What do you first think of when you someone talks about "Mississippi"?
The Blues, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, Civil War and Civil Rights, The Great Flood, Plantations, Soul Food, King Cotton, The River, Catfish, Gospel, Highway 61, Segregation, Integration, Share Cropping, Folk Tales.
Change comes hard and not all at once.
The systematic disenfranchisement of African-Americans in education, voter
registration and unequal access to services through enforced and de facto
segregation is a horrific blight on the state's legacy, and an institutional
collapse that Mississippians continue to try to dig themselves out from.
Yet, it has the highest number of churches per capita and Section 265 of the Constitution of the State of Mississippi declares "No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state."
It has fought change doggedly and often violently. All too often, we are reminded that it is one of the poorest places in America by measure of education levels, healthcare access, unemployment, entitlement rates, and overall physical health -- and it remains that way.
But in many ways it is one of the richest states in character, personality, music, literature, oral tradition, faith, family, and certainly in food. Complexity, contradiction, and unexpectedness lurk around every bend in the road; whether it's nostalgically honoring the legacy and heritage of the past, or it's a new cultural innovation carrying Mississippi forward.
In 2014, it will be the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964's signature into law. Change is coming slowly, being pushed forward by native sons and daughters invested in challenging the prevailing notions of the state, and wave of new and unexpected transplants respecting and loving, but also creolizing regional traditions.