Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy

Tuesday, 25 March 2003 - 6:00pm8:00pm

3619 Locust Walk, Philadelphia

Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy

An Evening with Paul Hendrickson

Paul Hendrickson

Author and Senior Lecturer, English
University of Pennsylvania

Seven white Mississippi sheriffs are immortalized in an infamous 1962 Life photograph. In this horrific freeze-frame of racism, the sheriffs admire a billy club with obvious pleasure, preparing for the unrest they anticipate—and to which they clearly intend to contribute—in the wake of James Meredith's planned attempt to integrate the University of Mississippi.

In telling the stories of these men, Paul Hendrickson gives us an extraordinarily revealing view of racism in America at that moment. But his ultimate focus is on the part this legacy has played in the lives of their families—how the racial bigotry of those seven white Mississippi sheriffs has been transformed or has remained untouched in their children and grandchildren.

A prize-winning feature writer for the Washington Post for more than 20 years, Paul Hendrickson now teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of three previous books, two of them book award finalists: Looking for the Light (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War (National Book Award finalist, New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and Publisher's Weekly Best Books of the Year).

Hendrickson has been awarded various fellowships and numerous journalism honors and awards. In 1999 he was named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow for his work on Sons of Mississippi. Partially educated in the South, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in a seminary for the Catholic missionary priesthood, Hendrickson has degrees in American literature from St. Louis University and Pennsylvania State University.


Presented by Alfred A. Knopf, Penn Humanities Forum, Kelly Writers House, and Creative Writing Program of the University of Pennsylvania

"...a meticulously researched, exquisitely written and piercingly poignant book—the best I have ever read about that period and that place. ...a beautiful, poetic book about an ugly time in America's South. It's been a long time since I have been so moved."
—Karl Fleming, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2003

Winner, 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award, General Nonfiction

Winner, 2003 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for nonfiction

Finalist, 2003 Southern Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction

"This photograph was taken in late September 1962, seven years after the killing of Emmett Till. The photograph, which isn't an icon image of the sixties—but should be—was recorded a few days before an all-night riot in Mississippi in which two died and hundreds were injured. It was made by an uncommonly brave and gifted white freelance photographer from Alabama named Charles Moore, on a Thursday afternoon, in a grove of elms and oaks and fine old catalpa trees, at Oxford, Mississippi, on the campus of a place known lovingly as Ole Miss. A week later this document was published in a double-truck spread in Life magazine with this small headline down in the left-hand corner: 'Local lawmen, getting ready to block the law.' There were a lot of other pictures in the story, but this was the one that stole your eyes...

"...Even now, after years of looking at it, examining it, carrying it, I can't precisely say what it was about the image that so took hold of me. It had an overwhelming storytelling clarity—and simultaneous confusion. It was only much later, with the research and reporting and interviews unfolding before me, that I found a certain corroboration for all I must have been imagining the first time I came across it."

—from Sons of Mississippi by Paul Hendrickson