Plenty of statue choices
Fairly or unfairly, what’s Mississippi most known for by outsiders? Clearly, the answer is its past history of racial discrimination.
That perception is a fact, even though progress in relations between black and white Mississippians since the civil rights battles is often overlooked. As such, the state needs to do something to address that problem, which is no doubt one of many factors that have led to slow economic and population growth.
One simple way — proposed by a Republican from the Jackson suburbs no less — is to put a statue of Indianola’s B.B. King in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall to replace 19th century U.S. Sen. J.Z. George. State Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 82 to do that. Each state gets two statues chosen by its legislature.
The symbolism would be apparent: Changing out one of the architects of Jim Crow — George was the chief writer of Mississippi’s Constitution of 1890 that systematically disenfranchised blacks and treated them as second-class citizens until the federal government intervened in the 1960s — with an African American who overcame that deck stacked against him to become one of the world’s most artistically successful and beloved musicians.
That’ll preach, as they say, when it comes to improving Mississippi’s national image. B.B. would be the first black on a statue selected by a state (Rosa Parks has a statue, but it was erected by Congress).
A key is that B.B., who died in 2015 and is buried on the grounds of the museum in his honor in Indianola, is not a controversial figure to white Mississippians, who nurse a lot of long-held wounds about how they’re perceived. In fact, he was universally gracious to his home state despite a difficult childhood spent in multiple communities. He returned annually to Indianola for more than three decades for a homecoming concert, and the people here returned the love. Blacks and whites mingled at the free shows, and Indianola’s white business community partnered with its black legislative delegation to lead the efforts to raise the $15 million needed to build a first-class museum in his honor.
The purpose is not to vilify George, who was a statesman of his day and whose home in Carrollton the state has spent a lot of money to restore. Rather it is to show that B.B. King represents hopefulness for Mississippi’s future despite its infamous past.