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Tate Taylor: Don’t hide your roots

Sixty agents rejected the book, which explores the relationship between the black help and the white families they served in Jackson in the 1960s, before one took it on and sold it within two weeks. Stockett said she was hesitant to give Taylor the film rights because he had only made two films, a short film and one feature-length project which only grossed $8,000 in theaters, Stockett said.

“My agent, my husband at the time, my friends, they all told me ‘No, don’t do it,’ but Tate kept calling,” she said.

“One night he called me and said, ‘If you don’t give the film rights to me, somebody is going to try to make this movie on a set in Los Angeles or Vancouver, (Canada), and they are either going to make a really bad movie or give up trying.

“I had five years and 60 rejection letters in my drawer, so I told everybody else to bug off, and I have not looked back since.”

Writing about Mississippi’s past is something that is done somewhat defensively, Stockett said.

“We have had so much controversy, but Mississippi is like my mother,” she said. “I am allowed to talk bad about her all I want, but God help the person who speaks an ill word about her unless she is her mother, too.”

Stockett shared the Wright award this year with James Meredith, who was the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi.

In accepting the award, Meredith said he considered it the greatest honor of his life.

“I accepted this award to tell the truth and stop the lie,” he said.

“Mississippi and America have been so busy celebrating the lie and honoring the dream until they have had no time left to acknowledge the truth and deal with reality.

“The lie (is) the so-called Civil Rights movement produced voting rights and integration of the races. The truth (is) the same people who had all the power in 1965 have all the power today and every day from then to now.”

Education is less available to black children now than it was in 1974, and the concept of integration has been a lie from the beginning, Meredith said, noting Mississippi’s history of opening nearly all-white private academies, leaving public school systems nearly all black.

The black and white races have an obligation to train their children properly, he said, or race problems will get worse even as people pretend they are getting better.

However, Meredith said he believes that as Mississippi goes, so the country will go.

“Only Mississippi can lead the way out of this,” he said.

Meredith was honored for his book, “A Mission from God: A Memoir and a Challenge for America.”