Sons of Mississippi by Paul Hendrickson
A Story of Race and Its Legacy

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Sons of Mississippi recounts the story of seven white Mississippi lawmen depicted in a horrifically telling 1962 Life magazine photograph—and of the racial intolerance that is their legacy.

In that photograph, which appears on the front of this jacket, the lawmen (six sheriffs and a deputy sheriff) admire a billy club with obvious pleasure, preparing for the unrest they anticipate—and to which they clearly intend to contribute—in the wake of James Meredith’s planned attempt to integrate the University of Mississippi. In finding the stories of these men, Paul Hendrickson gives us an extraordinarily revealing picture of racism in America at that moment. But his ultimate focus is on the part this legacy has played in the lives of their children and grandchildren.

One of them is a grandson—a high school dropout and many times married—who achieves an elegant poignancy in his struggle against the racism to which he sometimes succumbs. One son is a sheriff, as his father was—and in the same town. Another grandson patrols the U.S. border with Mexico—a law enforcement officer like the two generations before him—driven by the beliefs and deeds of his forebears. In all the portraits, we see how the prejudice bequeathed by the fathers has been transformed, or remained untouched, in the sons.

For its sense of fragile hope, Sons of Mississippi is a profoundly important, revelatory work of still-evolving history. A stunning book by a masterful writer.


About Paul Hendrickson

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Paul Hendrickson, a prizewinning feature writer for the Washington Post for more than twenty years, now teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Seminary: A Search, Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War (a finalist for the National Book Award). He lives with his wife and two sons in Philadelphia.From the Hardcover edition.
Published March 18, 2003 by Knopf. 368 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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He finds in this beautiful but haunted land “all the shadows of the overhanging Confederate past, along with the new shoots so susceptible to quick loss, trampling.” A Faulknerian inquiry that circles back on itself as it reveals the heart of Dixie’s attempt to shed the instilled behavior of Ame...

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Publishers Weekly

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"Nothing is ever escaped," is the woeful reminder Hendrickson imparts in this magisterial group biography-cum-social history, a powerful, unsettling, and beautifully told account of Mississippi's still painful past.

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The Sons of Mississippi, by Paul Hendrickson (Knopf, 2003), is an intriguing read, as it follows the lives of seven 1960s sheriffs in Mississippi, and follows up with the sons and grandsons of these sheriffs, exploring the effects that the racism of the fathers and grandfathers is having on their...

May 30 2011 | Read Full Review of Sons of Mississippi: A Story ...

Book Reporter

In SONS OF MISSISSIPPI, Paul Hendrickson profiles seven Mississippi.

Jan 23 2011 | Read Full Review of Sons of Mississippi: A Story ...

Entertainment Weekly

First, Hendrickson identifies the seven men in Moore's picture: who they were, how they used or abused their authority, how they changed -- or refused to -- in the years after 1962.

Mar 28 2003 | Read Full Review of Sons of Mississippi: A Story ...

Deseret News

He seemed to think that Emmett Till was asking for trouble, when the 14-year-old black youngster from Chicago was viciously killed by whites in 1955 for speaking to a white woman.

Apr 27 2003 | Read Full Review of Sons of Mississippi: A Story ...

Project MUSE

Sitting by a lake on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River with Billy Ferrell or eating a grilled cheese at a gas station café on Highway 49W, Hendrickson slowly gains insight into the attitudes and beliefs of the seven Mississippi sheriffs who occupy the photo.

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