“Hometown” is one of HGTV’s most popular shows. A young white couple (he a skilled carpenter, she a talented designer) convert run-down houses in Laurel, Mississippi into modern abodes. All the materials and most of the workers are from Laurel. It is truly a “hometown” project.
Before we pull up stakes and move to a renovated $100 K house in Laurel that is nicer than our $300 K house in Pennsylvania, we might think twice about moving to rural Mississippi.
The Washington Post noted that one hundred years ago this week, Sen. Torrey George McCallum, a former mayor of Laurel, Mississippi and at the time a senator in that state’s legislature introduced a bill removing all Negroes (whether they wanted to or not) from the state to a new homeland in Africa. Torrey was familiar with The Negro Problem. His grandfather Archibald enslaved 51 people on the family plantation in 1860 with a net worth of about $2.5 million in today’s dollars. Like Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara, the Yankees came and McCallum’s plantation was no more, not that Torrey held a grudge.
Torrey’s bill included language like “final settlement,” “the final colonization,” and the United States becoming “one in blood”. Hitler used the same language to justify his Death Camps.
Naturally, the bill passed the Mississippi State Senate. This was Jim Crow and every state senator was White. Surprisingly, Torrey’s bill was defeated in the Mississippi House (also all-White). Representative John Holmes Sherard explained his opposition, “This means the loss of labor in my part of the state, the Delta, where the Negro is needed. … I have 500 negroes on my plantation in Coahoma County, and have never had a quarrel with them.”
I’m sure that Laurel, Mississippi has changed since 1922. Still, civil rights workers were being murdered in the Magnolia State within my lifetime. As cute and adorable as the hosts of HGTV’s “Hometown” are, I’ll stay put in Pennsylvania.
By Ed Dufton