Dodging Charles

When he came out of the restaurant, turning my way and looking at his watch, I slipped into the store next door not because I didn’t want to see Charles but because I didn’t know what to say.

He looked haggard and pale, unsurprising since he’d been sick for a while, likely not to get better I’d heard, but here he was walking toward me in the same rumpled wear and with the same wrinkled brow he’d always carried.

We’d had our ins and outs, but had come to an understanding. Charles always held me under his thumb, reminding me how much of a rube I was here in Jackson, how little I’d ever know of the machinations of the city and its people and how tragic it was that I didn’t care. I still don’t care, which is why Charles helped me in any way he could with the same gusto he might give an old crutch to an in-law who’d broken an ankle.

So when I saw him that morning I tilted the bill of my cap down, hastened my step and disappeared into the store, hoping to avoid him for the present and speak with him later. I was surprised to see him on his feet, to be honest. That afternoon I heard he’d died.

I’m just going to let it go. I don’t want to deal with it right now.

WANTED! An Inclusive Flag for Mississippi – the Magnolia State

Like it or not, our current state flag is highly divisive – it is refused display EVERYWHERE, from our nation’s capitol to our own college campuses and city halls. It simply does not represent who we are, or how we want to be known. It’s inevitable that the flag will be changed.

Mississippi’s people need – DESERVE – a state flag that’s inclusive, beautiful, bold – and distinctive. A flag that says something about us as a highly diverse and proud people, and about our rich natural heritage.  A flag that says something special.

Instead of having a generic alternative forced on us like what happened during the last flag referendum, why not take the lead and expect a choice that proudly and without question represents everyone in the Magnolia State, our culture, and our diversity – both here and abroad.  Just as the flag of Texas is immediately recognized as that of the Lone Star State, and South Carolina’s as that of the Palmetto State, Mississippi – the Magnolia State – should also have a unique, beloved symbol that doesn’t need explanation. Simple yet evocative enough to be embraced by artists of all ages – including children.

A bit of background…

During our last flag referendum in 2001we were offered a choice between the current flag and a generic alternative which was rejected by many as being meaningless and bland. Its 20 stars represented the minor fact that Mississippi was the “20th state” – not much of a defining point for a state with such diverse history, culture, and pride.

A very similar new “Stennis flag” being heavily promoted also features the “20th state” stars – again, an obscure point hardly worth noting.  THE BIG PROBLEM IS – to directly quote the flag’s designer from the Stennis Flag website itself – “The centering of the blue star on the field of white is an inverted “Bonnie Blue,” a reference to the state’s secession (1861 – 1865).” This not-so-subtle nod to a ruinous period in our state’s history is tone deaf at best – if not outright unacceptable. And it most certainly should not fly with anyone who is aware of why we need a less divisive flag.

 WHY SETTLE for a generic “anything is better than what we have now” place setting flag, when the diverse people of Mississippi deserve a real choice that does not include a divisive feature? Surely we can proudly do better – with the highly cherished, instantly-recognized, Mississippi-native Magnolia flower on our precious flag! 

Can’t you just smell its sweet fragrance?

The magnificent Magnolia grandiflora (Latin for “large flower”), with its bold evergreen foliage and huge fragrant flowers, is native to every county in Mississippi and highly valued in gardens all over the US and beyond – it is featured prominently in botanic gardens across five continents! Nothing could be simpler and more meaningful than proudly celebrating this symbol on the official flag The Magnolia State!  Visitors to Mississippi are greeted by the Avenue of Magnolias; hundreds of the exotic-looking beauties have been planted by the Garden Clubs of Mississippi along every major highway entrance to our state. Since 1949 it has graced historic markers placed statewide by the MS Department of Archives and History.

Written by Felder Rushing. For more information or to join this organization, visit www.magnoliaflowerflag.org

French Market Bean Soup

Somewhere among the cuneiform tablets found scattered around Ur there’s bound to be a bean soup recipe, and likely soups using multiple varieties of dried beans have been around almost as long. This particular recipe is comparatively quite recent—it’s only been around about as long as I have, which dates it to around the time Sputnik was launched—and its connection to New Orleans’ French Market is likely speculative at best. But it is a rich, hearty winter soup, and much of its appeal is that it lends itself to gift packaging. You can easily combine these dried beans and parcel them out in jars to give away over the holidays.

A typical recipe calls for one pound each of navy beans, pinto beans, split green and yellow peas, black-eyed peas, lentils, both baby and large limas, black beans, red beans, Great Northerns, soybeans and barley pearls, but you can use whatever combination you like, the more the merrier, and a variety of colors is a plus. Divide your bean mixture into 2 cup (about a pound) gift packages, cloth sacks or jars, whichever you find most attractive. Including a couple of bay leaves in each portion is a nice touch.

You’ll also want to include the recipe: For 2 cups beans (and 2 bay leaves), place in a heavy pot with 2 quarts water, a ham joint or hock–some people use a smoked turkey neck or tail–a large onion chopped, about a cup of chopped celery and a hot pepper or two. Now, a lot of recipes will tell you to add a can of chopped tomatoes at this point, but don’t; if you do, your beans will take forever to cook. Bring to a boil and simmer until beans are soft, adding water if needed. Remove meat from bone, chop and add back to the pot. Add tomatoes now if you like along with a clove of garlic or two (crushed and minced) little thyme and basil, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cornbread or French bread.

Interview with Helen Ackle Lyons

The Lebanese community is a pillar of Jackson society, well deserving of a more comprehensive look, but this interview with Helen stands superbly on its own.

I’m first-born in this country.

My grandfather’s brother married my daddy’s sister (Ellis Joseph and Albert Joseph). Albert was married to Mary Ackle, the English spelling they gave us in Ellis Island. Other people with the background name, which means “brain” in (Levantine Arabic), spell it “Akl”. The Cherokee Inn founder was my daddy’s brother, Joseph Ackle.  The other side of the family “Aswic” (?) but they took Christian names. “Aswic” in Arabic means “black”, but the name they took was Simon. And that leads to another story; that of why they used the name “Simon”, which is of course in the Bible, as were all the names: my brother was Isaac, his brother was Joseph (Ackle).

The Simon surname comes from my mother’s uncle; he first came to this country sometime around 1900, earlier than my (Ackle) family. They came through New York. All the families I’m talking about came through Ellis Island. When the Lebanese people all have a name that maybe they spell a little different, “Ackle” can even come from the name “Hackle”. They took these names because of the pronunciation. It wasn’t clear, what with their “brogue” their accent, whatever you want to call it, some would put an “h” on it because of the guttural pronunciation. I know more because of my grandmother, my Daddy’s mother, she lived with us in Jackson. They first came to Lawrence, Massachusetts, which is a bedroom community of Boston. And the reason for that was, so many of the ethnic people stayed there in Lawrence. So many of the cemeteries are full of the Orthodox families who lived there. And one of the Joseph boys, who was Albert Joseph’s grandson, that’s my Daddy’s side of the family, they were Ackles on that side, on the Albert Joseph side. The Ellis Joseph side, though they were brothers, I was not directly kin to them, however, all of these people in Lebanon came from the eastern side of Beirut, up in the mountains.

We spoke Arabic, but not the “true Arabic”. When they came to this country and wound up down here, there was not an Orthodox church here in Jackson. The first Greek Orthodox church in Jackson did not appear until during the Forties. At that time, if you wanted to go to an orthodox church, at that time the orthodox church in Vicksburg was one of if not the oldest in the Southeast. The Lebanese people came to Vicksburg earlier than ours did to Jackson. Ellis Boudron’s family was one of the earliest Lebanese families in the country. Mary Louise Jones is my second cousin. Her daddy was my first. William P. Joseph was my daddy’s nephew. I went with my cousin William P. Joseph to Lebanon. I promised my mother’s mother, Haifa Nassah, married a Simon, original name was Aswic. The reason they became Simon is because my grandfather’s half-brother, who was a professor at the University of Beirut, came to America before the rest of them. He became a professor at the University of South Carolina.

I went to kindergarten at Poindexter. It was the only school that had a kindergarten. We moved from Farish Street to Gallatin Street and then to west Jackson when I was six years old. Clairmont Street. I was born in 1925 so that would have been in 1931. The street is no longer there. I went to Barr School. I went to Enochs Junior High, then to Central High School. I graduated in 1943. I want the emphasis on the culture. People seem to think that I’ve had a very interesting life. I married in New York City, a story that started in WWII. I can’t say that any of my other cousins had the kind of life that I had. My husband was from Pennsylvania. The only reason I was permitted to get married at that time was that my father was interested in the military because he got his citizenship by serving in the military in New York City. My father was interested in going back to Europe because when he came to this country, he left from Le Harve, France. Believe it or not, he was in the air corps in WWI he delivered mail on a motorcycle to the troops in France. That was the story my Daddy told. And he knew some French because of the French in Lebanon. When he came to America, he came because they were being starved. There was a famine, and my father remembered it. I listened to the old folks with my ear to the doors. They spoke in Lebanese among themselves.

Over the years, we have learned many things through our federation that we did not know, these things that we are learning how our culture relates to the Jewish culture. The Federation of Southern Lebanese Clubs has been in existence for about eighty years and has been a life-saver for so many people in our culture to learn from the professors that have studied our background, particularly the ones at the University of Texas. The immigrants didn’t want any emphasis put on them being Lebanese; my father hid a lot of things from us when we were children; he wanted us to grow up as Americans, and we did. He was a young man when he came to Jackson, around 10 years old. He was born in 1898 (Isaac Ackle).

Getting back to them coming to this country, they stayed in Lawrence, MA, until his mother, my grandmother and my daddy went back to Lebanon to get the youngest child who couldn’t come in on the first passage that they bought on a family passage. The little girl was younger than my daddy. I’m assuming, since he was like 10 when he did that, it must have taken them two years to go there, come back and then come South. I know that there were many Lebanese scattered in this area already. It was less developed than in the north, and they were out to make a livelihood out of what they did in the old country. They were merchants and during those days my grandfather peddled, wheeling a buggy, peddled merchandise, “notions”, Momma’s side was related to S.N. Thomas. But they all knew each other. They all came from small towns: Dufaya, Duschway, we have maps showing where they came from. They’re at the clubhouse on Cedars of Lebanon. The building has been there since I was 13. It was dedicated in 1938, July.

My grandfather Joseph Ackles was a peddler. He got to the neighboring communities in a cart with a horse. That year was probably like 1910-11. He peddled materials, dry goods, and there was a family in Jackson whose family wrote a book about Mr. S.N. Thomas, very well-known, they had a wholesale business on President Street. My mother’s mother was related to that family (you can use Billy “William” Thomas as a reference; he still doing ordering for merchants, and he is the surviving grandson of S.N. Thomas). This leads to the Buttross family in Canton.

Let me go back to the clubhouse. The reason we have a clubhouse is because we did not have a church and they wanted to keep the culture alive for their children. That was the reason for five brothers, five names that started the club by buying fourteen/twelve acres. The brothers were the Ackle brothers, two of them, Isaac and Joseph; the Sik brothers; the Joseph brothers, the Simon brothers; I don’t know who the fifth brothers were. Alfred Katool could tell you the fifth. The clubhouse was built by the WPA. And the governor of Mississippi, Hugh White, dedicated the club.

Kool-Aid Pickles

So I’m checking out at Froogle’s, and I hold up a jar of pickles and two packs of cherry Kool-Aid to my girls Meshaun and Lorita who are sitting in the motorized shopping carts up next to the front door and say, “Guess what I’m making?”

They look at one another like, “This fool don’t know what he’s doing,” and tell me first that I don’t have the right kind of Kool-Aid “You gotta use Tropical Punch” that no, you do not use the pickle juice in the jar, that you dump that out and make a quart of Kool-Aid with two packs of mix and one cup of sugar, that you shouldna’ bought whole pickles cause now you gotta slice them in half and that no, you do not need to heat it up, just pour the tropical punch in there and put it in the refrigerator for a few days and that’s all you do you big dummy.

Taste like Sweet Tarts, yes they do.

Herb-Roasted Rutabagas

The rutabaga is a mutant; it has 38 chromosomes while other turnips have 20. Some say it’s a cross between a cabbage and a turnip that originated in Bohemia in the seventeenth century, but where the hell they came up with that goes largely unexplained by any account. Rutabagas are milder and sweeter than other turnips, and you’ll find them in the supermarket coated in wax to keep them from drying out, which they do more readily than other root vegetables. This simple recipe is a wonderful alternative to the usual mashed “swedes” with enough butter to gag Paula you’ll find on a lot of cool-weather tables.

One large rutabaga, peeled and cubed into more or less bite-sized pieces, will serve four people easily. Coat the pieces in oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and granulated garlic, and bake them at 350 tossing or turning occasionally to brown evenly. When they’re just tender through, dust with dried herbs—sage, rosemary, marjoram, basil, rosemary or a combination—and continue cooking until done through. These are even more delicious the day after.

Father Dutto’s Dream

Two decades after Appomattox the prostrate South still was—and comparatively still is—largely undeveloped in regards to the rest of the nation, which was undergoing a “Gilded Age”.

For Jackson, Mississippi the war was catastrophic, but the city had begun to rebuild and piece itself together slowly along its two main two axes, Capitol and State Streets. The Pearl River provided then as it does now a natural barrier to expansion to the east, so that the city grew west along Capitol behind the bluff and north along State following the bluff. The southwesterly course of the floodplain largely prevented significant development on South State Street beyond its parallel to the divergence of the Illinois Central and Gulf & Ship Island Railroads, yet inevitably attempts were made, paramount among them the hamlet that became known as Duttoville.

Located south of Porter and on either side of Gallatin adjacent to the Illinois Central Railroad, Duttoville was named for Father Louis Anthony (Luigi Antonio) Dutto, one of the most fascinating figures in the ecclesiastical history of Mississippi. Dutto was born in the commune of Boves in Italy’s Piedmont region and educated at Brignole-Sale, a pontifical college in Genoa. A very learned man, Dutto was the author of The Life of Bartolome de las Cassas (published posthumously; 1902). He was ordained for the Diocese of Natchez before he was 24 years old and arrived in Jackson on August 25, 1875 to assist Fr. Picherit in attending the surrounding missions. Dutto succeeded Picherit as pastor in 1885.

Fr. Louis Dutto

According to an anecdotal biography written in 1932 by Rev. P.H. Keenen, a personal friend, “Father Dutto was a great financier, having special aptitude in this line. He was sought as adviser in matters financial by young businessmen, and his advice, when followed, usually brought success, and often wealth. . . .  He himself acquired much property. On the missions he seldom asked his people for funds—he gave instead of asking. His business acumen enabled him to do this.”

In 1886, Fr. Dutto bought land in what was then the southwestern portion of the city, which, according to the account given by McCain in The Story of Jackson, “he divided into lots on which homes were erected and gardens cultivated by certain Catholics who had to come to the city to engage in commercial and agricultural pursuits. This section is still known as Duttoville.”

By another account (Jackson Daily News, May 30, 1979 p. 15A) Dutto acquired the property in 1891 from F.A. and Mary F. Wolfe, J.W. Langley all along Gallatin Street and the I.C.R.R. and the G.&S.I. Railroad and the “Muh (pronounced as the pronoun “me”) Estate, “vast acres” of land just outside the city limits, Dutto sold lots to working class people who could not pay taxes on simple homes, including many Italian immigrants (likely the “certain Catholics” referenced above). The area soon became a thriving community with a planing mill, brickyard and other enterprises that provided work for residents, and many worked in Jackson proper. Anticipating being acquired by Jackson at an early date, the settlers, to avoid city taxes, incorporated in 1903.

Jackson topographic map, 1905

The original Duttoville was bounded on the north by Town Creek, the east by the Pearl River with the Illinois Central and Gulf & Ship Island railroads to the west. Later the village expanded west of he railroad tracks to Terry Road. The first (and only) mayor was J.R. Root; aldermen were W.L. Porter, Joe Karese and Will Muh; J.E. Robinson was town marshal, and J.W Langley was city clerk. We’re told a small jail was built but “never occupied”.

The first George School; the present school was built in 1936.

 When Jackson first attempted to incorporate Duttoville, the tiny village put up a fight. The Duttovillers went to court and fought the incorporation and won. The city of Jackson appealed, and after two years, while the case was still pending in court, the citizens of Duttoville and Mayor Hemmingway of Jackson made a compromise. The city agreed to extend water, lights, telephone, a fire station, police protection, a grammar school (George School) and other amenities. But the area continued to be called by its original name, which in time became corrupted into “Doodleville” or “Dooleyville” both used well into the mid-20th century as a popular though derisive term for the part of town bordered by Battlefield Park on the south, Terry Road on the West, Hooker Street on the north and South Gallatin on the East, well west of the original settlement.

Belhaven resident Wilfred Cunningham, who grew up on Farish Street, remembers going to Doodleville as a very young man. “This was in the late Forties, and I was in my early teens. Anything south of Capitol Street on Farish Street we considered Doodleville,”

“The area was much more depressed than North Farish. I seem to remember the roads weren’t paved, the streets were graveled, I thought we lived poorly on Farish, but Dooley was a lot more run down.” Cunningham said. “The houses were row houses, shotgun houses like we had on Farish. People from Doodleville would come to Farish where we had the ice cream parlors, the stores, the clubs the Alamo. There wasn’t any industry of any kind there for jobs, so most of the people worked in north Jackson. For some reason I was always told not to let the sun go down on me there. I never ran into such a problem, but I always got the impression that there was a gang of some kind that kept Doodleville for people who lived here and weren’t friendly to outsiders.”

Jackson bluesmen Cary Lee Simmons and Bubba Brown composed the “Doodleville Blues” in the 1930s, and it was a local hit, getting lots of laughs when Simmons performed it for his friends in Jackson. He made a recording in 1967, which you can listen to here.

I got a girl in the Bamas, I got on that lived out on Bailey Hill.
I got a girl in the Bamas, and I got one that lived out on Bailey Hill.
But don’t none of them suit me like that one
I got down in Doodleville

 The womens on Farish Street shakes until they can’t be still.
I said, the womens on Farish Street shakes until they can’t be still.
But they cannot sake like those gals
Live down here in Doodleville

 Turn your lamp down low. Somebody done shot poor Bud, Buddy Will.
Turn your lamp down low. Somebody done shot Buddy Will.
I told him to stay off Mill Street and get him a gal in Doodleville.

 I won’t have a gal on Farish Street,
Wouldn’t speak to one that lived on Mill.
I won’t have a gal on Farish Street,
Wouldn’t speak to one that lived on Mill.
‘Cause the next woman I got, she got to live in Doodleville.

 They got the meat from the slaughterhouse
And the wood from Grimm Stage Mill.
They got the meat from the slaughterhouse
And the wood from Grimm Stage Mill.
And if you want to live easy, get you a girl in Doodleville.

Spoken: I got a secret for you though.
It’s a mad dog out, and boys, it ain’t been killed.
It’s a mad dog out, and boys, it ain’t been killed.
And you better be careful, careful, careful
how you doodle in Doodleville.

Even studded with jewels such as the old fire station and the magnificent Art Deco George School, Duttoville languishes in slow decay, but it’s the most fascinating neighborhood in the city of Jackson, the sad shadow of a good man’s dream.

Savoring Sansing

David Sansing gave me hell when I was at Ole Miss. It didn’t help that he knew my parents and probably assumed it part and parcel of his consideration of them to single out their wayward son for what he doubtless considered the academic equivalent of “tough love”, but no matter how attentive I was in class or how good my grades, I always felt targeted for seemingly innocuous but loaded questions that ended up with a subtle and solemn sort of tsk-tsking.

As time went on, I realized I wasn’t the only slacker he picked on; in retrospect, I think Sansing considered it his God-given duty to inspire every student he taught with a profound respect for the Muse of Mississippi History (bless her tattered soul). He is a marvelous teacher. What made Sansing even more formidable in the classroom is his leonine demeanor, the high, noble brow framed by curling swept-back hair; he is the very picture of an academic, moreover one who if he should ask you what the Black and Tan Convention was, and you respond that it was a craft beer festival, you likely won’t live to tell of it.

The title essay confirms Sansings command of his subject in sturdy prose that crackles with authority and sets forth his theme: “Poverty and prejudice and illiteracy have kept Mississippi back, and backwards, but The Other Mississippians have battled poverty and prejudice throughout our history. And for every Mississippi politician who has shamed its name, there have been others to make it proud.” And in the initial passage of “History of Northern Mississippi” Sansing describes the singular mystique of the state he loves:

Any standard historical atlas of the United States will indicate to the most casual observer that there is a political and geographic subdivision designated Mississippi. There are fifty such subdivisions, and collectively they constitute the United States. However, Mississippi is not just a state of the Union. It is a state of mind; it is more than a constituency, it is a condition.”

“History of Northern Mississippi” was presented as the opening lecture at the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference in 1974, and I find it germane that Sansing’s dissertation at Mississippi College (1959) was “A History of Calhoun County, Mississippi”. “History of Northern Mississippi”, along with the later essay “Professor B.L.C. Wailes: A Forgotten Man of the Old South” represent two of the finest examples of historical writing to be found in our literature, a subject that also comes under Sansing’s expansive attention along with the Meredith Crisis, the Mississippi state flag, the University of Mississippi and tributes to the likes of L.Q.C. Lamar, Arch Dalrymple III, John Leslie, Bill and Carroll Waller, Professor Guyton and others.

Former students will delight in hearing Dr. Sansing’s voice thundering off the pages and students of Mississippi history across the globe would be tragically remiss if this entertaining, edifying and authoritative work doesn’t find a place on their bookshelf. You will find yourself picking up David Sansing’s The Other Mississippi again and again for great writing and heartfelt history.