The Promised Land II: By Nicholas Lemann


Promise

“The Promised Land II,” by Nicholas Lemann (Vintage Press, 1992):Before World War II, the cotton planters of the Delta were absolutely opposed to black migration to the North. Hortense Powdermaker, enumerating the whites’ “creed of racial relations” in 1939, wrote that one of its main tenets was, “Negroes are necessary to the South, and it is desirable that they should stay there and not migrate to the North.”

Whites kept the black school system in Mississippi inferior in part because they didn’t want sharecroppers’ children to have career options beyond sharecropping. Senator James K. Vardaman once said that educating the black man “simply renders him unfit for the work which the white man has prescribed, and which he will be forced to perform . . . the only effect is to spoil a good field hand and make an insolent cook.” In the 1920s, Clarksdale was supposed to become the site of a new black college called Delta State, but the white planters succeeded in having it moved to the town of Cleveland, fifty miles away, because they didn’t want new opportunities for blacks opening up in town.

The relocation of Delta State was a well-remembered story in black Clarksdale, and there were lots of rumors about other enterprises the planters had kept out.As late as the early 1940s, the owners of the King & Anderson plantation, an enormous spread of seventeen thousand acres just west of Clarksdale that was reputed to be the largest family plantation in Mississippi, sent two of their white managers to Chicago to see if they could get some of the sharecroppers who had left to come back home. The managers first met with John H. Jackson, the pastor of the magnificent yellow-brick Olivet Baptist Church, which was well on its way to becoming the largest black congregation in America. Jackson is probably best known now for having been the leading enemy of Martin Luther King within the black Baptist church; when the city of Chicago changed the name of South Parkway, the boulevard on which Olivet stands, to King Drive after King’s death, Jackson changed the address of the church to Thirty-first Street so he wouldn’t have to have King’s name on his letterhead. In the 1940s Jackson was willing to entertain two white plantation managers, but he said he couldn’t urge members of his flock to move back South until conditions for blacks improved there…. Click here to Continue Reading

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