Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interest

Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interest: Fifty Pieces from the Road

Curtis Wilkie
Foreword by Hank Klibanoff
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qhm84
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    Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interest
    Book Description:

    Writing as a newspaper reporter for nearly forty years, Curtis Wilkie covered eight presidential campaigns, spent years in the Middle East, and traveled to a number of conflicts abroad. However, his memory keeps turning home and many of his most treasured stories transpire in the Deep South. He called his native Mississippi, "the gift that keeps on giving." For Wilkie, it represented a trove of rogues and racists, colorful personalities and outlandish politicians who managed to thrive among people otherwise kind and generous.

    Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interestcollects news dispatches and feature stories from the author during a journalism career that began in 1963 and lasted until 2000. As a young reporter for theClarksdale Press Register, he wrote many articles that dealt with the civil rights movement, which dominated the news in the Mississippi Delta during the 1960s.Wilkie spent twenty-six years as a national and foreign correspondent for theBoston Globe. One of the original "Boys on the Bus" (the title of a best-selling book about journalists covering the 1972 presidential campaign), he later wrote extensively about the winning races of two southern Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

    Wilkie is known for stories reported deeply, rife with anecdotes, physical descriptions, and important background details. He writes about the notorious, such as the late Hunter S. Thompson, as well as more anonymous subjects whose stories, in his hands, have enduring interest. The anthology collects pieces about several notable southerners: Ross Barnett; Byron De La Beckwith and Sam Bowers; Billy Carter; Edwin Edwards and David Duke; Trent Lott; and Charles Evers. Wilkie brings a perceptive eye to people and events, and his eloquent storytelling represents some of the best journalistic writing.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-069-3
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Hank Klibanoff

    Inside theBoston Globenewsroom, an artifact that was passed off as an innovation in the 1970s was “the blower,” a recording machine into which far-flung reporters in overnight time zones or on breaking news could dictate their stories. The dispatches would be transcribed by staff assistants and sent to the national desk, foreign desk, sports desk, or metro.

    Some reporters were dutiful to a fault. They painstakingly spelled every P-as-in-Paul, B-as-in-boy name and challenging word. They articulated every open double quote, open single quote, closed single quote, closed double quote. They inserted every period, comma, and, if they were...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xxii)

    Among the rewards from a life in journalism are the fascinating stories, the interesting characters, and the exotic territories that we explore. I’ve been writing for publication for more than fifty years, and as I’ve often said, it beats working.

    As a newspaper reporter for nearly four of those decades, many of my most treasured stories were set in the Deep South. Though I covered eight presidential campaigns, lived overseas, and followed a number of conflicts abroad, my interests kept turning me home. Perhaps I’m biased by my Mississippi background, but the state seems to have an inexhaustible supply of...

  6. Part I: Redemption
    • “God Says Kill Them”
      (pp. 3-7)

      JACKSON, Miss.—As state prosecutors prepare to bring Byron De La Beckwith, an aging, unrepentant white supremacist, back to trial for the murder of NAACP leader Medgar Evers thirty-one years ago, the case is reopening a dark period of Mississippi history and raising questions of whether the notorious defendant is being denied due process of law.

      The 73-year-old Beckwith is still an unreconstructed warrior on the race issue, but when jury selection begins Tuesday, he will be confronted with attitudes that have changed dramatically in the state. Hailed as a hero in segregationist circles after his first two trials ended...

    • 30 Years Later, “Justice Has Been Done”
      (pp. 8-11)

      JACKSON, Miss.—A Mississippi jury of eight blacks and four whites reached across a painful gulf of time and turmoil yesterday to convict Byron De La Beckwith of the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

      When the verdict was announced at 10:35 a.m. on the second day of deliberation, there was a burst of cheers from a pocket of spectators surrounding the widow, Myrlie Evers. Within seconds, as word that Beckwith had been found guilty passed from the courtroom, cheering echoed through the halls of the Hinds County Courthouse where others were standing vigil.

      The 73-year-old Beckwith was...

    • “Your Day Of Judgment Soon Will Be Nigh”
      (pp. 12-19)

      HATTIESBURG, Miss.—For three decades, Bob Stringer has lived with the memory of a conversation he overheard in the back booth of John’s Cafe, a Hopperesque hangout of the Ku Klux Klan in Laurel, Miss.

      It was the winter of 1966, and Sam Bowers, a jukebox operator who moonlighted as the imperial wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was voicing his frustration that Klan elements in neighboring Forrest County had been unable to suppress the voting registration efforts of the local NAACP leader, Vernon Dahmer Sr.

      Stringer, in an interview, recalled the exchange the other day,...

    • “An Evil Genius” Is Convicted
      (pp. 20-23)

      HATTIESBURG, Miss.—Sam Bowers, an imperial wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and reputedly the mastermind behind a campaign of terror across Mississippi three decades ago, was convicted yesterday for a 1966 civil rights murder, after three previous prosecutions had failed.

      Bowers, who reached his 74th birthday this month, was then sentenced to life imprisonment. Three black deputy sheriffs led him from the courtroom.

      The verdict, reached in three and a half hours by a jury composed of six whites, five blacks, and an Asian American, climaxed a long crusade to win a conviction in the...

    • “A Stigma on State Government”
      (pp. 24-28)

      JACKSON, Miss.—An intriguing struggle, involving accusations of spying and collaboration inside the civil rights movement, is approaching a climax in Mississippi, following a federal court order to open the files of a defunct state segregationist agency that have been sealed, like scar tissue over an old wound, for two decades.

      Records of the Sovereignty Commission could contain information implicating members of a surveillance operation that tracked “Freedom Summer” activity in 1964, the year three civil rights workers were murdered in Neshoba County.

      But some of those who were spied upon by the agency express countervailing fears that innocent people...

    • The State That Couldn’t Spy Right
      (pp. 29-32)

      JACKSON, Miss.—After I obtained my personal file from the records of the old Mississippi Sovereignty Commission and perused the pitiful contents, I was not sure whether the documents were a commentary on my insignificance or the incompetence of the defunct state agency that once spied on its people to try to preserve segregation.

      Probably a bit of both.

      But after reviewing a few of the “secret papers” released last month under a federal court order, I’ve concluded that the Sovereignty Commission agents were about as useful to the forces of segregation as the German guards onHogan’s Heroeswould...

    • Mississippi—Now. And Then
      (pp. 33-38)

      OXFORD, Miss.—The sun was brilliant Sunday, and across the campus little knots of graduates—many of them black—posed for pictures with their families in the old grove at Ole Miss. The air was heavy with the rich fragrance of magnolia blossoms and honeysuckle vines. Sixteen years ago the same plot of land reeked for days with the smell of tear gas.

      Memories: Oxford. September 1962. Crowds of students line the streets to watch a confrontation at the campus gateway, where state officials, backed by scores of highway patrolmen, are prepared personally to block James Meredith from registering. Attorney...

  7. Part II: Out of the Delta
    • In the Heat of Freedom Summer
      (pp. 41-45)

      They sat in a circle in the still heat of the Silent Grove Baptist Church.

      The group was discussing the recent strife in Harlem. It was a roundtable discussion of current events—apparently the dominant feature of the “Freedom Schools.”

      In all, there were fourteen students and three teachers. The students were Negroes, ranging in age from elementary school children to a middle-aged woman. The teachers, all white, were college students, part of about two dozen persons here this summer in connection with the Council of Federated Organizations’ “Mississippi Project.”

      A young girl was asked her opinion of the racial...

    • Robert Kennedy Meets Hunger
      (pp. 46-49)

      A Clarksdale mob scene over Sen. Robert F. Kennedy provided a chaotic climax Tuesday afternoon for a hectic day spent in the Mississippi Delta by two members of a Senate subcommittee studying poverty.

      Kennedy accompanied fellow Senator Joseph Clark of Pennsylvania, chairman of the group, on the tour. But it was the junior senator from New York who upstaged Clark throughout the trip.

      The senators, along with a troop of staff members, newsmen, and federal and state pistoleros, swept into Clarksdale at the end of a frantic series of stops along U.S. 61 between here and Greenville. The largest crowd...

    • Peppery Politics at the Fair
      (pp. 50-52)

      NESHOBA FAIRGROUNDS—Six thousand persons lunched on hot dogs, fried chicken, roast turkey, and demagoguery at the year’s biggest political spectacular here Wednesday.

      Four serious contenders for governor slugged it out in an oral fight for votes while a fifth candidate, Vernon Brown, appeared as an anticlimax. Dressed in an old blue suit, red tie, black brogans, and a straw hat, Brown noted that “they usually save the best for last, so I must be the best.” But the crowd exited from the open-air, tin-roofed pavilion even as Brown assured them he “hadn’t sold out to nobody.” Brown, who took...

    • The Last Days of Martin Luther King
      (pp. 53-61)

      Dr. Martin Luther King, the Messiah of civil rights activity in America in the ’60s, was due in Clarksdale today for one of his infrequent appearances in Mississippi. Although he is in and out of the state occasionally, his visits are usually quiet, and today’s scheduled stop here has provoked a minimum of advance notice. This seems to be playing it low-key for a man of his prominence, but then that’s the way it almost always is in Mississippi.

      Actually, Dr. King is only a name in this state and does not command a real power base here. As the...

    • Gadfly Payoff
      (pp. 62-66)

      A $20,000 bribe.

      It sounds like the Mafia, but actually it was a last-ditch maneuver by the University of Mississippi this winter. Its law school, in the throes of transition from Dean Joshua Morse to the status quo ante posture of new Dean Joel W. Bunkley, had just lost a 5th Circuit Court ruling reinstating renegade professors Mike Trister and George Strickler. As a result of the case, the Association of American Law Schools was conducting an investigation into infringement of academic freedom and the institution’s accreditation was in jeopardy. So someone came up with a solution: offer Trister $20,000...

  8. Part III: Covering Carter
    • Carter’s Problems Back Home
      (pp. 69-73)

      ATLANTA—Tuesday morning, hours after Jimmy Carter finished first in the Iowa caucuses, a friend considered introducing a congratulatory resolution in the Georgia Senate. He drew back, it was said, for fear that the roll call would reflect an embarrassing number of dissenting votes.

      This is the paradox of the Carter campaign for the Presidency. While the former Georgia governor is gathering strength around the country, he is unpopular with many politicians back home who profess to be mystified by his success.

      Indeed, the picture of the Carter years (1971–74) that emerges from conversations around the State House is...

    • Carter’s Black Neighbor Displaced
      (pp. 74-77)

      PLAINS, Ga.—They are tearing down the wooden shack across the street from Jimmy Carter’s house.

      It had been the home of a black family, Mr. and Mrs. A. Z. Pittman and seven of their children. Now the Pittmans have become the first displaced persons of Plains, victim of the sudden growth in interest in the little town.

      There are conflicting accounts of why the Pittmans were forced to move. Their landlord, Marlin Poole of nearby DeSoto, “told us Mr. Carter was going to be President and didn’t want a house like that across the street,” Mrs. Pittman said.

      Carter...

    • The Next President Returns in Tears
      (pp. 78-80)

      PLAINS, Ga.—At last it was over, the campaign that was entering its third winter, and Jimmy Carter had come home the victor.

      On the ride from the Albany, Ga., airport to Plains the sun had be-gun to light up the bayous and pecan orchards, and by the time Carter’s motorcade moved into town a large crowd was waiting for him in front of the railroad depot.

      At that time, 7 yesterday morning, the President-elect of the United States began to break down a little.

      It had been a campaign that had first labored through the bitter cold of New...

    • Mayor Billy Carter?
      (pp. 81-83)

      PLAINS, Ga.—Billy Carter’s first official act—if he is elected mayor of Plains today—will be to cut down an artificial Christmas tree just erected on public land across the highway from his service station.

      “In fact,” the brother of the President-elect said Saturday morning, a can of beer in hand, “me and the boys were thinking about getting together tonight and chopping the goddamn thing down then.”

      He looked scornfully at the tree, a thin, towering green plastic monstrosity, which was shimmering in the late autumn sun. It was donated to the town and is a symbol of...

    • For Brother Billy, the Tab Comes Due
      (pp. 84-89)

      PLAINS, Ga.—For more than two years he was on stage, the merchant of foolishness in his theater of the absurd.

      He gave outrageous quotes to reporters for free publicity and pedfdled outlandish behavior to promoters for as much as $5,000 a performance. For awhile, excess was success for the President’s brother, Billy Carter.

      But recently his string began to play out, and last Tuesday night he was admitted to the Alcoholic Rehabilitation Center at Long Beach Naval Hospital in California to begin a stern regimen that will last six to eight weeks.

      Back home in Plains, his friends and...

    • “Standard Idiot Behavior”
      (pp. 90-95)

      CAMDEN, Maine—Former State Department spokesman Hodding Carter 3d says that some of the measures taken by President Jimmy Carter to control foreign policy leaks were offensive and demoralizing, and he blames Zbigniew Brzezinski for convincing the president that the State Department was the source.

      Carter, who left the administration this month, was critical of Brzezinski’s National Security Council operation and said it was responsible for the “most substantive leaks.”

      In an interview Friday at his summer home in Camden, overlooking Penobscot Bay, Carter also said the administration had a misconception about the way reporters work in this country.

      The...

    • The Democrats’ Odd Couple
      (pp. 96-99)

      NEW YORK—After nearly a year of conflict in which hatreds were honed to a sharp edge, it had come at last to a desperate effort to reconcile Sen. Edward M. Kennedy with President Jimmy Carter, to bridge the gulf between liberal and pragmatist, Catholic and Southern Baptist, Boston and Plains. For all their contempt for Kennedy, the President and his men came to New York wanting his endorsement, and after his electrifying speech Tuesday night, needing it even more.

      Like occupants of the White House before them, they have a “Kennedy complex,” born out of envy at his wealth...

    • Plains Knew When Carter Wept
      (pp. 100-103)

      PLAINS, Ga.—After a final, punishing campaign journey of more than 6,000 miles, President Jimmy Carter made a melancholy return to his hometown yesterday. He struggled to keep from crying as he told his followers of the “difficult” and “politically costly” decisions that he felt were costing him his presidency.

      Even though the polls had just opened, he appeared exhausted and disheartened by the grim word from his staff—based on their own polling data—that the election appeared to be irretrievably lost.

      Carter had learned the worst a few hours before on the long overnight flight from Seattle to...

    • The Other Version of Carter’s Memoirs
      (pp. 104-110)

      WASHINGTON—Just before he left office, Jimmy Carter went home to Georgia for the last time as president, already prepared, he said, “to spend the rest of my life in Plains, to die and be buried here.”

      At a small dinner party the press corps arranged for Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, at a French restaurant located—of all places—on a highway outside Plains, Carter also talked about how he expected to spend much of the next year or so of his life writing his memoirs.

      He said he was pleased to learn that a former president could command...

  9. Part IV: Covering Clinton
    • The Making of the Candidate
      (pp. 113-127)

      LITTLE ROCK—As he has risen from the backwaters of Arkansas politics to the brink of the Democratic presidential nomination, Gov. Bill Clinton has carried with him several riddles.

      He would be the first presidential nominee produced by the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll generation, a stigma he has borne throughout his campaign. But he seems cut from an earlier, simpler time when a gift for oratory and the power of personal persuasion were the trademarks of a successful politician.

      By surviving a grueling set of challenges so far this year, Clinton has established a reputation for toughness and...

    • 33 Days That Defined a Candidate
      (pp. 128-147)

      Bill Clinton’s time was expiring in New Hampshire. Worn down by illness, his voice frayed by fatigue, his jogger’s body swollen from the consumption of junk food, he seemed to be fighting a losing battle. A freezing rain cast a treacherous glaze on the highway as he was driven to Nashua less than sixty hours before the polls opened. Still, Clinton was encouraged when he arrived at the event and saw that an overflow crowd had come to hear him on the Saturday night before the primary. It was a good sign, he told his wife.

      Hillary Clinton was not...

    • Tracing a Web of Accusations in Little Rock
      (pp. 148-156)

      LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—In the closing weeks of the 1992 presidential campaign, there were widespread rumors here that Arkansas state troopers assigned to Gov. Bill Clinton’s security detail would be the source of a fresh story of his sexual escapades that might knock his candidacy off its feet.

      When the story finally materialized last week, nearly a year into Clinton’s presidency, it was the White House that was thrown off balance.

      As the uproar threatened to spoil his Christmas week, Clinton denied accounts by the state troopers of how they arranged secret rendezvous for him. “They’re outrageous and they’re not...

  10. Part V: Middle East Interlude
    • A Withered Wasteland
      (pp. 159-163)

      MAAROUB, Israeli-occupied Lebanon—The lush citrus orchards have been converted into fields of fire as the Israeli army reaps the bitter harvest of southern Lebanon.

      Trees are bowed under the weight of their own fruit which now goes unpicked, and the ground is covered with rotting oranges and lemons that have already fallen. Farmers do not dare go into the fields, for any suspicious movement in the orchards—which serve as cover for snipers and roadside bombers—can draw fire from the Israelis.

      The entire landscape of southern Lebanon is a picture of desolation today, a region in the thrall...

    • The Last Vestiges of Civilization
      (pp. 164-167)

      BEIRUT—Life in Beirut—arguably the most civilized and, paradoxically, the most savage city in the Middle East—is finally turning into a nightmare worthy of Kafka for many wealthy Lebanese who clung for years to riches and comfort in the face of adversity.

      The misery of the eleven-year-old civil war, which was usually concentrated in the impoverished southern suburbs and along the Green Line that divides the city, has spread to Ras Beirut, the center of business and culture in the predominantly Moslem western sector.

      In the days since two Moslem militias terrorized the neighborhood in indiscriminate street fighting...

    • Land Without a Country
      (pp. 168-176)

      Welcome.

      The characters in Arabic, English, and obligatory Hebrew crawl in falsely bright colors, as sad as toys in a children’s cancer ward, across an arch over the gateway to the city: “Welcome to Gaza.”

      Welcome to a twenty-five-mile stretch of almost unrelieved squalor, where raw sewage runs openly in the alleys of the Palestinian refugee camps and flows like a polluted tidal stream into the Mediterranean.

      Welcome to a teeming territory that has served for nearly forty years as home for thousands of refugees who long ago lost hope.

      Largely abandoned by their Arab brothers and ignored by the...

    • In Bethlehem, a Bleak Christmas
      (pp. 177-180)

      BETHLEHEM, Israeli-occupied West Bank—There is a special Christmas irony in the little town of Bethlehem this year. The Jewish command of Israel’s army of occupation is trying to persuade Christian officials and merchants to observe the holiday by putting up decorations.

      In spite of the Israeli efforts, Bethlehem’s businessmen are following the municipality’s decision to hold a muted Christmas. There will be traditional church services here tomorrow night, but no decorations and no expected air of celebration.

      The gloom in Bethlehem, a Palestinian town a few miles south of Jerusalem that is the Biblical birthplace of Jesus Christ, is...

    • Gaza Homesteading a Tough Sell
      (pp. 181-184)

      NEVE DEKALIM, Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip—The advertisements hold out all of the false promise of a distant piece of property in the backwaters of Florida.

      “Enjoy the good life,” Israeli newspaper ads say. “Live in a young, effervescent community.”

      Television commercials, sponsored by the Israeli government, show happy children’s faces in a beach atmosphere. The pictures are known in the TV trade as “tight shots,” focusing closely on the subject without revealing the surroundings.

      The promotions are part of this month’s campaign to “Populate the Katif,” an area the Israelis call the “coast of the Negev.”

      In fact, the Katif...

  11. Part VI: Writers
    • Israel’s Faulkner
      (pp. 187-191)

      HAIFA, Israel—He is 50, of strong Sephardic stock, his mother Moroccan, his father’s family running five generations deep into this tortured land, so he writes passionately of the divisions in Israel and prophesies the day when a Palestinian nation will lie in peace beside the Jewish state, a dream that is shared by only the good and the innocent.

      A. B. Yehoshua is Israel’s Faulkner, obsessed by the conflict in his homeland. Like William Faulkner, his novels are tapestries woven with narratives and streams of consciousness from various characters; scenes and dialogue are often repeated, with subtle changes from...

    • The Book of Lamentations
      (pp. 192-205)

      For several years, David Grossman, born a sabra, native son of Israel, avoided the Arab quarters of Jerusalem as well as the West Bank. “I wanted to spare myself,” he says, because he spoke their language fluently and knew what they muttered about him and other Jews. “Even the people in the stores, who act obedient and subordinate, had nasty remarks,” not realizing that he understood them. More important, he appreciated their anger, and he could not bear the inequity of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, the conquerors and the vanquished.

      This past spring, with the approach of the...

    • Wrestling with Israel’s Paradox
      (pp. 206-210)

      When Amos Oz talks about his native land of Israel, the paradoxes of that troubled yet vibrant state become a theme of the conversation, reminiscent of his book of essays where he warns readers in the preface that there is no such thing as a “typical cross-section” of Israel.

      Oz, who is serving as a writer-in-residence at Boston University this semester, knows the danger of making generalizations about Israel. The tiny country is so full of conflicts and passions that it defies easy description. As a result, Oz is both a critic and a champion of Israel.

      Although the message...

    • The Doctor Is In
      (pp. 211-225)

      So many of the icons of our generation are in ruins, victims of time and Reagan’s cultural revolution. “Just say no” are the new catchwords, and the Red Queen and White Rabbit have been replaced by King Condom. John Lennon is seven years dead, and Timothy Leary might as well be. Jerry Rubin promotes capitalism. Janis and Jimi, Duane Allman and Jim Morrison are gone. Otis Redding and Mama Cass, gone. All gone. James Brown’s screams have lost their pitch. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” crashed in a swamp. Richard Brautigan snuffed himself. The landscape is littered with burned-out cases, children...

    • Getting to the Heart of Robert Stone
      (pp. 226-230)

      KEY WEST, Fla.—A sense of menace and doom hangs over Robert Stone’s fiction like a pall, yet it is often fused with a religious element, a Conradian search for redemption in the ruins of broken lives.

      After using such troubled and exotic locales as Saigon, Central America, New Orleans, and the high seas as locations for his earlier books, Stone has chosen Jerusalem, that holiest of holy places, as the setting for his sixth novel,Damascus Gate,to be published next month by Houghton Mifflin.

      It is a story of religious fanaticism, political skullduggery, betrayal, and death, built around...

  12. Part VII: Characters
    • “Mahatma Gandhi Is Not the Mayor’s Style”
      (pp. 233-243)

      FAYETTE, Miss.—Suddenly, the kudzu that clings to the trees and covers the ground along the road from Jackson gives way to civilization.

      On the left, a housing project is being carved from a knoll on the forty-acre farm of Charles Evers.

      It will become the Martin Luther King Memorial Apartments, Inc. The developer is Charles Evers.

      Just down the road a bit is a red brick complex, the Evers Restaurant and Motel and the Evers Fountain Lounge.

      On a hillside overlooking the entry to Fayette stands the Medgar Evers Community Center, an imposing gray brick structure housing a variety...

    • Secret History
      (pp. 244-258)

      In the beginning, there were the Sigma Nus, and Trent Lott was created in their image. The Snakes, as the Sigma Nus called themselves, were the gung ho fraternity at the University of Mississippi, strivers and achievers united by ambition. While the sons of wealthy planters and physicians gravitated toward the elitist houses—the stately, columned mansions of the Phi Delts and Kappa Alphas that anchored Fraternity Row—the young men just starting to climb society’s ladder found a foothold with the Sigma Nus, who lived in a starkly modernistic structure on a backstreet behind Fraternity Row. The 1960 Ole...

    • The Son King
      (pp. 259-271)

      It was a strange scene last March when Dexter Scott King, the youngest son of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shook hands with convicted assassin James Earl Ray. Live, in front of CNN cameras, Dexter professed his belief in the innocence of the aged man who has been imprisoned for twenty-nine years for Dr. King’s murder. It was stranger still when Dexter went back on TV three months later and suggested that President Lyndon B. Johnson was part of an elaborate plot to kill his father. But then, these are strange times for Dexter King and his family....

    • Remembering Abu Jihad
      (pp. 272-284)

      The news that Khalil Wazir had been assassinated was not really surprising. He had lived with death and war for years, and even his nom de guerre, Abu Jihad, had the ring of violence. In the most popular English translation, the name was said to mean “father of the holy war.” In fact, the more literal interpretation of the Arabic nounjihadis “struggle.”

      To the extent that he was known in the Western world, Abu Jihad had a reputation as Yasser Arafat’s cold-blooded deputy, a man who deployed commandos of the Palestine Liberation Organization on murderous missions into Israel....

    • Outlaw Minister
      (pp. 285-290)

      For much of his short life, Selven Brown ricocheted around the streets of Dorchester until he went to an early death, another errant brother.

      But to Rev. Eugene F. Rivers 3d, who tried to draw the troubled young man into the fellowship of his Azusa Christian Community, he was a lost child of God, and when Brown died of an overdose the other day at the age of 27, he became in Rivers’s mind another symbol of the failure of Boston’s black community.

      Rivers spoke at the funeral, lashing at Brown’s friends, the prostitutes and pimps and pushers who filled...

    • Silber’s Tortured Odyssey
      (pp. 291-302)

      Anger hovers in the air, like the mythical Furies beating their wings, in John Silber’s presence.

      For as long as people have known him, Silber has been smoldering over what he perceives as false gods, sophistry, ignorance, and insult. In the face of scorn, he has compared himself with Hector, Coriolanus, and Galileo; and he holds other victims of society—Jesus Christ and Socrates—as heroes.

      His academic career spans four decades of conflict and controversy. In conducting his personal war in the name of educational excellence, his critics say, he has waged a campaign of intellectual terrorism.

      The halls...

  13. Part VIII: Southern Gothic
    • Holier Than Thou
      (pp. 305-308)

      BATON ROUGE, La.—In a state where evangelical Protestant beliefs clash with traditional Catholicism, it was probably inevitable that religion would create a major schism in the sulfurous race for governor of Louisiana.

      As the contest between the Republican, David Duke, and the Democrat, former Gov. Edwin Edwards, began to veer out of control in the closing days of the campaign, the two candidates have compounded the political burlesque by challenging each other’s credentials as Christians.

      Duke was fighting off questions yesterday about his claims to be a born-again Christian after one of his own aides charged that Duke was...

    • Cultures Clash in Jones County
      (pp. 309-312)

      OVETT, Miss.—Late last July, after the Mississippi sun had withered the green of spring, Brenda and Wanda Henson, a lesbian couple, bought an abandoned pig farm in the rolling pine woods of Jones County and began to transform the property into Camp Sister Spirit, a feminist retreat.

      “I didn’t anticipate this kind of backlash,” Brenda Henson admitted Monday.

      By choosing to locate the camp in this rural, fiercely conservative region, the women set off a storm, and it is hard to imagine a greaterclash of American cultures than the struggle here between lesbian activists on the crest of change...

    • The Night I Met Elvis
      (pp. 313-314)

      In the fall of 1955 Elvis was a lesser star in Sun Records’ orbit. He played second fiddle to another performer, Carl Perkins, and often shared the spotlight with Johnny Cash. When the Sun troupe barnstormed through southern Mississippi in September of that year, Elvis served as a warm-up act before Cash took the stage.

      To a tenth-grader, the Sun road show had greater appeal than the one-elephant circuses and cheesy carnivals that drifted through town, but the engagement fell on the same night as our football game. Since Summit High School was small, every able-bodied boy, however uncoordinated, was...

    • Rowdy Lunch a New Orleans Tradition
      (pp. 315-317)

      NEW ORLEANS—There is a book calledDinner at Antoine’s,and a tourist attraction known as “Breakfast at Brennan’s,” but nothing in the world of New Orleans’s venerable restaurants quite compares with Friday lunch at Galatoire’s.

      Once a week, it is as thoughAnimal Houserelocates at Locke- Ober. A sense of exuberance and abandon overtakes an elegant old eating house, and just as much as Mardi Gras, Friday lunch at Galatoire’s symbolizes New Orleans’s reputation as the “City That Care Forgot.”

      For ninety years, Galatoire’s has occupied a place at the head of Bourbon Street, serving as an outpost...

    • Sound and Fury over Elvis
      (pp. 318-321)

      OXFORD, Miss.—Some faculty members at the University of Mississippi, novelist William Faulkner’s alma mater, were all shook up after English professor Vernon Chadwick devised a course that equated Herman Melville’s South Pacific adventures with Elvis Presley’s Hawaiian movies.

      So when the school’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture decided to sponsor the first annual International Conference on Elvis Presley this summer, a week after the 21st annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, there were more suspicious minds.

      While classicists shuddered at the prospect that Oxford would be overrun by Elvis admirers bound for Memphis for the annual August vigil...

    • “Slave Labor” in Louisiana
      (pp. 322-327)

      BATON ROUGE, La.—First, cries of “slave labor” came from the dreaded state prison at Angola, but those plaints were merely the prelude to a greater scandal that exudes the essence of Louisiana, a state with a moral code that invites plunder and profiteering by anyone with a political connection.

      Plans to put prisoners to work for private contractors quickly grew from a chicken-boning operation to a scheme to take more than a million cans of rejected evaporated milk and tomato paste and relabel them for sale under other brand names.

      Although the relabeling operation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary...

    • Bohemia’s Last Frontier
      (pp. 328-332)

      If the restoration of New Orleans fails as miserably as its rescue, the nation will have lost not only a cultural treasure but an important enclave of progressive values and Democratic strength in the Deep South.

      From the time French explorers claimed a clearing for a settlement along the massive river three centuries ago, New Orleans existed as a place distinctly different from the rest of the country. There was nothing remotely Puritan about its early years. A strong hint of the pagan could be smelled in the air, and in modern times the city became a refreshing detour off...

  14. Index
    (pp. 333-352)