. Cheney, R.S. Dobyns, Carl L. Faust, W.E. Guild and Stokes V. Robinson. The Pinehaven Realty Corporation purchased the property from this group for $12,700 on March 1, 1927. For much of the following 23 years the Pinehaven Realty Corporation maintained the land where the church stands today. A single dwelling and out building were shown on the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map. The majority of the land between Pinehurst and Belhaven Streets was vacant and remained so until purchased by the church on September 20, 1950. Prominent Belhaven resident Chalmers Alexander was instrumental in this transaction.
According to Jackson native Judge Swan Yerger, much of the north end of the 1300 block of North State was a field which served as a softball diamond for the older Power School boys who spent their recess and many hours after school on this diamond.
Two great accomplishments of First Presbyterian Church are its unwavering support of Belhaven University which ensured its survival and prosperity throughout many years and the establishment of the First Presbyterian Day School in 1965. Regardless of your religious persuasion, First Presbyterian Church is a cornerstone in our neighborhood. It draws young families to its day school, students to its chosen university and Christians to its message. In the words of John Calvin (1509-64), “Let us not cease to do the utmost so that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.”
Jitney Jungle did not begin in Belhaven but it found a home here. W.B. McCarty and Jud and Henry Holman were cousins who came to Jackson from Greenwood and opened a small grocery in 1912 at the intersection of Adelle and Grayson (Lamar) Streets. They invested a borrowed $1,000 in their business and called it Jackson Mercantile Company. Through the teens and twenties of the 20th century the young men expanded their grocery businesses, even adopting a popular slogan “Save a nickel on a quarter”. According to Mr. Will McCarty, Bill McCarty, III’s grandfather, the owners were looking for a name a bit catchier than a mercantile company. Even the later McCarty-Holman Stores nomenclature was a bit prosaic. It was a habit of Judge V.J. Stricker who lived nearby to invite the three young merchants residing at Mrs. Josephine Bailey’s boarding house on Adelle Street to his home for Sunday dinner. The merchants asked Judge Stricker to suggest a new name for their stores.
The end of the First World War saw returning soldiers anxious to buy an old car for riding about town. They called it a “jitney”, slang for a London taxicab and street jargon for a nickel. Since a cab ride to town in Jackson as well as London cost a nickel the term “jitney” was popular and it was customary for patrons to shop with “nickels jingling in their pockets”. With the store’s slogan in mind and stock in the new stores looking like “a jungle of values”, the judge suggested the merchants rename their enterprises Jitney Jungle Stores. The first store under the new name was at 423 E. Capitol Street which opened April 19, 1919. Now you know.
The 1930 Jackson City Directory shows the birth of our neighborhood Jitney Jungle on Fortification in that year. It was the 14th store in the chain and its first manager was Charles Alford. The new store was small but was developed into a “super store” through a remodeling and a formal grand opening on November 10, 1933.
Mrs. Betty Edwards, daughter of co-founder William B. McCarty said that the Belhaven Jitney made a special point of catering to women. ”When you entered the store there was a platform area to the left for ladies to sit and visit before they shopped. A woman taught knitting and ladies could sit or read. It had the first female rest room in a Jackson grocery store. There were chairs for children and inexpensive house dresses for sale in racks near the front entrance.” Ladies from some of Jackson’s most distinguished families shopped regularly at Jitney 14. They included Mrs. Emmitt (Marie) Hull, Mrs. Fred Sullins, Mrs. James Canazaro, Mrs. R.E. Kennington, Miss Eudora Welty and Mrs. Percy Weeks, Willie Morris’ grandmother, who lived across Jefferson Street. Willie spoke of the store in his 1989 book Homecomings – A Return to Christmas Gone
The new Jitney was a Tudor revival style designed by Belhaven resident and architect Emmett Hull. It later became known as English Village containing the grocery and a new drugstore owned by Price Cain. The main entrance to the store faced Fortification Street. It was the second grocery in the United States and the first in Mississippi to have air conditioning. It contained a bakery, a refrigerated meat counter and a glass front delicatessen where the beloved “Mrs. Pitts” performed her pastry creations for a number of years.
Throughout the years Belhaven’s neighborhood Jitney Jungle continued to expand, modernize and enjoy commercial success until it was purchased by a northern conglomerate in March 1996. It was later bought out by Winn-Dixie and in 2005 by Greg and Kathy McDade. In 1996, the Jitney Jungle chain’s sales volume was $1.2 billion¬, quite a return on the $1,000 investment by three young entrepreneurs 84 years before.
Growing up we called them the “pink apartments”. The flamingo-colored complex spanning the eastern side of the 1200 block of Kenwood was constructed in 1938 by Jackson architect James T. (Jack) Canizaro. What makes these units unique today is the period they represent once providing homes for some of America’s greatest generation. In conversations with Mr. Jack’s son Bob, who lives in Evanston, IL, we learn that the architecture is Art Moderne, a style copied from homes in southern California. Bob Canizaro spoke not just of the residence built by his father, that he grew up in, but of the times themselves.
“Many tenants came and went in our apartment building. There was a Dutch couple, Colonel and Mrs. Von Oven, who lived there during World War II. He was in the Royal Dutch Air Force in training at Hawkins Field. The Dutch flyboys were notorious for their antics in downtown Jackson, often flying low down Capitol Street and waving at the girls in the high rise office buildings. A woman who worked for us heard a loud noise one day, looked out the kitchen door and saw the colonel flying down Kenwood Place.” No small wonder we won the war.
Mr. Canazaro spoke of other military personnel who lived in his family apartments. “I was fond of a tenant named McGehee. He and I were regulars at the old Jackson Senators baseball games. We were close to Dr. Estelle Maguira who lived in our middle apartment. After she left, William Fulton, former director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting moved in.”
Bob and I discussed the neighborhood around the apartments as it was back in the 1940’s. He remembers Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Wright, Fred and John Reimers, John Hanley Walsh, Robert Stockett, Kirby Walker, Guy Lowe, John Potter, Gilmer Spivey, Bernard Meltzer, Tupper and Doug Drane, Howard Shannon and many others. He spoke of Mrs. Downing’s kindergarten at Poplar and Jefferson, Power School, Stockett Stables, playing ball on the Reimers “back forty” where the Kennington Home was built. He told of rubber gun wars playing in the “big ditch” which is now Belhaven Park, catching lightning bugs in a bottle and going for ice cream and sodas at Shady Nook.
There were sights and sounds then which have faded into history: the lonely whine of the GM&O diesel locomotive, the starting whistle at the Buckeye Oil Mill, lawn mowers cutting grass for money to buy comic books at Cain’s drugstore, animal sounds from the far away Jackson Zoo and the early morning cries of street vendors as they plied their wares down Manship.
The Pink Apartments are filled now with new families and young moderns seeking their own place and dreams. I would hope as they stroll the sidewalks down to Poplar or up to McDade’s they will reflect on the art of Mr. Jack Canazaro, his legacy to our neighborhood, and the times in which he lived.
Jackson, like much of America, entered its golden years in the 1950’s. Far sighted mayors Leland Speed and Allen Thompson were rapidly building a city approaching a population of 100,000. The great war for democracy had been won and with bubble gum, cars, and affordable housing once again available there was no end to what a free people could do to ensure a prosperous future.
On the northern edge of the Belhaven neighborhood, Bailey Junior High School opened in1938; winning national awards for its architectural style developed by Hays Town. The State Medical Center held its first classes on the old Highway Patrol property in 1955. Ike was president, Governor Hugh White was balancing agriculture with industry in Mississippi and the lights did not go out on Jackson’s Capitol Street until long after midnight. Meanwhile, a skinny kid from Tupelo walked into a recording studio in Memphis and sang a song for his mother that changed the course of American popular music forever.
A one-story frame commercial building with a flat roof, home of the Overby Company, sits on 1808 North State. But like so many structures that have endured 90 years it wasn’t always so. It opened as North End Grocery in 1928, named for the northern terminus of the street car line, and served a number of small commercial enterprises before becoming North State Pharmacy in 1947. It was a typical drug store, owned by a Belhaven couple whose surviving widow wishes to remain anonymous. It was the place to go before and after classes at nearby Bailey for its soda fountain and pinball machine. I have to confess, I was there myself, quite often as a teenager, in the early 1950’s. Many years later I sat down with the lady who was the co-owner and she told me a story I will share with you.
In the middle 1950’s there was no interstate system around Jackson. Highway 51 ran down North State into downtown. A traveler going let’s say from Memphis to New Orleans had to pass by North State Pharmacy and Mr. Dixon’s Texaco Station next door. One spring day in 1956 someone did.
Elvis Presley once visited the Belhaven neighborhood. Not for long but forever. My friend smiles today in remembrance of all the things we were and while the drugstore never had a jukebox, it did serve a milkshake to the king of rock and roll. According to my friend a pink Cadillac pulled into the Texaco on a fine spring morning. The occupants were a singer and his band on their way to a performance south of the city. While the car was being serviced Elvis Presley and a couple of his band members walked into North State Pharmacy and Elvis ordered a milkshake. My friend recognized the singer but said nothing. She was too dignified to make a fool of herself and besides she was pregnant. But customers in the store knew what was going on and there was a mad dash for the pay phone. Elvis and his entourage did not linger. When the car was ready they moved on, but for the remainder of the day people flooded into the store wanting to know which booth Elvis sat in and how did he look.
Our next section will show how our neighborhood matured with expanded residential and commercial growth, a dynamic education system, increased medical facilities, a theater for the performing arts and a strong network of foundations and associations that would ensure its future.
© Bill and Nan Harvey
I always thought it a very cool thing to be able to say that GlennRay Tutor, Glenn Ballard, and I took a writing workshop together in the summer of ’74. Indeed, so far as I know, it was the only writing class any of us ever took. There were other good students whose names I do not recall, but wish I could. Neither can I bring to mind the least remnant of what I learned in that class. The professor, however, was unforgettable.
He was a devilishly handsome man, funny and kind, and he seemed to know everything. Simply everything. He could summon a quote from the ether anytime he wanted. He read beautifully, both poetry and prose, and read as if the poet or writer were his best friend in all the world. He had written an actual novel (we didn’t know then about the ones he would always dismiss as “drugstore paperbacks”) published by an actual New York City house, and his short stories had appeared in actual magazines, and we boys looked on these accomplishments as commensurate with raising the dead. Nevertheless, he was humble in the presence of great writers, and treated even our sophomoric maunderings with delicacy and respect. More important, he practiced humility toward his own prodigious talent.
Our professor smoked a pipe, as all professors ought, and as most did in those vanished days. Over the years, I took every course he offered, and his routine never varied: he would arrive with his pipe and tobacco pouch and a thermos of coffee, greet everyone, open whatever book we were using, and commence to be brilliant. (He had a Nimrod Sportsman pipe lighter–the kind advertised in Field & Stream–and his old students will smile when I recall the image of that good man flicking his lighter and stoking his pipe and pouring a cup of coffee all at the same time.) He never used notes, and hardly ever wrote on the blackboard. Had there been Power Point then (God forbid!), he would have scorned it. Neither did he waste time with films or slides. He just talked, and read, and revealed the magical realm of literature to us.
Those who remember this excellent professor will be interested to know that, at long last, his life and contributions are contained in a biography: Living in Mississippi: The Life and Times of Evans Harrington (UP of Mississippi, 2017). Author and scholar Robert Hamblin knew Dr. Harrington as friend and colleague; he has drawn on that relationship, on a wide range of interviews, and on careful research to present as complete a portrait of the man as we are ever likely to have.
And what a man he was! Evans Harrington was born in Birmingham of parents who were conservative both in religion (his father, Silas, was a Baptist minister) and politics–which is to say that the elder Harringtons were Southerners of their time and generation. When Evans was three, the family moved to Mississippi, and there they remained. Young Evans grew up in the rural South of the ‘20s and ‘30s, a culture which shaped him in many ways. Harrington loved the Southern landscape; he was a skilled hunter and fisherman; he knew what it meant to work hard; he was schooled in the Bible and old-time religion; he was as mannerly and courtly and brave as any character in Swallow Barn. At the same time, he grew to manhood in a time when change was on the horizon. Like many thoughtful Southerners before him, Harrington was exposed to unexpected, often uncomfortable, insights when he left the South and joined the service in 1943. For the first time, he encountered young men from the North and West who owned different ways of thinking; when called upon to explain his region’s unique qualities, Harrington, like Quentin Compson at Harvard, discovered he could not defend many cultural elements he had taken for granted. In an interview, Harrington admitted that, by the time of his discharge in 1945, he was “already an integrationist and a defender of the blacks.”
Throughout his adult life, Evans Harrington was a champion of equal rights, not only for blacks, but for all persons protected by the United States Constitution–and this at a time when such notions might cost a Southern man his life. Nevertheless, he refused to follow many of his educated, like-minded contemporaries (including William Faulkner) in their exodus to more “enlightened” areas of the country. Hamblin takes his biography’s title from the essay “Living in Mississippi” (Yale Review, June, 1968), in which Harrington defines the extraordinary dilemma of one who insists on loving his native land in spite of itself. Harrington remained in the state he loved; throughout the tumultuous civil rights era, he fought, with ardor and passion, often at his own peril, and at considerable personal cost, for what he believed to be the only decent, humane, and just relationship among human beings.
Among the many virtues of Hamblin’s book is the decision to present different elements of his subject’s history–biographical, political, academic, and literary–as independent sections. A departure from traditional biography, Hamblin’s technique offers clarity and focus, though not at the expense of the narrative as a whole.
It well may be that Robert Hamblin’s outstanding work will find but a limited audience, since Evans Harrington’s is not exactly a household name, and it is unlikely Hamblin will make it one. This is a very great pity, for Dr. Harrington’s life would inspire anyone who values courage, honor, and the rare quality of thinking for oneself, especially when it challenges the entrenched world view of a conservative society. In any event, those lucky enough to have known Dr. Harrington will find this book a treasure indeed.
Having begun this review on a personal note, I will end it in the same fashion. I never saw eye-to-eye with our good professor on certain points of his philosophy. I continue to believe liberal thinkers of his era embraced an ideology that, while admirable, was wholly impractical. They were naïve in the sense that all are naïve who cannot imagine the unimaginable future, a fault shared by every person who ever lived. On the other hand, without idealists like Dr. Harrington, our flawed humanity would never improve, never move toward kindness and justice and mercy. We are intractable until we see our image in the mirror of history, held up to us by brave men like Dr. Harrington.
By the way, when we at last discovered the Doc had written novels under a pen name, we implored him to reveal it. Finally, one day, he did. “It’s Jacqueline Suzanne,” he said.
Thank you, Dr. Harrington. Well done, sir. May you rest in peace.