Believing in Mississippi

It happened to me when Harold Ford lost his Senate race in Tennessee. I was among some Democrats, and I was called upon to explain why Ford’s loss happened. Tennesseans and other Southerners who no longer live in the South are familiar with the phenomenon of, without any warning, being appointed the Spokesman for Tennessee or Spokesman for the South. I have never in my life heard anyone single out someone from New England or the Pacific Northwest and say, “Tell me, what do New Englanders think about (insert favorite topic here).”

Of all the Southern states, Mississippi has the worst reputation. It is the poorest. During the Civil Rights movement, it had some of the reddest necks. Even now, people like Senator Trent Lott, who ought to know better, make comments like the one he did at the retirement party for Senator Strom Thurmond. (At least that embarrassment was not from Mississippi.) People from Tennessee and other states often make some variation of this comment to each other: Thank God for Mississippi. By this we mean, “Well, it could be worse–we’re not as bad off as Mississippi.”

The Washington Post has a good article on a recent ad campaign launched to improve Mississippi’s image. Seems that a Jackson, Mississippi PR firm, the Cirlot Agency, created a series of posters that took on the Mississippi stereotypes head on.

One ad has this headline: “Yes, we can read. A few of us can even write.” Below are photos of a dozen writers, among them William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, and Eudora Welty. You can see more at Mississippi, Believe It!.

This is a great campaign, and one that Tennessee could learn from as well. I can see it now–an ad showing Gatlinburg’s T-shirt shops and tattoo parlors with the headline “Hell, yes, we’re tacky.”

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