I was looking forward to my annual fall ritual of gorging myself on cinnamon rolls, turkey necks, and nachos at the Mississippi State Fair. But alas, it looks like my family and I are going to miss the midway this year because my principles trump good fair food.
Somebody, or several people, at the Mississippi State Fair Commission thought it was a good idea to come up with an “1800s” theme for this year’s state fair. You read that right. A group of people that you would assume had good common sense, since they are charged with planning activities for the Fair, sat at a table, mulled over a few ideas, and settled on that one. In 2021. In Mississippi.
The Mississippi State Fair was founded in 1858, five years before the Emancipation Proclamation, and seven years before what we now celebrate as Juneteenth. Black people were still enslaved. Only South Carolina had more slaves than Mississippi. It wasn’t actually until February 7, 2013, that the state submitted the required documentation to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, meaning until then, it had never officially abolished slavery. In the 1950s, Medgar Evers led efforts to integrate the state fair, which then had “Blacks only” days and “whites only” days. In 1962, he led a successful boycott of the state fair with only 3% of the Black population attending. Maybe it’s time to revisit that course of action.
Mississippi Fair Commission Director, Michael Lasseter, says that the state fair will “take you back” to that century with its rides, storytelling, and campfires. Campfires? Take us back? You mean to slavery? You mean back to the days when Black people picked cotton? What part of this sounds like a good idea?
With all of the racial tension in this country, with all that has happened over the past 5 years – from George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Black Lives Matter – you’d think the officials at the fairgrounds would be able to read the room. Need I remind you, this is Mississippi: A state where antebellum slave plantations still stand; the place where Medgar Evers was shot dead; the place where James Meredith had to have police protection because he wanted to integrate a then all-white university; the place where key civil war battles were fought just up the highway in Vicksburg.
Didn’t Mississippi secede from the Union along with other Southern states because they wanted the right to own slaves? Sheesh! Ironically, all of this took place more recently in the 20th century. The state fair wants us Black folk to walk the midway and be taken back to a time when we weren’t even a free people. I don’t know whether to be disgusted or dumbfounded. I guess privilege doesn’t give you the wide vantage point that you need to make good decisions, huh?
We’ve got to stop spending money with people who so blatantly show us they aren’t sensitive to history. If the Fair Commission isn’t smart enough, or doesn’t care enough to put some diverse voices at the table, then they haven’t earned our dollar. Thinking it’s a good idea to have Black people…in Mississippi..walk the fairgrounds with images of a time that we were in bondage is the kind of tone deafness that doesn’t deserve a reward.