Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Françoise N. Hamlin's "Crossroads at Clarksdale"

Françoise N. Hamlin is the Hans Rothfels Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies at Brown University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Crossroads At Clarksdale opens in the middle of a section about the morality trial of one of the major leaders in Clarksdale and Mississippi, Aaron Henry. In 1962, local police arrested Henry at his home in the middle of the night and charged him with soliciting a young man. He denied the claims and appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. By page 99, I discuss the paradox of Henry's respected and revered position as a local and state leader despite the not-so-closeted secret about his bisexuality that he never talked about publicly. Local white leaders had hoped that destroying Henry's image might mute his activist voice, but their tactics failed as the black community in Clarksdale and statewide rallied to his defense.

This section is particularly titillating, dealing with sexuality and southern culture through the sordid particulars of this event. It is a tangent from the activist movement narrative, part of the chronology of how white supremacists sought to exert and maintain control, this time through sex. As such, it is not so representative of the entire book. However, the story serves to complicate the meaning and realities of black leadership, and once more illustrates the depth of hatred and viciousness directed toward activist leaders in Mississippi, as well as the deep loyalty and strength of the local community in times of tribulation. One of the goals of the book is to challenge and extend the knowledge and conversation about black leadership and civil rights activism during this period through a local study. This allows for the ugliness of scandal and sometimes in-fighting to emerge in the detail, alongside the heroism and victories more often highlighted and generalized in scholarship and memory. In this way, page 99 falls on a fascinating example that fulfills this goal.
Visit the Crossroads at Clarksdale Facebook page, and learn more about Crossroads at Clarksdale at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue