MISSISSIPPI: An American Journey by Anthony Walton

MISSISSIPPI: An American Journey

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A young black journalist returning to find his roots in Mississippi makes the unsurprising discovery that circumstances there have been generally unfavorable to African-Americans. Walton grew up in the 1960s and '70s in a middle-class Chicago suburb where civil rights seemed on the move. To Walton's parents, Mississippi represented the poverty and inequality that they had struggled to escape; for the young Walton, Mississippi was something dark and sinister, ""perhaps the most loaded proper noun in American English."" So when he was older and going through a difficult time in New York City, the young man determined to confront his devils, thinking that by resolving his issues with Mississippi he could fix what else was broken in his life. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. In fact, Walton realizes after his journey that race relations are worse than he'd even imagined and that the progress of history is a myth. Walton demonstrates his epiphany by telling the story of Mississippi from pre-Columbian times to the present--but it reads like the textbook for American Civilization 101. In between, he transcribes interviews with Mississippi residents, both white and black, tells his own family's history, and writes of his travels throughout the state. Occasionally Walton hits upon an affecting tale. But in general, his news is so banal that we begin to doubt his sincerity when he writes, for example, ""It became clear to me on reflection that, for the ruling groups, 'the War between the States' had been exactly that . . . black Americans were offstage, an unpleasant complication to the real issues."" The better moments are when Walton invokes other Mississippi authors, such as Richard Wright and William Faulkner; the best chapter is a series of quotes from writers as diverse as V.S. Naipaul and Abraham Lincoln. As for the rest, Walton adds little to our understanding of the pressing tensions between blacks and whites.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0679777415
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf