We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
On Sept. 27, 1962, Life magazine photographer Charles Moore snapped a shot of seven Mississippi lawmen. In the center of their circle was Sheriff Billy Ferrell, cigarette clamped in his teeth, holding a billy club. The men weren’t gathered to break up a riotby the time a riot, which left two dead, occurred three days later, they’d all leftor to enforce any law, but to prevent James Meredith, a black man, from enrolling at the University of Mississippi. In Sons of Mississippi, former Washington Post writer Paul Hendrickson uses Moore’s photograph to frame his investigation into the lives of the men charged with defending the last bastions of legal apartheid in the United States. He details the events surrounding Meredith’s enrollment (Robert Kennedy postponed the attempt on Sept. 27; Meredith went back to a naval air station in Memphis, where he was protected by federal troops), but his bigger interest is in what became of the lawmen and their children, who grew up in a painfully and only partially integrated South. As it turns out, they’re pretty much like people anywhere. The Ferrells, son and grandson of the man wielding the stick, followed him into law enforcement. Another sheriff’s son can’t control his anger and works the third shift at Home Depot to avoid people. Meredith’s own son, Joe, earned his doctorate at Ol’ Miss but rarely speaks to his father. As Hendrickson says about behavior that seems to go unpunished, “Nothing is ever escaped.” It just might have to wait a generation or two. Hendrickson is around at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Janet Hopf)