New book gives insight into Jackson


Cable television offers countless channels. Cyberspace provides ceaseless content. Yet technology leaves people unfulfilled on account of antediluvian impulses which found our ancient ancestors huddled around campfires answering “Who am I?” through creation stories and myths about constellations.

Hidden History of Jackson (2018) allows Jacksonians to hone our identity through charming tales of who we are. It offers commendable summer reading — on an airplane, at the beach or in the mountains, or home in an armchair.

Like “The Ed Sullivan Show” of yore, there is something for everybody. Anyone can learn from its stories.

I discovered that the checkerboard plan was first used here: “In 1802, concerned by outbreaks of yellow fever in southern cities, President Thomas Jefferson began to envision a new kind of city, one less susceptible to epidemic.... The city would be laid out ‘on the pattern of a chequerboard’, with alternating blocks of buildings and green spaces.... A city laid out in such a way would have the feel of the country and inhibit the spread of disease, he wrote. And every house would look out on an open, green space....

“Jefferson’s vision for a checkerboard city remained an abstract concept realized only in his letters and drawings — that is, until the leaders of the new state of Mississippi began to think about the layout for their state’s capital city almost two decades later.”

That said, there was no land rush: One hundred lots were marketed with 10 percent down. There was difficulty collecting. “An 1830 investigation by the state auditor’s office found that of the one hundred lots initially sold, ninety-eight had reverted to state ownership.”

Perhaps subsequent history is predicated upon the fact that, “During the 1830s... [t]he growth of the slave population far outstripped that of the white population... By 1840, Hinds County was about two-thirds slave, and Madison County was about three-quarters slave. In 1840, there were more than twenty thousand slaves in the two counties, along with far fewer whites.”

Slave rebellion was feared. Political realities after the Civil War threatened the white minority no less, justifying Redemption and the 1890 Constitution in its mind: “In 1867, the total number of registered voters in Mississippi numbered 137,000 — 58 percent were black. Several black men served as legislators, and one was even elected lieutenant governor. In 1890, 67 percent of black Mississippians were registered to vote. Two years later, that number had plummeted to 5.7 percent. That number stayed the same until 1964.” Resentment remains. The failure to find a modus vivendi — instead pursuing legal mechanisms, however covert and sophisticated, through which to subjugate previously-marginalized populations — contains unintended consequences.

The authors highlight Bishop Joseph Brunini’s belief in racial reconciliation:

“Despite the bishop’s desire to integrate his schools, many whites began to see the Catholic schools as a desirable alternative to the recently federally desegregated public schools....

“Brunini’s [January 2, 1970 Pastoral Letter] explain[ed] that the Catholic schools of Mississippi were not in competition with the public schools. In fact, both school systems ought to work for the same end: the betterment of Mississippi’s citizens. He urged his fellow Mississippians, Catholic and non-Catholic, to accept integration and work together to improve the faltering public schools. Brunini expressed to his parishioners the importance of supporting the state’s public schools....


“The fact that a bishop would encourage Catholics to remain enrolled in the public schools is a testament to the seriousness with which Bishop Brunini took school desegregation. The Catholic schools, especially in Mississippi, had a history of financial instability. Its teachers were paid not through the state but through tuition. By encouraging potential enrollees to remain in the public school system, Brunini placed an additional burden on his own schools. Yet Brunini decided it would be better to be poor and justified than wealthy but on the wrong side of history.”

The text includes integration of the parochial schools. Resistance to social change proved counterproductive. “The expulsion of a white student over the bullying of a black one was a forceful show by school leadership that integration would be happening and resistance would not be tolerated.”

Not everyone acted admirably: “Up to 1963, Jackson’s reservoir project had been accurately but innocuously called the ‘Pearl River Reservoir.’ Then, eight months after the Ole Miss riot, it was officially anointed the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir. The decision to name the lake after Barnett was a reactionary middle finger to his critics...”

Jackson enjoys a rich history, instructive stories from which to learn. Hidden History of Jackson allows appreciation of who Jacksonians are and the well-being based upon having a secure sense of self.

Jay Wiener is a Northsider.