The Transcript

Don’t Cry (Warrior Song)

Can we achieve togetherness in our time?

December 18, 2019

The Prologue

Theme music

SARA A. LEWIS, HOST:
Welcome to Points South. I’m your host Sara A. Lewis of the Oxford American. On today’s show, National Book Award-winning author of The Yellow House Sarah M. Broom. And a special performance of No Tears Suite, a jazz composition commissioned by the OA to commemorate Little Rock’s 1957 desegregation crisis.

But first, the story of Clyde Kennard, who attempted in the late-1950s to be the first black student to enroll at what was then Mississippi Southern College. What happened to him has been called the saddest story of the Civil Rights movement.

AUBREY K. LUCAS:
Well, I never enjoy these. It's just not, it's just not something you really want to think about a lot.

LEWIS:
Aubrey K. Lucas, now President Emeritus at Southern Miss, spoke with me in his office in the McCain library, the building named after his former boss, then-president William McCain.

LUCAS:
I was director of admissions when the Clyde Kennard, uh, effort occurred and I’ve—I try hard to remember everything about that. I’m, I am so sure that I never saw the file of Clyde Kennard. I do not remember ever seeing the file. And I was 21, maybe 22. I forget now.

The secretary who would be my memory has gone on to the great sky. And so I have to depend on my own memory, but I’d—if his application came to my office and I just, I don’t remember.

LEWIS:
For decades, Lucas, as the director of admissions who officially declined Kennard’s admission the President then President Emeritus of Southern—he's been approached by students and outside groups trying to compel a university response to honor canards legacy, but the series of events that ultimately led to Kennard’s death on July 4th, 1963 remained beyond his memory and this is what those who care about the story are trying to preserve, the memory of someone who did not live to tell his own story.

Kennard was an Army vet who served in both Germany and Korea. Upon his discharge he enrolled at the University of Chicago, but returned to Hattiesburg, to run the family farm. His attempt to enroll at Southern Miss was out of necessity. The closest school that would admit him was in Jackson.

WILLIAM STURKEY:
And so I think, you know, he didn’t want to burden anyone else with trying to help him too much.

LEWIS:
Dr. William Sturkey, is author of the book Hattiesburg: A City in Black + White. It traces the history of the city, functionally two cities divided by race for much of its existence.

STURKEY:
But I think that he really did believe that he could probably convince these folks that he should be admitted.

I just want to be able to go to college in my hometown, get my degree, and then work on my life on my own time here.

LEWIS:
Kennard applied to Southern four times. Though he withdrew one application in an earnest effort to cooperate with President McCain, he officially received three rejections. One of those rejection letters is on display at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

LUCAS:
Oh, you want me to read it?

LEWIS:
Yeah yeah.

LUCAS:

Dear sir,

You were denied admission to Mississippi Southern College because of deficiencies and irregularities in your application papers as follows:
A)A copy of the transcript of your work at the University of Chicago has not been received and that omission prevents our evaluating your scholastic eligibility to be admitted to Mississippi Southern College. On the basis of information available, you do not appear eligible to enter Mississippi Southern College from an out-of-state institution of higher learning.
B) All persons who are admitted to Mississippi Southern College must be of good moral character. The medical certificate filed by you on the date of September 2nd, 1959 appears to be false and fraudulent. This is indicative of a lack of good moral character.
C) From an investigation conducted at the University of Chicago, it appears that your record is such that you have been denied readmittance there. A student who cannot return to the last institution of higher learning is automatically excluded from Mississippi Southern College.

Very truly yours,

Aubrey K. Lucas

LEWIS:
Dr. Lucas doesn’t remember seeing this letter or sending it and questions whether it was a letter actually delivered to Kennard

LUCAS:
They ought to correct that…

LEWIS:
That’s why we’re having this conversation.

LUCAS:
They really ought to have the letter signed by me.

LEWIS:
He suggests that this might have been a draft concocted by McCain and others but never given to Kennard. Though he says he was told that Kennard didn’t have a suitable record and that he had falsified a physical exam. He took this information at face value.

The rejection letter he does remember signing alluded to Kennard’s inability to secure recommendations from five alumni.

STURKEY:
Now the reason that they have that is because in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, they’re trying to find other ways of making sure that black people can’t get into the school besides just saying, you’re black, you can’t come here, period. And so by saying that you need five recommendations from a former alumni, that means because no black student has ever attended, you need five recommendations from white people. So even if you could get that, then those people might be suspect to any sort of retribution from their own positions or their own churches.

LEWIS:
Kennard attempts to find a way around this.

STURKEY:
He goes out and he gets some of the local leading African Americans to write letters of recommendation on his behalf. People who had the equivalent of a Mississippi Southern College degree but had not gone to Mississippi Southern College because they were black but respectable professional people. Now what happens here is that the Sovereignty Commission working with the Citizen’s Council decides that they need to find another way to deny this application.

LEWIS:
The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission and the White Citizens’ Council, were groups designed to thwart civil rights for non-white citizens. In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, their stated purpose was to avoid racial desegregation and they went to any means possible to accomplish this. McCain, as a public university president, was working with these organizations.

In the past few decades, journalist Jerry Mitchell has devoted his career to investigating civil rights era cold cases. He’s read countless documents from the Sovereignty Commission and has been instrumental in bringing to light the injustices done to Clyde Kennard, including a setup by the police during a planned visit to Southern’s campus.

MITCHELL:
Clyde Kennard said, I’m coming there. And, and he let him know he was coming. This was, you know, it was announced, it wasn’t a secret. The constables are following him and you know, they get there and then he goes inside to try to register. And as soon as he comes outside, he’s arrested!

STURKEY:
There are policemen waiting for him that say that he was speeding on his way to campus earlier that day and they arrest him on the grounds of speeding. When he gets to jail he’s also booked on possession of whiskey, and which was illegal at the time.

LEWIS:
By all accounts, Clyde Kennard didn’t drink.

In my conversation with Sturkey, he described the Sovereignty Commission and the White Citizen’s Council as white supremacist domestic terrorist organizations. The documents they’ve left behind tell us about the violence, terror, and harassment they perpetrated on black community members.

Unfortunately, we have fewer surviving documents to better understand the person at the center of this story. What we do know is informed by a series of three letters Kennard wrote to the Hattiesburg American. Dr. Sherita Johnson, English and Black Studies professor at Southern, produced a short film about Kennard in which she engages these letters.

JOHNSON:
That’s the beauty of his writing as well is that he’s not asking, he didn’t ask of his audience to see and only see and understand the experience of being black in that world. He asked him to see themselves as a racialized other regardless, right.

CLYDE KENNARD (READ BY KYLE SPELLER):
“Most basic to our beliefs about the race question in America today is that there can be no racial segregation without some racial discrimination and that there cannot be a complete racial equalization without some racial integration. . . .Now, this principle is an easy one for us to follow, for it holds as true in human history, especially American History, as it does in logic. Reason tells us that two things, different in location, different in constitution, different in origin, and different in purpose cannot possibly be equal. History has verified this conclusion.”

JOHNSON:
And this was just written and published in a local, you know, newspaper. Whereas this sounded like a lecture that would be delivered from a platform somewhere. And ultimately you see, you see his, uh, his need to connect to an audience, an antagonistic audience. Like those letters weren’t written to speak to other black people—I mean just point blank.

He’s writing to a, uh, an antagonistic, predominantly white audience, right. Who he knows have little interaction with African-Americans other than as servants, right? In their homes or otherwise, or as subservient people in a, as a class in general.

KENNARD:
What we request is only that in all things competitive, merit be used as a measuring stick rather than race.

We believe that for men to work together best, they must be trained together in their youth. We believe that there is more to going to school than listening to the teacher and reciting lessons. In school one learns to appreciate and respect the abilities of the other.

We say that if a man is a good doctor though his face be white as light or black as darkness let him practice his art. We believe that the best engineer should build the bridge or run the train. We believe that the most efficient secretary should get the best paying job and the greatest scholar the professorship. We believe in the dignity and brotherhood of man and the divinity and fatherhood of God, and as such men should work for the upbuilding of each other, in mutual love and respect. We believe when merit replaces race as a factor in character evaluation, the most heckling social problem of modern times will have been solved.

Thus we believe in integration on all levels from kindergarten to graduate schools; in every area of education; in government, federal, state, local; in industry from the floor sweeper to the superintendent’s office; in science from the laboratory to the testing ground.

This, I believe, is our creed. And though it is not perfect, still I had rather meet my God with this creed than with any other yet devised by human society.

JOHNSON:
Because I’ve also spent time studying the speeches of Frederick Douglass, I see a lot of that kind of extension of how Frederick Douglass would certainly talk about the day to day experiences of what it meant to have been enslaved. But he can also then grow broadly into like, you know, larger issues of humanity.

Would it matter if you were dying and the only doctor available was a black doctor? Would it matter if you were crossing a bridge that was created and inspected by a black engineer, not a white?

MITCHELL:
Anybody you talk to about Clyde Kennard will talk about what an exemplary person he was. So this is not a guy that um anyone really has anything bad to say about.

It’s kinda fascinating. The Sovereignty Commission does like a 120-page investigation of Clyde Kennard, you know, determined to find something bad on him and they couldn’t find it!

LEWIS:
One 37-page report compiled by the commission, labeled Kennard as an “Integration Agitator.” The file includes some of his previous college transcripts—he was an A/B student. And it’s noted that they are on file with Aubrey K. Lucas. In interviews with black and white members of the Hattiesburg community Kennard is roundly classified as intelligent, as a crusader, as a leader, but, again, an agitator.

In addition to surveilling Kennard’s movements and finances, the Commission made life very difficult for Clyde Kennard in Hattiesburg. The files reference “economic pressure” as a way to force people out of their community. At some point, no one would even sell Kennard the chicken feed he needed to keep his stock alive. And in 1960, he was accused of stealing $25 worth of feed. The case relied on witness testimony from Johnny Lee Roberts, who later recanted his statement. But in ten minutes a jury convicted Kennard and sentenced him to seven years in Parchman Prison.

MITCHELL: (11:49)
Here was a guy who got railroaded and obviously sent to prison for something he didn’t do. I, I just, uh, I’m from having read the transcript and also the Sovereignty Commission records there’s no doubt in my mind that’s what happened. And yet when he was let out of prison, ’cause he was dying of cancer, he said, I love Mississippi. Well this is a guy, according to what we know about his time in prison, who was horribly mistreated. They didn’t give him medical care. If they had, he would have survived. Um,you know, and, and his attitude was such, that that just takes my breath away to, to think that someone who could have easily and justifiably cursed other people for what they had done to him...Um,yeah, forgave them in a sense.

I got the transcript of his trial and when I read it, it was, it just broke my heart. I, I mean, I wept actually reading it. It was incredible. You know, hard to believe, hard to believe. They were literally—if you read these Sovereignty Commission records, what becomes abundantly clear is they were just hellbent on doing whatever they had to do to keep him out of college.

STURKEY:
He ended up receiving what became a death sentence because of it. Now they didn’t know he was going to contract stomach cancer in prison. They didn’t know that the prison was going to refuse him to be released. Even after they knew that he had stomach cancer and they were forcing him to go out in the fields to work more every day to the point of where he collapsed. But I think the fact that he ended up paying for this with his life is one of the horrible stories of the Civil Rights Movement and there was no really great victory here.

JOHNSON:
He achieved far more than he ever would’ve conceived of. So his story isn’t tragic. It has some sad moments. It has some tender moments, certainly that we can all regret and bemoan, but it only becomes a tragedy if that’s all that we see of his life.

LEWIS:
Professor Johnson’s point speaks to the importance of talking about Kennard in a way that reflects not just what happened to him but what his activism accomplished, the power of his writing and the generations of students he’s impacted.

JOHNSON:
But that's not even a history that the university will publicize. I mean this is kind of a, it’s an oral history. It’s a generational history that has remained on the student level.

RIVA BROWN:
For me, the Clyde Kennard story was such an important thing for me that I made it class assignments. It was in the Student Printz. It was in the Unheard Word. It was just that important to me to be able to tell the story.

LEWIS:
When Dr. Riva Brown attended Southern as an undergrad in the 90s, Kennard was not a part of the institution’s story. A budding journalist—and future colleague of Jerry Mitchell at the Clarion-Ledger—Brown started her own publication, the Unheard Word.

She was committed to telling the stories not covered by the official student paper, the Student Printz, which she later became editor of.

BROWN:
Dr. Lucas was president at the time, and when I was really getting into the Unheard Word, I asked him for a sit-down interview and I can show you the document. It had “Lucas Speaks on Black Issues” and there was a caricature of Dr. Lucas on the front of the Unheard Word. And he was gracious enough to allow me to come in. I was not representing the Student Printz or any student organization, but he was gracious enough to allow me to come in to have an hour-long sit-down interview with him for the Unheard Word. And during that conversation, we talked about his connection to the Clyde Kennard story dating back to the 1950s and 60s. But I also talked to him about would he do anything to honor Clyde Kennard in any way. Would there be a scholarship? Would he build a statue? Would he name a building? Those types of questions. And he was saying at the time that he didn’t think that Clyde Kennard would want that.

LEWIS:
In the interview, Lucas cites the “very practical person” that comes through in the State Sovereignty papers. Kennard, he argues, would have wanted “whatever monies we raise used to benefit people to help them do what he didn’t get to do.”

BROWN:
I felt that the Unheard Word was a part of what was the catalyst for these things to occur because awareness was being raised among some of the mainstream black student leaders on campus who could push to try to make change.

But Dr. Lucas had to be receptive to that and named this committee to help create these things and to make recommendations that could be accepted. And it was just a wonderful thing to see the awareness being raised through the Unheard Word and how that helped others try to help others become more knowledgeable about Clyde Kennard and his contributions to Southern Miss history.

LEWIS:
In 2018, Kennard was conferred a posthumous degree and a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker honoring him was placed at Southern Miss outside the Kennard-Washington building, a building named to recognize Kennard and Dr. Walter Washington, the first African-American to receive a PhD from the university.

JOHNSON:
This space holds the history. It holds the history not just in these markers that are on the buildings but just in that lived experience that is carried over and you can have conversations with students, older students, you’re going to have a conversation with staff members who are mindful of it that’s carried there in their everyday experience. Why they are always mindful of the fact that they’re out of place on this campus.

LEWIS:
Johnson and others on campus seemed to wish that efforts to recognize Kennard would be more firmly embraced by the Southern Miss administration. After all, it was Dr. Brown and her fellow students as undergraduates who pushed for early recognition in the 90s and the recently placed marker was an initiative spearheaded by Visit Mississippi.

Awareness of Clyde Kennard among the general student population remains low, as does the university’s seeming interest in publicizing his efforts to enroll. Dr. Johnson cited the university’s recently redesigned website as an example of a missed opportunity to commemorate Kennard.

JOHNSON:
Put in Kennard name on there and see how hard it would be to find anything about Clyde Kennard. Right? It’s not—then, then do the same thing for, Ole Miss, put in Meredith name in the search bar and see how easily it’ll take you to a foundation. How it talks about it. I mean, that’s a model if there’s any for us at see, how to tell the story and how to tell it differently because it was these, these are two different circumstances, right? Kennard tried to integrate Southern Miss years before James Meredith did um, Oxford.

I’m sure there is not a student whether they care to or not that would not know the name of James Meredith on that campus. Take that same poll in here and you are very much would not know. And I do it every time I teach a class just to see. Anybody heard of Clyde Kennard?

Our happy-go-lucky story is that we’re not Ole Miss or Mississippi State—No, but a man did die for just trying to finish his education.

LUCAS:
Well now you have to keep in mind that when I was president, we named a building for Clyde Kennard and, and then we created a scholarship and then we created a Clyde Kennard Day— tho– tho– those kinds of things. I could tell and I said so, you can never do enough. There is no way. There is nothing we can do to reconcile what we do to Clyde’s suffering and loss. There’s just no way.

The guilt associated with Clyde Kennard never ends, never ends. And I think this, some in this state, honestly feel guilty about how African Americans have been treated and particularly at the university level in terms of admission, you know?

There is some guilt you must always dust off and look at. I didn’t mean to go to preaching, but I do believe that.

LEWIS:
When you talk about that guilt, are you personalizing any of that?

LUCAS:
No more than my colleagues who were here then and later realized the extent of the mistreatment. We didn’t know it then.

LEWIS:
I find this hard to believe. Perhaps it's easier to say than we didn't care. And for the people in the university actively worked with the White Citizens Council and the sovereignty commission, it's certainly even more sinister.

Is there a villain in the story?

LUCAS:
Yes. The environment created all over this state and almost all over the South that was diminishing and insulting to black people.

JOHNSON:
Well, in any story like this, right, people already need a villain for the story. And the villain was the—were the laws.

I mean there are some actual people who were in positions to block his entry and his admission. But the true villain was the interpretation of laws or the lack of interpreting the laws. But if you had to put a face on that, in that role, the most likeliest candidate at the time um, would have been President McCain.

STURKEY:
We have these contested, we have these contested spaces across the Jim Crow South and McCain also has a building named after him. So one of the things that I think makes people so upset is that we have a guy who did not call for anyone to be imprisoned who did not call for anyone to be killed, who had a sense that black and white people should have opportunities to attend school to better their lives. And he basically has the same reward and legacy on the campus in terms of nomenclature as the man who did the exact opposite.

MITCHELL:
Death doesn’t have to end correcting the record. We can continue on. And that’s so true in these cases that I have worked on, where you’ve had people that have been killed, um, killed for nothing more than hate.

LEWIS:
Right.

MITCHELL:
And so what do you do in those situations? Let’s say the perpetrator’s dead. What do you do? So, well there’s no “justice” anymore, the perpetrator’s dead. But there is an important thing called memory. And so, we can correct what society knows about something and what society believes about something, the memory, the social memory that’s out there so that it reflects what really happened.

LEWIS:
And so we come back to where we began thinking about what we forget, what we remember and how we remember it. Dr. Lucas has his personal memory, but there's also the institutional and social memory that we can keep alive to not just remember the terrible things that happened to Clyde Kennard, but the remarkable if unlikely activist he became in the process. It's clear reading his words why the people we talked to for this story have devoted their time and their talents to create space in the social memory for Clyde Kennard.

KENNARD:
We want your friends to be our friends; we want your enemies to be our enemies; we want your hopes and your ambitions to be our hopes and ambitions, and your joys and sorrows to be our joys and sorrows.

The big question seems to be, can we achieve this togetherness in our time?

LEWIS:
William Sturkey’s book Hattiesburg: A City in Black and White is available now.

Jerry Mitchell’s memoir Race Against Time, which tells the story of investigating cases like the 16th St Church Bombing and the assassination of Medgar Evars, comes out in February.

After the break: National Book Award-winner Sarah M. Broom in conversation about The Yellow House.

ADVERTISEMENT

In Conversation: Sarah M. Broom

SARAH M. BROOM:
I'm Sarah Broom, the author of The Yellow House.

SARA A. LEWIS:
Welcome to Points South.

BROOM:
Thank you. I love being here.

LEWIS:
So back in 2008 you published an essay with the Oxford American called “A Yellow House in New Orleans.” Flash forward 10 years and you have The Yellow House. How did this project grow from an essay into a book?

BROOM:
Well I think, you know, it's, it's great to remember that I wrote that piece, though I dare not read it ’cause I feel like I would just be cringing the whole, the whole time. But it really was me working out a lot of the ideas I think, which, which make the book now and just beginning to think about how to put it together, and what exactly was the story I was trying to tell. And I think in that piece I'm trying to get at what is agitating me a little bit about the house and what it means to be from New Orleans East and to be from New Orleans, you know. And I wrote a few other pieces actually. A piece of which shows up in the book about my love for the Laffy Taffy candy and the, the lengths to which I'd go. And that piece in the OA becomes this, uh, piece, sort of bigger than the idea of candy, right. Becomes about actually teeth and who can afford to have pretty looking teeth and who can't, you know. Um, so yeah, I love the OA for just giving me a space to work that stuff out.

LEWIS:
So this book is filled with so many fascinating people and characterization is just so wonderfully rich throughout the book and reading it I was wondering if you had a favorite person to build on the page, like someone you discovered more about or really excited about to meet there on the page?

BROOM:
Probably maybe two people. My brother Carl, because Carl, the character in the book, right? I mean it's all true, but he's like this. He's better than life in a way. Um, you know, if I described this person to you in a novel, you might think, “Oh, she's overdoing it.” So, he was so much fun to write this sort of guy who is just a loner in a way. Right. And then my mother was immense fun to write because the sound of her was so compelling and intriguing and she's shaped what entire chapters became. Just the sound of her voice.

LEWIS:
She got her own type treatment.

BROOM:
She did.

LEWIS:
And I love that

BROOM:
She did get her own type treatment.

LEWIS:
You need no dialogue tags.

BROOM:
I love that. You put that beautifully. Yeah. It’s not even italics really. I mean it is italics. But I love the idea of it actually being a different type treatment because that’s really how I imagined it. You know that she’s telling a kind of parallel story to mine that if you just read her pieces that she’s saying something really different from what I’m saying.

LEWIS:
I love that you weren't afraid to have your voices and perspectives contradict each other. It actually I think gave more of a prismatic view of the family history than if you’d said, well well no my mother is wrong. You presented her and let her sit there and have her say.

BROOM:
And you know she is, is sort of so wonderful because she sometimes contradicts the stuff that I'm saying and, and I love this play, this idea that her voice is in my voice and my siblings’ voices are also in my one voice. So I love the way that the book tries to play a little bit with what people sound like in their moments, in the language when I feel like I’m writing sort of high and also writing low, right? Like where where the sound of the language is very different. And that all comes from my mother, so it’s great to sort of have her there as this energetic force in the book.

LEWIS:
When I picked up the book, it was clear to me that the yellow house itself would become a character in the piece. I don't think I was prepared for the way that East New Orleans functioned as this character that rolls through all the generations. Was that part of the project for you to make East New Orleans so integral to the communal aspect of all of the characters working together, that it becomes almost a character in and of itself or does?

BROOM:
I think it had to be that because that was the place we came from and the place we knew the most. And because New Orleans East is this place that just never ever gets spoken about. I mean, I’m just thrilled that random people are going around saying New Orleans East. That alone is, is a real source of meaning of success for me. And so I just felt like the East, how do you literally put a place on the map? I mean that literally, and the way I think to do that for me was to really get very, very close up to all the places that mattered to us there. And, and really say the names of places, you know, to sort of practice a kind of name calling where, or even a roll call where you say all the spots that mattered to you and, and all of that, I think coalesce to sort of create this picture of a place that just just comes alive. You know?

LEWIS:
In the very beginning of the book, you have a stack of New Orleans books that are listed. How does your book, how does The Yellow House fit into the canon of those other books that you named?

BROOM:
Well, it’s so interesting because in that early part “Map,” I'm playing around with the idea of these sort of tour guide books, right? And they have these wonderful names like Fabulous New Orleans, you know, New Orleans Now and Then, and, and these are the quintessential books that people turn to when they want to learn something about New Orleans. And you know, New Orleans East isn't big in those, in those books. Right? You would hardly find a mention of them. And so I, I’m in a way playing around with this idea and just the meta idea that I’m actually writing against these sorts of narratives that keep getting told, you know, but that excludes certain people in, in places.

LEWIS:
Is there room for another book in you about the same place? Or are you...

BROOM:
Sure. I mean, look at Philip Roth who was obsessed with Newark for most all of his life and Joan Didion who remains obsessed by California in key ways. And I think of John Edgar Wideman and Homewood, and I think some of our greatest writers stay stuck on place. I mean, Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers and I’m just thinking about Southern writers, right? I feel that this book is so basic and preliminary. It just doesn’t feel deep to me. So I think I could write so many other books that take us farther and wider and deeper. I don’t know that I will write other books about New Orleans East. I might.

LEWIS:
Cause I don't think I'm asking the question of whether it’s possible or whether one should, but just more that, do you still have interest in this place?

BROOM:
I do. I’m still pretty obsessed with it. So I might, you know, I might. I like the challenge in a way of, of focusing in, even more so and saying, “here are the thousands of things I couldn’t do in this book ’cause I ran out of space and it started not making sense.” And there were so many books I wrote within this book that I deleted or took out because it was making the story too unwieldy. It’s still an unwieldy story, but a little more contained.

LEWIS:
Well, I want to shift to something that’s untried yet. I want to do just like a quick lightning round of five questions.

BROOM:
Okay. All right. I’m, I’m game.

LEWIS:
Okay, cool. Thought you might be right. Favorite villain?

BROOM:
Joker.

LEWIS:
Why joker?

BROOM:
Did you see the recent film?

LEWIS:
No.

BROOM:
The story is so good. A lot of people dislike the film, but you know, it has to do with him being a person who had all of this longing and sort of feeling of isolation and wanting to belong and wanting to be seen. I don’t know. Something about that is so compelling.

LEWIS:
Did you see the SNL parody called “The Grouch”?

BROOM:
No.

LEWIS:
They take Oscar the Grouch and give him the same backstory as the Joker. It’s so good.

BROOM:
Were you surprised that I said The Joker?

LEWIS:
Yeah, I was.

BROOM:
Interesting.

LEWIS:
I don't know why, but I find that to be an interesting answer because people wish they could be or do something that the villain possesses or can get away with. So I was interested, I’m just interested I guess in like what The Joker has that you find intriguing.

BROOM:
I don’t want anything that The Joker has. I’m just intrigued by him and, and somehow interested.

LEWIS:
Okay. Favorite New Orleans food.

BROOM:
Oh, gumbo. Of course. Hands down. Seafood gumbo people, that means with shrimp with that heads boiled for the roux. Uh, shrimp, crab, hot sausage. Patton’s hot sausage. Double D smoked sausage. You know, it has to be my mom’s seafood gumbo. No. Okra.

LEWIS:
Ooh, we do okra in ours. You know, I have a grandma, Great grandma seafood gumbo.

BROOM:
Okay. Is it slimy though? in the, is the slime...

LEWIS:
No, because I think they let it dry. You talked about that though, the goopiness.

BROOM:
I did. I did. Yeah, someplace.

LEWIS:
I was like “That is the best description I’ve ever heard.” Okay, favorite movie soundtrack?

BROOM:
Love Jones, for sure. I love that soundtrack. But, I could just hear it in my head. When you say soundtrack, it starts playing. [singing notes from song] You know?

LEWIS:
Yeah. I hope I got it stuck in your head.

BROOM:
Now it'll never come out. Yeah.

LEWIS:
Okay. Current favorite book.

BROOM:
Ooh, I’m reading again The Tender Land by Kathleen Finneran, which is, and I think the subtitle is “A Family Love Story” and it’s so full of heart. That’s how I’ll put it.

LEWIS:
Okay.

BROOM:
And it’s a delicious family story. And the reason I’m rereading it is a) because I’m going to meet her in Missouri in a day, but in addition to that, it, it, it’s interesting because I want to ask her questions like “what are, what are the things people said to you when you wrote a personal family book?” Because you know, it’s a very hard thing to do and she does it in such a compelling way. I just love her family. I loved them the first time I read it and I’m loving them all over again.

LEWIS:
Okay, last one. Favorite place to write?

BROOM:
Favorite place to write. Definitely in upstate New York. In the Catskills.

LEWIS:
I love that question because it could be like a physical location. I love that you were like “Catskills.”

BROOM:
That’s true. But I love a nook. I want to talk about a nook, though. Okay, I like to be hidden away in a nook. Give me the tiniest space imaginable and my 5’11” frame will go in there. I love like a little closet, a little room, you know, sort of finite space.

LEWIS:
Yeah.

BROOM:
That’s my thing.

LEWIS:
Well, Sarah Broom, that’s all I have for you.

BROOM:
This was so much fun. You’re a one of the greatest podcasters. I'm telling you now.

LEWIS:
We're keeping that tape, I’ll tell you that.

BROOM:
Yeah. Run that!

LEWIS:
Alright...

Thank you to Sarah M. Broom, National Book Award-winner in non-fiction for The Yellow House.

Join us in Little Rock for our reading series South Words, and tune in next season for South Words performances on Points South, including Sarah M. Broom reading from The Yellow House and onstage in conversation with the OA’s Jeff Baskin Writing Fellow KaToya Ellis Fleming.

Head over to oxfordamerican.org/events for more information on our South Words series.

Advertisement

In Session: No Tears Suite

SARA A. LEWIS: In 1957, nine students desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School.

You’ve likely seen the images of Elizabeth Eckford attempting to enter the school. She’s wearing sunglasses, a white blouse, holding her books, while a crowd of angry people trail behind her shouting.

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Central High Crisis, the OA commissioned a 60-minute jazz composition, written by Little Rock pianist Chris Parker and vocalist Kelley Hurt. “No Tears Suite” was inspired by the title of Little Rock Nine member Melba Patillo Beals’s memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry.

Here is “Don’t Cry (Warrior’s Song)”.

Song Plays

LEWIS:
To hear more and learn more about the No Tears Suite, visit OxfordAmerican.org/NoTears. This episode was produced by me, with Monique LaBorde, Trey Pollard, Ryan Harris, and Eliza Borné.

Thanks to all our guests and contributors—Kyle Speller, KaToya Ellis Fleming, Zelda Engelar-Young, KateLin Carsrud, Spacebomb Group, John Spann and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Robin White and The Central High National Historic Site, Brian Blade, Bill Huntington, Bobby LaVell, Marc Franklin, and Chad Fowler. This episode was made possible by support from Andy & Sommers Collins, UAMS, and Fayetteville Roots.

CODA

LEWIS:
Thank you for tuning in to Points South this year. We hope you have enjoyed the programming and that you’ll join us next year for brand new episodes featuring compelling stories, intimate performances live from the OA stage, interviews with your favorite Southern authors, and much more.

As we finish out the year, please consider donating to the Oxford American. As an independent, non-profit organization, we rely on your support. Visit oxfordamerican.org/donate to make an end-of-year gift. That’s OxfordAmerican.org/donate. Any gift amount is appreciated, and for as little as $100 you can become a member of the OA Society. Visit oxfordamerican.org/donate to learn more and join.