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The Bilbo Dilemma

My mother used to tell the story of a relative who served on a delegation from the Mississippi State Legislature that went to France to pick out a statue for a famous Mississippi politician. It was an honor to be in the Mississippi Legislature, an even greater honor to be selected for the statue delegation: traveling overseas, entrusted to purchase a life-size bronze statue to stand in the place of honor in the rotunda of the Mississippi State Capitol.

I grew up with this story. But as I got older, the story faltered. Mother began to say, “Of course, the statue was of Bilbo, so that wasn’t so good.”

Bilbo, who served both as Governor and United States Senator, was a total racist. A member of the KKK, Bilbo believed Blacks shouldn’t be allowed to vote; he filibustered the federal anti-lynching bill; his speeches were so bad the U. S. Senate refused to seat him in 1946. In 1982, the statue Mother’s relative traveled to France to find was removed from the rotunda and placed in a less-prominent meeting room.

This is what happens with history: things change.

I have always been proud of graduating from the University of Virginia. Whenever someone asked me where I went to school, I could say, “I went to undergraduate school at the University of Virginia, law school at Chapel Hill.” The listener knew,  Mississippi redneck though I might be, I went to some good schools.

Then, during the course of the recent hubbub over the firing of the UVa president, I learned that my school hoarded over 5 BILLION dollars in reserve funds. This is not behavior I admire. Now, when I feel myself about to brag about going to the University of Virginia, I stop. I’m not so proud of it anymore.

I have a lot of facts in my background. My mother has lots of facts in hers. Which do we single out to celebrate?

My mother’s mother was one of the first women in her Mississippi county to ride not side-saddle but astride a horse. This was a big deal. Women were not encouraged to do such things.

When I was hired by my Mississippi law firm, I was the second female lawyer they’d ever hired. I became a full partner. This was a big deal. Women were not encouraged to do such things.

In all of our lives, aren’t there times when we need to look back into our histories for different, more-interesting facts to tout?

If we refuse to do this, what stories will we miss?

here’s to creative synthesis . . .


Bilbo, current-events, mississippi state legislature, politics, statue, University of virginia

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