The Great Migration Of 1910-60 Saw Black Americans Leaving The South For Better Prospects “Up North”. Now, They And Succeeding Generations Are Returning – Lured By Economic And Racial Progress.
After World War II, Melton McMorris taught for 18 years in the segregated public schools of Lincoln County before he finally gave up on Mississippi and headed west. He got a job teaching high school social studies in Santa Maria, Calif. His wife, Mary, joined him there two years later, and taught home economics, science, and history in the same school system.
The people were great, she said. You had a variety of people – Chicanos, Mexicans, whites, all different races. They treated us superb.
Both of them loved the climate, the community’s racial diversity, the fact that the system gave them the tools to do their jobs. However, when they retired, they felt the tug of the South. In 1991, the McMorrises returned to Bogue Chitto, about 70 miles south of Jackson, to a four-bedroom, brick home they built on land adjoining his family’s old homestead.
They were pleasantly surprised at some of the social changes that almost three decades had etched on the face of their hometown.
There was a change in relations between whites and blacks when I got back here, Melton McMorris said. They would speak and socialize with each other. It was kind of a shock, to see them seated together at games and so on.
Vevelyn Foster, a professor of history at Jackson State University who was born in Lincoln County, agrees with the McMorrises – up to a point – about the changes.
It’s more open in terms of public facilities, she said. Economic opportunities are much more available to African Americans. Even, to a degree, social relationships are better. It’s not unusual to see interracial friendships, genuine friendships. But the subtle racism, the subtle discrimination is still here, she said. Black children are not graduating at the rates they should from high school. Some of the young parents are organizing now. They’re beginning to insist that the system provide what it should for their children.
For the McMorrises, who bought a little general store up the road from their new home, the test of Bogue Chitto’s racial progress was economic: Would white customers continue to patronize the store now that blacks owned it?
The town passed: When they sold McMorris’ Groceries in 1995, they estimate that about 40 percent of their customers were white.
Since we are not there anymore, they tell us how much they miss us and they want us to come by, Melton McMorris said.
In fact, Mary added, we’ve got lots of white friends. We might be sitting here, and they’ll knock on the door, bringing you vegetables or fruit, or inviting you over to see them. You wouldn’t have seen that before.