Richard Grant explains what happens when an expatriate Englishman and his wife move from New York to the Mississippi Delta.
It soon became apparent that a) we held very different political views and b) this was not going to be a problem. Noting our lack of furniture, Cathy went through her storage areas and produced two beds, a couch, a kitchen table and chairs, two armchairs and two wingback chairs. “Y’all can have this stuff on permanent loan,” she said. “And I noticed y’all just have the one vehicle. That’s going to get inconvenient out here, so I want you to drive our Envoy whenever you need to, and think of it as your second vehicle. I’ll show you where the keys are.”
Another neighbor showed up with a cord of split firewood, a bottle of Glenlivet and an engraved silver ice bucket as housewarming gifts. A third insisted on keeping our grass cut for the rest of the summer. This is an aspect of Mississippi that usually gets lost in translation. Because the state is so infamous for its vicious past — Mississippi had the most lynchings, and the most violent resistance to civil rights — it’s hard for outsiders to accept that it’s also a place of extraordinary warmth, kindness and hospitality.
Contradictions are like oxygen here, part of the air itself. The Delta is arguably the most racist, or racially obsessed, place in America, and yet you see more ease and conviviality between blacks and whites than in the rest of America. It’s not uncommon to find close, loving, quasi-familial relationships between black and white families who have known one another for generations. They weep together at one another’s funerals, and sometimes name their children after one another. But they still feel awkward about sitting down to a meal together, and both sides enforce the old taboo against interracial dating.