Mississippi Legends and Luminaries

The collection of programs and interviews contributed to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) by Mississippi Public Broadcasting holds special meaning to me. Having grown up in the small town of Monticello, Mississippi, many of the people, places and events recorded in programs like Conversations and Mississippi Roads endure as some of the legends of my lifetime. The geographic breadth of the content preserved in the AAPB offers almost anyone an opportunity to watch, listen and explore the history of their community, of their legends, and of their own past.

Allow me to introduce you to some of our Mississippi legends and luminaries, preserved and made available in the AAPB.

Eudora Welty
Born in Jackson, MS in 1909, Eudora Welty was a short story writer and novelist. Beginning her work in 1933 for the Works Progress Administration, her first short story “Death of a Traveling Salesman” was published in 1936. Her 1972 book The Optimist’s Daughter garnered a Pulitzer Prize.  Watch two 30 minute interviews with Eudora Welty in this episode of Conversations (1971)  and in Postscripts (1984).

 

Richard Wright
Richard Wright, born in Roxie, Mississippi — just outside of Natchez — in 1908, was an author of novels and short stories often concerning the plight of African Americans in Mississippi. Among his works are his memoir, Black Boy, and A Native Son. Watch this conversation between poet Margaret Walker and other scholars about Richard Wright in Climate for Genius; A Native Son.

John Grisham
Best known for his legal mysteries and thriller novels, John Grisham was born in 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas and moved to Southaven, Mississippi at the age of four. Some of his bestsellers include his first book, A Time to Kill, as well as A Painted House, The Client, A Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker, and The Runaway Jury, all of which have been adapted into films. Watch this conversation with John Grisham from 1995.

Willie Morris
Willie Morris is my favorite of the Mississippi writers. After growing up in Yazoo City, he moved to New York and became the youngest editor of Harper’s Magazine. He later wrote his seminal autobiography, North Toward Home. Other works include My Dog Skip, which was adapted into a feature film, Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood, New York Days, Ghosts of Medgar Evers, and Taps, among others. The AAPB has preserved three interviews with Willie Morris. The first was recorded in 1971, soon after he left Harper’s Magazine. Another was recorded in 1997  and was included in a tribute program to Willie Morris shortly after his death in 1999. Lastly, MPB recorded an interview with Willie Morris during the filming of My Dog Skip, shortly before his passing. The film premiered in 2000.

 

Marshall Ramsey
Marshall Ramsey is an editorial cartoonist best known to Mississippians for his works appearing in the statewide newspaper The Clarion Ledger. His cartoons have also been nationally syndicated and have appeared in The New York Times and USA Today. He’s also an author, short story writer, radio personality and television host. Learn more about Ramsey’s artwork in this episode segment of Mississippi Roads.

james_meredith
I had the opportunity to meet James Meredith at a diner in Jackson, MS in 2013.

James Meredith
James Meredith was born in 1933 in Kosciusko, Mississippi and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, a figure of the Civil Rights Movement, writer and political advisor. In 1962 he became the first African American student admitted to the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss. When he returned to Mississippi in 1960 after his service in the military, he initiated his plan to “break the system of white supremacy in Mississippi” by exercising his constitutional right to apply to the University, thereby putting pressure on the Kennedy administration to enforce civil rights. Watch this interview with James Meredith, recorded in 2002 — forty years after he integrated Ole Miss.

 

William Winter
William Winter, born in 1923 in Grenada, MS, served as the 58th Governor of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984. He is known for his strong support of public education, freedom of information, racial reconciliation, and historic preservation. Winter is best remembered for the passage of the Mississippi Education Reform Act, which sought to improve state education and also established public kindergartens. The AAPB includes two interviews with William Winter, one regarding race relations (1998) and another regarding public education (2002).

Mac McAnally
Singer/songwriter and record producer Mac McAnally also makes my list of Mississippi luminaries and legends. Born in Red Bay, Alabama, Mac McAnally spent much of his life in Belmont, Mississippi before becoming a session musician in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Some of my favorite of his singles include “It’s a Crazy World,” “Back Where I come From,” and “Down the Road,” the latter two both made famous by Kenny Chesney. In 2007 he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and has received nine Country Music Association awards for Musician of the Year. Watch this interview with Mac McAnally on Mississippi Roads (for which he also sings the opening theme of the series).

I could go on with other examples of places and people documented in these MPB recordings that I remember as a Mississippian. Instead, here’s a challenge for you: search the archive at americanarchive.org to find your own local legends and memories documented in the programs. You can narrow your search to a station in your state, or search the records of everything from your state. What do you find? I invite you to share them in the comments of this post or on social media. Remember to tag us at @amarchivepub on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!

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