Monday, October 28, 2013

Yazoo Revisited fails to ask the most important question: Why did the white students leave?

    Well, I was a little disappointed in the Yazoo Revisited documentary that I saw tonight at the Overby Center.
    David Rae Morris visited Yazoo City to create this documentary on the resegregation of Yazoo City's schools. When his father, Willie Morris, wrote a book on the subject 40 years ago he thought integration was a done deal. Instead, the school went from 60 percent black to 90 percent black over a 20-year period. Today the schools are 99 to 100 percent black.
    My problem with the rough-cut documentary is that it is in large part a retrospective of Willie's book. It tells us the schools are resegregated, but it doesn't even offer a clue as to why. It shows a copy of the book, and if I saw it correctly Willie had scrawled in the margin, "Why was I wrong?" And yet the documentary makes zero attempt to answer Willie's question.
    The documentary misses the point that whites didn't simply go to the private academy or move out into the county. They often left the area entirely.
    The exodus of whites from the public schools 20 years after desegregation is treated as an absolutely unsolvable mystery, and maybe it is. But I would say that the first step in solving this mystery is to ask some of the people who left. It's hard to get people to be honest about delicate matters concerning race, but one can't know if one doesn't ask.
    This didn't just happen in Yazoo City. It happened in a number of Delta towns which initially integrated the schools successfully. They resegregated years later when the white people left. So why did they leave? Someone has to ask them -- assuming anyone cares about their answers.
    I'm not going to say the rough-cut documentary wasn't interesting, because it was. And I certainly wish David well. But I wanted more and didn't get it.

No comments: