Will TV show put Natchez in bad light?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 28, 1999

Some of our area’s most shameful scars will be ripped open again tonight, the wounds displayed before a national television audience.

The ABC show &uot;20/20&uot; will air a special tonight that will again shed light on some of the decades-old murders of blacks during the tumultuous Civil Rights era.

And, call me presumptuous, but the show has me concerned, and I haven’t seen it yet.

Email newsletter signup

My concern is not that I think such stories shouldn’t be told – they should.

Stories of these atrocities should be screamed from every rooftop. The victims’ names – Ben Chester White, Wharlest Jackson, Henry Dee, Charles Moore and dozens of others – should be household words.

Everyone should know that these men died only because someone didn’t like their skin color – something that God made, not man.

My worries over the program are not with the fact that the stories are being retold, but with the manner in which those stories may be told.

Now normally I’d probably give the creators of the program the benefit of doubt, but this time I can’t.

In the last few weeks I’ve heard of two incidents involving the videotaping that make me question the show’s motives.

During one segment, the person being interviewed was repositioned so that the background would be an old house on the man’s property and not his actual modern house. I tried to think of a single reason someone would do that, but could think of only one – to show the world a skewed, preconceived idea of my home state.

Now I’m not so naive to think that we don’t have problems, but as a native Mississippian it boils my blood every time someone comes in and keeps pointing out all of our problems. We know they are there and continuing to show them to us does nothing other than agitate us.

During another session the crew began making insinuations about historical artifacts owned by the person being interviewed.

The crew’s concern was that the artifacts were from the Civil War. In the crew’s mind having Civil War artifacts somehow equated to racism. That thought is ridiculous.

Many of us had relatives who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. That doesn’t mean that nearly 140 years later we secretly dream of owning slaves – hardly. In fact, many of the men who fought and died for the Confederacy didn’t own slaves. Instead they were fighting to keep outsiders from coming in and telling them how to live.

Southerners, black and white, have always held their history close to their hearts, and if outsiders don’t understand that, I’m sorry.

ABC is promoting the show with commercial showing tiny segments of interviews spliced with old footage of the Ku Klux Klan.

It’s a textbook example of using images of the misguided morons in sheets to improve your television ratings.

By continuing to glorify the Klan by using their image and perpetuating the perception that they are still in power, ABC has already done a disservice to our community – and the show hasn’t aired yet.

Can we as a community ever move ahead if we’re constantly reminded of our horrible, tragic history?

Like many local residents, I’ll be watching the &uot;20/20&uot; special tonight, and I hope that my presumptions will be wrong. Hopefully, the show’s view of our community won’t be a myopic one. Instead I hope its vision is indeed 20/20.

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 446-5172 ext. 241 or at kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.