I recently met my most interesting local, yet, in the southern Midwest… given the fact that I’m originally from this area – that’s saying a lot.
The woman was a teacher in her late fifties, both employed and residing within fifty miles of where she was raised. That in it’s self is not uncommon, I dare say that many of my neighbors have rarely (if ever) made the three-hour-drive north to St. Louis or south to Memphis. However, the person, to whom I refer now, seems to have traveled, though exactly how widely, I do not know. She herself is well educated and her daughter is a writer, currently living in Los Angeles and doing script-work for the television show “Jericho”. None of this is what stood-out in our conversations, though. Instead, I was completely intrigued by her stories of attending the “Negro School” prior to desegregation taking root in the Mississippi Delta region of southern Missouri.
I expected tales of want and discomfort and instead was met with … a happy childhood. While she made distinction that not all students of segregated education had a “fine experience”, she remembered her own experience as boasting a school that offered limitless opportunities for education as it was well-funded with new books, a nice well-kept brick building and only the best support materials (new chalk-boards, desks and such). "We had everything the White School had," she told me. The Negro School was located behind the White School (adjoining properties), with the playgrounds divided by a gravel road. She told me that when one side’s ball would bounce over the line, the group of children on the other side would happily toss it back. It was a surreal discussion on race without any real mention of color or class distinction.
Located in the middle of corn and cotton fields, only a few miles across the Mississippi River, with Dyersburg Tennessee as the nearest neighbor - this pocket of uncommon racial co-habitation continues to exist to some degree, today. The schools are now joined as one, with the former Negro School serving as the district’s Middle School. The interior of the school boasts photographs of the school district’s history, hiding nothing in the shadows. Proudly displaying throughout the halls images of multi-racial graduating classes from their school, over the years. Even now, there continues a small black population mixed intermittently amongst the predominately white classrooms, but the race relations seem nowhere near the strain found in other regions of the country, or even other neighboring sections of southern Missouri.
Why Immersion Travel Art?… for stories and interactions, just like the one above. I could have never heard this story from the mass media, or read about it in a travel brochure provided by the local Chamber of Commerce. Now what do I do with this information, this aspect of “knowing” that exposes intimacy of relationships and turns my mind and actions from tourist to indigenous. – DN