Lingering “Baggage” at Jackson’s Greyhound Bus Station

Jackson Greyhound Station
Old Greyhound Bus Station in Jackson, Mississippi

During our time in Jackson, Mississippi we made a quick stop at the Greyhound Bus Station, which served as the destination for the Freedom Riders in 1961. Many of the participants were arrested and jailed at the notorious Parchman Prison. The city boasts a modern bus station, but in 1988 the old facility was renovated by Renovation Architect, Robert Parker Adams. The building now serves as his firm’s office. Mr. Adams graciously welcomed our group and personally led us through the building. His tour focused mainly on the steps taken to preserve the facility and create an efficient work space. It’s quite impressive.

The interior of the station has been renovated to appear as it did during WWII. There is not one reminder of the events that took place in and around the station in 1961. That doesn’t necessarily trouble me, but I am still considering the decision to change one minor aspect of the interior, which is depicted in the mural above. In the 1940s the entrance on the right panel would have read “colored” instead of “baggage.” It was the waiting room for African Americans. A couple of the students asked why this change was made, but Mr. Adams said very little to clarify the decision.

While it may seem like a minor oversight to some, to me it makes all the difference between a renovation meant to capture a piece of history and an attempt at creating feelings of nostalgia without having to be reminded of the blemishes.

33 responses... add one

Kevin, it appears that you and and your students were warmly received down south and even welcomed. I have read your “Take It Down” report with great interest, and now I see that you have found one more thing by which to be offended. Well, I am deeply offended by both articles. Your “Take it Down” article is what should should be removed. I have written you before that we have much to amend, and we have done it and are doing it without the opinions of a bunch of would be busybodies who imagine themselve to be Freedom Riders. You came down, accepted the hospitality of southerners, all the time, probably shaking your head at these benighted people. I am also shocked that you had no Americans of African American descent on your trip. Surely you could have invited a few. Lastly, I would suggest that you read the most timely and most excellent blog today, by my fellow Virginian, Richard Williams. He expresses most eloquently what most of us would say, and much better. Right now, I am so mad I dare write no more.

Betty,

Once again, this comment tells me much more about you than it does anything about me or the trip that I just completed. I don’t really care whether you are offended by what I write. If that is the case I suggest you spend your time on other sites where your personal views are confirmed.

I am also shocked that you had no Americans of African American descent on your trip. Surely you could have invited a few.

I have addressed this point more than once. I teach at a Jewish Academy outside of Boston. Now I could be wrong, but the overwhelming number of Jews in the Boston area are white. What exactly would you have me do about that fact? Why does this matter at all when discussing this trip? The history that took place in the South in the 1950s and 60s is worthy of study regardless of race. It is American history.

On final point. I am not “offended” by the mural. I do, however, question the word choice in it, which is my right to do.

The hospitality of the specific people who run the state government of Mississippi and of my state, South Carolina, is obviously wanting, not because of their race or culture or ancestors or heritage, but because of their own political action in the present day to promote the Confederacy specifically instead of promoting all that all the state’s people have to offer today.

I guess, for many whites, once the blacks were no longer useful as slaves or, later, underpaid workers, they simply wished they didn’t exist. The next ‘Jim Crow’ strategy was to criminalize and warehouse black males in private prisons for profit. They became the burdensome ‘baggage’ of history, an unwelcome reminder of the cruel past, which still threatens to taint the bright white future. Why remind folks of the shameful contradiction within the 1940s generation’s war against racist fascism? Perhaps ‘lost luggage’ would have been more appropriate!

Why remind folks of the shameful contradiction within the 1940s generation’s war against racist fascism? Perhaps ‘lost luggage’ would have been more appropriate!

Good point.

To Mike AND MICHAEL, I FIND THERE IS MUCH IN MISSISSIPPI AND CHARLESTON TO ENJOY, AND I HAVE, WITH KIN IN CHARLESTON. I BELIEVE I ALSO ADDRESSED THE FACT THAT THERE WERE WRONGS THAT HAVE BEEN RIGHTED. CHRALESTON AND MISSISSIPPI HAVE A LOT OF HISTORY CONNECTED WITH THE CONFEDERACY. WHY NOT PROMOTE HISTORY? THEY ALSO HAVE SOME MIGHTY GOOD FOOD IN BOTH STATES.
KEVIN, I WONDER WHAT MY COMMENTS HAVE TOLD YOU ABOUT ME?
DO I DETECT A HINT OF POINTING THE FINGER OF RACISM AT ME?
RE GETTING AN AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENT OR TWO TO TRAVEL WITH YOU,YOU ARE BOUND TO KNOW SOME NICE KIDS WHO COULD HAVE GIVEN YOU THEIR VIEWS ON THE DIFFERING CULTURES. YOU WERE ASKED THAT QUESTION BY SOMEONE ELSE. AS FOR WHY I READ YOUR BLOG, SOMETIMES THE TITLES INTRIGUE ME, AND I FALL INTO THE TRAP, ONLY TO BECOME MORE AGGRAVATED WITH EACH WORD.
THE ANTI- SOUTH ANTAGONISM THAT I READ ON THIS BLOG, NOT ONLY FROM YOU, BUT FROM 90 PER CENT OF YOUR COMMENTERS TELLS ME A LOT ABOUT YOU ALL. FACE IT–YOU ALL JUST DON’T LIKE US. I GUESS WE DON’T LIKE YOU ALL, EITHER. ENJOY YOUR FEELINGS OF SELF RIGHTEOUS SUPERIORITY. TELL ME, KEVIN, DO YOU EVER GET TIRED OF IT ALL?

Betty,

I know next to nothing about you. This means that I don’t consider your point-of-view to be representative of anything but your own regardless of your continued references to “us” and “we.” I am sorry that you are so incredibly insecure. We obviously differ on a number of issues, but you have always been welcome to comment on this blog. On this particular post you could have shared your own opinion about the mural, but instead you chose to question my intentions and once again make assumptions about me.

No need to shout, Ms. Giragosian. It was a school-sponsored trip, not a family vacation, so Kevin couldn’t just take anyone along. There are issues of insurance and legal responsibilities to be taken into account. I’d say the “anti-South antagonism” and “self-righteous superiority” are only in the eye of the person who wishes to see them, not in Kevin’s posts or most of the comments.

Thanks, Al. It’s hard to respond to someone who believes that what I write is meant as an indictment against every living-breathing white southerner. How anyone could read this post and others along these lines is beyond me. Betty is clearly carrying around a good deal of baggage and I wish her all the best with it.

Interesting observation, Kevin. I admit that I would not have thought about it, being inexpert at such things. I rather like the nostalgic atmosphere of the room. But I am a little disconcerted by the fact that he did not have a ready answer for your students regarding the matter. It seems that a man who pays as much attention to detail as Mr. Adams did elsewhere in the building must have a specific rationale for the change, unless it was, indeed, a rather embarrassing oversight.

In his defense, we were not able to spend much time at the office. I have to say that he also gave our students a great deal to think about with his observations about race relations in the South compared to the North.

Small point: would this Parchman Prison be the “Parchman Farm” in the song by Mose Allison?

It is bizarre that someone would go to such great trouble to historically preserve an old bus station depot, complete with cheery mural of white people, but then “whitewash” the aspects of Jim Crow that would have been too hard to ignore otherwise. This reeks of the same sort of white Southern nostalgia that venerates the heroism of the Confederate armies while whitewashing what they were fighting for.

I actually have some sympathy with Ms. Giragosian. It must be hard to face up to the fact that there is no distentangling any aspect of the history of the South from the history of white supremacy (which is not to say that the rest of the country’s history is not almost as entangled with white supremacy). The fact is that, not very long ago at all, Jim Crow was the law of the land in the South, and it was overwhelmingly popular among white Southerners of Ms. Giragosian’s generation. To say, as Ms. Giragosian does, that “THERE WERE WRONGS THAT HAVE BEEN RIGHTED”, and to imply that race relations in the South are not still deeply in the shadow of Jim Crow, is willlfully obtuse.

Memo to Ms. Giragosian: it is not “anti-Southern” to focus on the history of white supremacy, and its ongoing legacy, in the region where we both live. It is simply facing reality.

I found the reference to the “cheery mural of white people” fascinating, especially since Kevin himself has explicitly stated that his entire group of students and chaperones, numbering perhaps 45 in all, was entirely white. Perhaps, like Kevins’ group, the people in the mural were Jewish? Perhaps, as Al Mackey suggests, the reason all the people in the mural are white has to do with “issues of insurance and legal responsibilities”. One thing is perfectly clear however; the fact that the mural is full of white people has no specific meaning whatsoever, and it likewise implies absolutely nothing. As far as whitewashing is concerned, I wonder if down at the Boston docks they have murals depicting Africans in chains being herded off the slave ships. Somehow I doubt it.

If you actually take the time to read the post you will notice that I never took issue with the mural because it only depicts white people. What I took issue with is the fact that the name of the entrance in the mural had intentionally been altered. Nice try.

Mr. Harrigan, so nice to read your little summary of how I feel. Thanks so much for your grudging admission that the history of the rest of the country re white supremacy is almost as bad as that of the south’s. There may be hope for that little closed mind of yours.
If you are so blind that you cannot see the strides that have been made in race relations, all for the better, I can only assume that you do not want to see it. You would probably be surprised to know how we, as a people, have changed, for the better. Apparently, you do not kow many of us very well.
Could it be yourself that is obtuse? No, we are not a perfect people, and there is much that we have reason to be ashamed of and regret, Jim Crow being one. We have come a long way, and will continue to improve. It builds up resentment to read statements by busy bodies like you, condemning the past as well as our present.
Kevin pretends that he does not understand my usage of the word ‘we.’ He knows, and I am not going to bother to explain it again. I mean my people, and you should know what that means.
Have you ever thought of persuing another cause, in addition to the one of bad race relations? Ever considered the plight of the illegal alliens? That it one that is dear to my heart. How about yours?

Kevin pretends that he does not understand my usage of the word ‘we.’ He knows, and I am not going to bother to explain it again. I mean my people, and you should know what that means.

I know exactly what you mean and I reject it. You don’t speak for anyone but yourself.

Kevin, I don’t care whether you reject my use of the term ‘we’ or not. I have hundreds of friends for whom I do speak–they applaud my every word. Something like your commenters do for you.

May I also applaud what Mr. Sinclair Barton has just written?

Betty,

That’s fine. As long as you don’t claim to be speaking for white Southerners or some other nebulous group.

I want to state for the record that at no point have you ever been unwelcome here. We have had our disagreements and our agreements on past posts. On this particular post you chose to completely ignore the content. All I did was point out the change of one minor thing on a mural and question it. That is my right as it is my blog. You were free to share your own particular point-of-view and you are still free to do so. We can also continue with this meaningless comment thread.

Thanks, Kevin. I will say no more, other than, I was speaking to your entire mood.
l have only my friends who adore my every word, and do not speak for any group.
When I defend the UDC, it is I who do so, on my own.

Actually Kevin, that post was directed at James Harrigan, and not you. It was he, and not you, that made a particular point of describing the mural as full of white people.

What do you think of the decision to change the name of the entrance? That was the point of the post.

I thought the point of your post was just an excuse for you to engage, indefatigably, in yet another missive in which you condemn southern people and absolve northern people, and after they were so kind to you, too, tsk, tsk. :)

I think that when your students asked him why the change was made, he should have asked them why there were no African-American students in your group. And I don’t think the answer “because we attend a Hebrew school” is at all a satisfactory reply.

He did. That still leaves us with the question of why the change was made and how it ought to be interpreted. Do you have an opinion on this or do you insist on avoiding the question? What does the racial profile of the group that I traveled with have to do with my particular interpretation of this mural? I still don’t understand this redirection.

I think the idea that Southerners bear all the responsibility for the injustices perpetrated against African-Americans is an absurdity, and is in itself a monstrous injustice. Racism permeated all geographic regions of the U.S., and every instance where the blame is placed exclusively on Southerners should be answered with examples illustrating Northern guilt in the matter. That is why I re-direct.

When did I ever make such an absurd point? In fact, I made just this point in a previous post, which I guess you didn’t bother to read or conveniently forgot. I have always maintained that racism is a national problem.

As a person born early enough to remember seeing civil rights marches and responses to them on TV but who never used a station like the one in Jackson, can I ask for some information? If black people were allowed to use such stations, would they have been kept in a segregated waiting room or would they have mingled with those outside? I’m delighted with the preservation of many aspects of the room but asking if the mural accurately portrays the range of customers of the day.
As to the discussion above, every part of this country has at least a mote in its eye (Matthew 7:3–5), so pointing at those on others’ eyes is useless. Surely nobody posting here would say that this country has yet reached Zion in racial terms (certainly Kevin would not). Recognizing the distance yet to go must start with honestly acknowledging where we’ve each come from.

“served as the destination for the Freedom Riders in 1961″. I believe segregation in interstate travel was banned by a federal law in the early 60s – was that a result of the Freedom Riders at Jackson? I guess that was a separate issue from challenging southern states’ “Jim Crow” laws and practices.
“Why remind folks of the shameful contradiction within the 1940s generation’s war against racist fascism?” Indeed. The mural appears to show a band, presumably welcoming home returning soldiers. I believe just after WWII there were a number of lynchings of black returned soldiers in the South who were considered to be acting as though their service made them equal citizens.
BTW, perhaps I should make it clear that here in London there have been a number of racist murders over the years, and the Stephen Lawrence case still isn’t done with.

The issue is how we, every one of us, remember our history. And so anything at all that Kevin Levin comes across that brings a question to his mind, he is probably going to ask. Some people wish to try to keep score on his questions, where there is no score to be kept, or to take offense at his questions, where there is no offense to be taken.

When Kevin asked his question to his host and again here, he was not being impolite or impertinent or accusatory; he was being sincerely curious. There is certainly no need at all for anyone to leap to any defense of anyone or anything and there is absolutely no need to try to respond to Kevin Levin in an impolite, impertinent, or accusatory manner.

And so I would encourage the people who wish to take offense at real curiosity — and to leap to an accusatory defense — to instead strive to meet real curiosity with real curiosity. Scorekeeping is as unhealthy as it is silly. We’re all Americans. There is no us and them. There just isn’t.

I know this is not the point of the original post, but reading through the comments on this blog always alerts me to some intriguing ideas. I find it fascinating that there still remains this “us versus them” mentality among a certain percentage of this country, especially because I’m from a small, conservative town in west Texas and, for whatever reason, I never came to look at the country from that point of view. I’m 23, but certainly it can’t be just a generational difference- I’ve seen many a “Secede” bumper sticker throughout the parking lots at my university (but maybe that’s just Texas!). I only came across your blog several months ago, Kevin, but out of curiosity have you addressed this idea in a previous post?

Join the Conversation