Jewish Journal

The Times They Are A Changin

by  David A. Lehrer

March 21, 2011 | 3:39 pm

Given the headlines of the past few weeks—-earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear near-disaster in Japan, war in Libya, stalemate in Washington—- it was unexpected that yesterday’s New York Times front page would actually make readers feel good.

But there it was, front and center, an article entitled, “Black and White and Married in the Deep South: A Shifting Image” which matter-of-factly chronicled the transformation into tolerance of Mississippi, a state that was once the very symbol of bigotry, hostility to civil rights and of murderous resistance to change.

The article details the fact that Mississippi is home to one of the country’s fastest growing multiracial populations, up 70% since 2000. Parenthetically, Mississippi is not alone in the South. North Carolina’s mixed race population doubled over the past decade, Georgia’s increased by 80% and almost the same increase was registered in Tennessee and Kentucky.

But it is less the numbers than the tenor of the article and the couples interviewed that is so striking and positive.

The major focus of the article is the experience of two inter-racial couples and their affirmative view of how the society around them has changed. They aren’t Pollyannas blind to the slights that inevitably have come their way—-family members expressing doubts about their choice in spouse, waitresses who refuse to serve them, a hospital nurse who thought that the black mother was attempting to snatch a newborn (hers, who happened to look white).

Both couples acknowledge the problems, but as one observed, so much is generational, “I think many older people are set in their ways, but 40 years old or younger, you’ll never get the sense that something’s wrong.” The other family noted that, “between our church and our neighborhood, this is the most diverse place I’ve been. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.”

Take a look at the article and remember that this is Hattiesburg, Mississippi that the writer is chronicling. The town where Vernon Dahmer was murdered for civil rights activism, where later to be lynched Medgar Evers headed the NAACP and not all that far from the town where fourteen year old Emmet Till was lynched for “flirting” with a young white woman in 1955.

As one of the inter-racial couples noted, “The times have certainly changed.”

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