Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Meet the Mule Lobby

| Thu Jul. 29, 2010 6:25 PM EDT

Philadelphia, Mississippi—Ray Lilley is technically head of the Mississippi Mule Association, but he prefers his unofficial title: "I'm top ass," he says. He’s decked out today in what I’d imagine would be his Monday–Saturday best: blue overalls, an old yellow shirt, and a maroon hat with a pointy-eared mule on the front. He and his friends Rusty and Jim, farmers both, are handling the livestock competition today at the Neshoba Giant Fair.

"Tell 'em we don’t like Nancy Pelosi," says Jim, and they all laugh. Noted.

The Neshoba County Fair has, over the last century or so, become more well known by its other name, Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty. Some 600 cabins of varying degrees of luxury, priced at as high as $300,000 and habitable for only 10 days each year, occupy the fairgrounds, divided into streets and neighborhoods. But it's still a county fair at heart, which means that if you have a favorite dairy cow, steer, watermelon, or artichoke, you can still bring it the grounds to get measured, appraised, and certified.

Things go relatively smoothly over at the weigh station, with one notable exception: One cow, appropriately the only one not brought in by a young kid, does a nose-dive onto the scale and doesn't feel like leaving. Our Bessy cheked in at either 400 or 440 lbs.—a big spread, admittedly so Rusty took the average—and then she pretty much checked out. Some days you just don’t feel like showing off for the head of the Mississippi Mule Association.

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"He was a nice kid, but I guess he wasn't"

| Thu Jul. 29, 2010 3:29 PM EDT

Dog Whistles: When Reagan came to Philadelphia in 1980, the town's past never came up.Dog Whistles: When Reagan came to Philadelphia in 1980, the town's past never came up.Jackson, Mississippi—We spent eight hours yesterday at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, known to locals as "Mississippi's Giant Houseparty" (that's a registered trademark), and to outsiders as the place where Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign in 1980 without once mentioning the three civil rights workers whose bodies were found outside of town in 1965.

If Reagan couldn't talk about Philadelphia, Philadelphia at least can't stop talking about Reagan. "You know, Ronald Reagan came here in '81 or '80, I can't remember," one woman tells me. I get this a lot. On stage during the day's political festivities, the succession of candidates hold onto their little slice of history with both hands. "I am proud and humbled to be standing on the podium where Ronald Reagan once stood," declares Wally Pang, a self-described Tea Partier who's running for Congress as an Independent. "Ronald Reagan began his campaign for the presidency right here in these fairgrounds!," notes Vernon Cotton, incumbent circuit court judge for Mississippi's eighth district. Reagan's name comes up, sooner or later, in pretty much every conversation I have at the fair.

I'll cover the rest of the fair in another post (or two, or three—it was pretty wild), but for now, here are two quick thoughts on the town's past from fairgoers old enough to remember.

The View From My Windshield: On a Whim

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 11:52 AM EDT

Whatever: Why would you name your town Whynot You can problably guess the answer, “They were gonna get incorporated, so they were sitting’ around trying to figure out what to name it and, and they were arguing and arguing, and someone said, ‘whynot Whynot?’”Sure, Go For It: Whynot, Mississippi: Why would you name your town Whynot? The answer's kind of self-evident, but here's the explanation I got: "They were gonna get incorporated, so they were sitting around trying to figure out what to name it and, and they were arguing and arguing, and someone said, ‘whynot Whynot?'"

Selma's Bridge to Nowhere

| Wed Jul. 28, 2010 8:38 AM EDT

Getting there: The bridge in Selma (Photo: Tim MurphyGetting there: The bridge in Selma (Photo: Tim Murphy).Burnt Corn, Alabama—The irony of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma is that it's the rare bridge, literal or metaphorical, that doesn't deliver you to a more desirable place than the one you've left behind. The Brooklyn Bridge takes you to Brooklyn (or Manhattan, if that's how you feel about things). The Golden Gate Bridge takes you to San Francisco. The Pettus Bridge, site of the 1965 Blood Sunday attack on Civil Rights marchers, takes you…nowhere.

What you find when you walk across is instead, and somewhat improbably, more depressing than the decaying downtown Selma you've left behind: There's the National Voting Rights Museum, which you'll probably never find, because while it relocated recently, no one's gotten around to replacing the road signs pointing you to the old site; there's a monument of rocks with a verse from Joshua: "When your children shall ask you in time to come saying 'What mean these stones,' then you shall tell them how you made it over"; and there's the Civil Rights Memorial Park, overgrown and out of sorts, strewn with litter, broken glass, weeds, and a defined by general lack of maintenance or interest—or basically what you'd expect from a memorial built underneath a highway overpass.*

Unfinished Business: Selma's Civil Right Memorial Park, overgrown and out of sight.Unfinished business: Selma's Civil Right Memorial Park, overgrown and out of sight.The passage from scripture, next to plaques honoring Hosea Williams and John Lewis, is kind of beautiful, but other than that, the greatest metaphor in recent American history is immediately followed by shuttered retail and then miles of farmland. On a Sunday afternoon, we see only two other group walking the bridge. But maybe that's kind of the point: Crossing a bridge out of Selma really shouldn't mean that much—it shouldn't require three separate attempts, a National Guard escort, and heavy doses of prayer; just stick to the right, hold onto the railing, and you'll be just fine.

The View From My Windshield: We Ain't Afraid

| Tue Jul. 27, 2010 8:40 PM EDT

States Rights: Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama  (Photo: Tim Murphy).States Rights: America at its best and worst: Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama (Photo: Tim Murphy)Birmingham, Alabama—Forget teachable moments; if you want a break from the national conversation on reverse racism, head to Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham. Just across the street from the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth's 16th Street Baptist Church (bombed by the Klan in 1963), the park was the launching point for the student marches in 1963, which broke the back of the city’s segregation regime—but not before Birmingham police broke out the fire hoses, handcuffs, and un-muzzled German Sheppards.

On a programming note, I'm finishing up a longer post on my Civil Rights swing through the South and America's greatest living metaphor, but while the world waits, take a minute to a.) watch this somewhat related clip from MLK’s "How Long, Not Long!" speech, on the steps of the old Confederate capitol in Montgomery, because it's worth watching every three or four months, and 2.) try to come to grips with the fact that the drummer from the Spin Doctors once released a song (with corresponding music video!) about the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Go Spin Doctors!

(Special bonus photo below the jump)

 

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