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ANTHONY BOURDAIN PARTS UNKNOWN
Parts Unknown: Mississippi
Aired May 25, 2014 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST: Some time ago, something crawled or slithered or grew like a fungus. Something that started small got bigger, lurched like a swamp thing out of the mud and moist earth and humid nights of the Delta.
Then it took over the world. So next time some smartass burner (ph), horrified by our latest hand-fisted foreign policy blunder wonders out loud, what good is America, well, you always pipe up that the blues, rock and roll, R&B, and soul all came out of this place, one state, Mississippi. I took a walk through this beautiful world, felt the cool rain on my shoulder, found something good in this beautiful world.
I felt the rain getting colder.
Right now, we're in the middle of downtown Jackson, Farish St. It's (ph) people -- a lot of history, what it used to be like back in the day?
LEE (ph): The street was packed with folks, folks all over, they had their own restaurants, grocery stores, joints, I mean, everything happened on Farish St. that happened in Jackson for the African- American community.
BOURDAIN: The state capital of Jackson, Mississippi, located along Interstate Highway 55, just outside what's known as the Mississippi Delta, it's the kind of place that makes you wonder, why did they make it the capital, until you grab hold of what used to be around here. Farish St. used to be the hub of African-American life in this city, its black commercial cultural center.
When Dr. King came to town, he came here. Everybody did. Medger Evers (ph) had an office just upstairs here. Musicians like Tommy Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James all played here and the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Callaway, Count Basie and Louie Armstrong all took the stage at places like the Crystal Palace Ballroom and the Alamo on Farish St. Street.
What happened? Where did it all go?
LEE (ph): What killed Farish St. was immigration. Once we were able to branch out of our own indigenous black-run businesses, the black-owned businesses died.
BOURDAIN: Right. LEE (ph): So great for the black race but terrible for the black business. In fact, the only reason you're coming to Farish St. right now is you have two churches, two funeral homes and the Big Apple Inn. So you're going to either die, worship or come to my place to eat.
And that's the only trapped (ph) world (ph)...
BOURDAIN: Or all three in that...
LEE (ph): That's right.
BOURDAIN: ...but not in that order but...
LEE (ph): One (ph) hot (ph). How (ph) are (ph) you (ph) guys (ph) doing today?
BOURDAIN: Back when things were hopping, Gino Lee's (ph) great grandfather, Juan Big John Mora (ph) moved to Mississippi from Mexico City, started a family with an African-American woman in Jackson. He sold hot tamales out of a steel drum on the corner.
In 1939, he moved the operation inside, right here, now, the last restaurant on the street. Lurking inside, waiting for us is John T. Edge, who leads the Southern Food Ways Alliance.
Mr. Edge, how are you doing? Who makes a point, a mission, out of knowing and teaching as much as he can about the real culinary traditions of the south, and doing what he can to keep them alive and unmolested.
Look at that. Awesome. It's just like a dream (ph) sandwich.
What you go for here are smokes -- smoked sausage sandwiches and these magnificent beauties, pig ear sandwiches called ears, both pretty much served with the same garnishes of slaw, mustard, home-made hot sauce on a soft bun.
No, as I understand it, originally, this is one of those -- nobody wants these things. They're dirt cheap.
LEE (ph): That's exactly right. In fact, by dirt cheap, the ears were actually free...
LEE (ph): ...when my great grandfather started getting the pig ears, the local butcher was giving them to him because he would just throw them away.
BOURDAIN: So everything, you know, we -- we love about pig, the texture, the mix of fatty and lean, all that's good. Man, that is just hard to beat.
LEE (ph): Ain't it good?
BOURDAIN: Yes. It's a good sandwich.
And of course, some hot tamales, which at this point in history are about as Mississippi as they are Mexican. Like the blues, they came out of Mississippi in the early 20th century as Mexican migrant workers came in to replace African-Americans, who were headed to work in the great factories and stockyards of Chicago and Detroit.
EDGE: Yes, sitting down here, eating tamales, we can sketch a history of Mississippi. And that's kind of what I'm most interested in doing, helping southerners understand that their foods are as African as they are Western European.
BOURDAIN: And (ph) more (ph).
EDGE: And hopefully, by way -- if not largely, you know, music and, you know, if all the other cultural expressions of the south, I think food is a sneaky way of getting at some of the serious stuff we've been talking about.
LEE: As I told you before, I didn't know what a cool job or what a cool restaurant I had until you showed it to me. I'm just making a living, you know, just like a lot of folks around Mississippi.
We're not trying to make history. We're not trying to increase tourism. We're not -- all we're doing is doing what we do.
BOURDAIN: There is a -- a discomfort level about exploring southern food ways or particularly Mississippi food ways.
LEE (ph): Right.
BOURDAIN: When you're talking about high-end traditional southern cooking, you're talking plantation slavery cooking because that's where these recipes came from. So to revel in that, you don't want to tumble into nostalgia.
The potential for awkwardness...
BOURDAIN: ...and offense is enormous.
EDGE: I want to be careful. I'm not saying that's what I want the south to be. I'm saying that's what people come to the south looking for.
EDGE: They come to the south looking for the past preserved in (ph) an (ph) ember (ph), but the reality is something different. And I want to fix it. I want to fix it. 1865 and 1965, I want it to progress and change.
I want to document the change along the way and celebrate the (ph) changes (ph). The burden of race is upon us and we must (ph) shake it. And that can make us better. BOURDAIN: I'm a Yankee, so for me, it's kind of shocking to see this flag. It means a lot of things to a lot of people, first and foremost, meaning I'm not a Yankee and I don't much care what you think.
There's no doubt that much of Mississippi history is ugly, from slavery which was pretty much the backbone, the foundation of industry here from the get-go, to Jim Crow (ph), lynchings to church burnings. Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, killed for talking sass (ph) to a white lady in 1955.
The assassination of Medgar Evers in 1963, the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman in 1964, hell, they had to send in 30,000 armed federal agents, national guardsmen and military police just to enforce federal law, allowing a black man to attend state college, a notion that was, shall we say, less than popular here. To be honest, that was about all I had for an image of the state of Mississippi.
That was all I knew. And it hadn't occurred to me to look further. But I've traveled the world since then. And I visited and learned to love many places not my own, cultures and beliefs very different from the upper east side of Manhattan. Why can't I love Mississippi?
Pie (ph) Infamous (ph) is a proud son and resident of Mississippi, a youth mentor in Jackson's church and public school systems, owner of a marketing agency and hip-hop artist.
This town, it feels empty. Where is everybody?
PIE INFAMOUS (ph): I think one thing is a lot of people think that you have to leave Mississippi to be able to do something great. But I think a lot of it is there is so much bubbling in the undercurrent that sometimes isn't seen.
And I think it takes an artist, it usually takes something that's blank and creates something that's awesome to be able to see the potential in a place, in a canvas, so to speak, that has been vacated by others.
BOURDAIN: Soul Wired Cafe, one of the number of places where something is going on, where artists, entrepreneurs, moving at workshops, performance spaces, set up something new and good in formerly abandoned and neglected parts of town.
This is a deeply, deeply conservative state, to say the least, right?
PIE INFAMOUS (ph): This is a tough question because I've got my own opinion.
BOURDAIN: Is it more racist than New York?
PIE INFAMOUS (ph): So I think there -- there are some deeply ingrained problems in Mississippi that are connected to a very ugly past that -- that we share with some other southern states. However, I think as far as when we talk about racism expressed through a classes lens, I think Mississippi and New York are on par, right?
BOURDAIN: Yes, no doubt.
Pie Infamous (ph) is originally from Clarksdale in the Delta and went to Ole Miss (ph) but he's neither a left nor a lost faith. He feels an obligation to empower, uplift, educate, to contribute.
PIE INFAMOUS (ph): One of the important tasks of musicians is being able to really speak truthfully about what's going on without fear of reprisal (ph), right? It allows the audience then to say, you know what, you're right. Now that you've put it to a nice melody or to a nice beat or you say it in that way, and hopefully then that engages them more and allows them to move.
And I don't think any movement in the world has not had a sound track, right, regardless of what it is. And so that's our job.
BOURDAIN: Depending on what metrics you're using, the Mississippi is somewhere between the tenth and the fourth largest river in the world. One thing for sure, it's big.
And it's freaking strong. Also, you really got to put your back into it if you're crazy enough to want to paddle a canoe around in its fast-moving waters.
What's the source of the Mississippi?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, anywhere a raindrop falls in 44 percent of America. Its (ph) reef (ph) is 3/4 (ph) volume (ph). If you follow the volume of water, two-thirds comes down the Ohio River, but most people will say Lake Itasca in Minnesota.
BOURDAIN: John Rusky (ph) is what I'd guess you'd call a river rat. In 1998, he started the Quapaw Canoe Company, a custom outfit that leads guided expeditions on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. As a central part of his operations, he trains local kids from Mississippi and across the river in neighboring Arkansas under an apprentice program, teaching skills like hand-carving canoes, outdoor survival and the ins and outs of guiding and the history of the river.
Most of these kids come from pretty distressed neighborhoods and the hope, the intent, is that once trained up, they'll stay with the company.
Nice paddling, Tony. You've got the feather (ph) down.
Thank you. I'll be feeling that tomorrow.
Buck Island -- most of the island could be under 45 to 50 feet of flowing river water from April to June with the spring ice melt and rainstorms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do a lot of cooking. We check (ph) out who's out here.
BOURDAIN: Multi-purpose and indestructible?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. The next step in this thing is that here are the greens and we should stuff as many greens as we can into that pot.
BOURDAIN: This right here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BOURDAIN (ph): All right.
So how does your program work? Around what age are they generally when they first start?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Teenagers. As soon as they can hold a paddle, the only thing we ask is interest and commitment.
BOURDAIN: Well, what does that mean, commitment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have this thing called the three honors worked (ph) through (ph) -- respect of yourself, getting good sleep, eating good food, especially before we go on a trip. Second one is respect of other people, other paddlers and of course, the clients.
And then the third thing is taking care of the river. You know, they've been told by their parents don't get on the Mississippi River. Maybe they don't even know how to swim.
And you know, for a young man or woman, overcoming a fear like that and getting in the canoe and then to have people come and appreciate what you're doing is life-changing experience. But within that is this incredible, right, and beautiful spirit that -- that is intact in the Delta (ph).
BOURDAIN: Sweet potatoes, greens, into the Dutch ovens. Throw on the corn when getting close. Finally, on the wet logs on top of glowing coals, lay some steaks, some pork loin and pork tenderloins right on there.
Just keep an eye on them. Look, we have full spectrum of steaks. Potato's perfect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corn on the cob.
BOURDAIN: Yes. Hunk of bread, living large on the Mississippi. And yes, there is too much food for two people. And yes, that is a whole hell of a lot of meat.
And I know it would be awful to waste all that extra. But don't worry because these gentlemen are tired and hungry.
Welcome, gentlemen. Right no, come (ph) on (ph), the corn on the cob here, greens, probably (ph) a (ph) cookie (ph). Have a little more of this. Oh, looking good.
I don't want to say I'm good, but I'm good. All right.
More, sir? Who's missed a steak here?
Sir, you got -- who needs steak? I feel all Crocodile Dundee. Beautiful. So all that paddling, how bad am I going to hurt tomorrow? Oh, I don't like the sound of that.
That hesitation, not a good sign. Those tenderloins are nice. Good stuff. Man, we have mastered the wild today.
The Mississippi Delta is a big sponge that stretches between the Yazoo and the Mississippi. It's what's called an alluvial flood plain of about 7,000 square miles or almost 4.5 million acres. This area used to look very different -- massive wild, old wood forests and swamps.
After the passage of the cheerful-sounding native removal act of 1830, the Delta became open for settlement by any white people crazy enough, hardy enough, determined enough or just plain mean and greedy enough to come here.
REED (ph): There's no way to make up for our bad racial past. But you do -- you now, the sense of community that keeps people here is evidenced in this place.
BOURDAIN: Julia Reed (ph) is Greenville born and raised, the daughter of a political family, a writer, author and as Delta as it gets.
How long you been in Mississippi?
CURRENCE (ph): Twenty-two years. I came in 1992.
BOURDAIN: John Currence (ph) is a celebrated chef who had left New Orleans to come to Mississippi and open first one, then many more restaurants and businesses in the town of Oxford.
CURRENCE: I've stayed busy.
BOURDAIN: And this is Doe's Eat Place in Greenville.
REED (ph): This is the great Florence Cigna (ph).
BOURDAIN: Why, so good to meet you.
REED (ph): Florence is in charge of the salad bowl and has been for -- this is -- Florence is Doe, Sr. sister-in-law. When did y'all open up, Florence -- 1930...
CIGNA (ph): 1941.
REED (ph): Forty-one. Close enough.
BOURDAIN: Like a lot of folks around here, Dominic Big Doe Cigna got his start selling hot tamales to-go. At the beginning, the place catered to the black community. But after word got out how good the food was, white people started coming, which led to a kind of weird accommodation to the segregation of the day. Blacks came in the front, white people snuck in the back.
The menu expanded with the clientele.
What human qualities are unique or marked in the native of Mississippi?
REED (ph): I cannot address Mississippi because like I said, the Delta's a whole another planet.
BOURDAIN: Oh, OK. Better question, then, how does the life-long Delta resident differ from...
REED (ph): You have to be a little crazy to want to come in the first place because it was like the swamp, buddy. It was under water. I mean, you had to be crazy to come.
And you had to have enough money to -- to make it work. So yes, it took some sort of gamblers. I mean, that -- that spirit still infuses the place. It's a little reckless.
It's sophisticated because they'd all come from elsewhere, you know, I mean, you know, you go from -- from the Delta to the hills. I mean, we're totally snobbish up here even when we didn't have a right to be.
I mean, tough where you just came from, Jackson. Are you kidding me?
REED (ph): You'd have to be paid money to go to Jackson from Greenville.
BOURDAIN: They feel the same way down there about you guys (ph).
REED (ph): If they don't get us because they ain't got no sense of humor.
BOURDAIN: So what about the food? Has this place changed at all in...
CURRENCE: It's been 20 years since I was here last and literally exactly the same.
BOURDAIN: Not much in the way of capital improvements or time motion study. The system such as it is is, well, crazy. They eat right here in the kitchen.
And the division of labor, the flow of work, well, I gave up trying to figure it out five minutes in and just figured, I'll get loaded and eat all this delicious food. The salad thing is famous, hand-tossed in the same wooden bowl for decades.
The hot tamales, same as they ever was. REED (ph): And those tamales are just incredible because they're made with the steak's drippings and stuff that you're getting ready to see. So...
CURRENCE (ph): Oh, yes.
BOURDAIN: Oh, really.
REED (ph): It greatly enhances the flavor. Oh, my god.
CURRENCE (ph): I can eat them until I was sick.
BOURDAIN: Fries done in cast iron pan on the stovetop, the famous shrimp, steaks on an old roll-out broiler, drippings all over the top.
REED (ph): And you know, you're not going to get skinny or healthy eating the hot tamales, fried shrimp and steak at Doe's. There's no question about it.
BOURDAIN: Oh, that's good. I'm happy. Should (ph) at (ph) least (ph) have (ph) mixed (ph) it (ph). Yes, hey, that's good. Well, you're right about those shrimp. They are delicious.
REED (ph): The shrimp? Oh, yes.
BOURDAIN: Is there a dessert that I should be saving room for?
REED (ph): Are you kidding me? There is no dessert. It's pretty damn bare bones, my friend. If you ask for one, they'll give you a lollipop.
EDGE: This is exactly what you expect in Mississippi, though, right?
BOURDAIN: Yes, it's supposed to look like this.
EDGE: You know, I moved here from Georgia and the thing that struck me when I moved here, driving through the Delta the first time, was just how empty it was, like, you know, it's like everybody left.
BOURDAIN: The great migration, three factors -- automation, the invention of mechanical means to pick cotton, the call of better-paying jobs in the industries of the north, and of course, freedom.
EDGE: You know, people think about the blues as a lament. A lot of blues songs are about freedom, about getting the hell out of Mississippi, you know.
And -- and there were a lot of reasons to get the hell out of Mississippi for a long time. Now, there's a return migration. There's this whole period late '60s, early '70s, where kids are bugging out of Brown University to come sit at the foot of an aging blues...
BOURDAIN: Right. EDGE: ...in (ph) Mississippi. There's a cyclical pattern to that. Now, you know, you see people kind of doing the same thing with food, like there's a whole generation that wants to come down here and sit at the foot of an aged campus (ph) cook (ph).
BOURDAIN: State Senator Willie Simmons has been an elected official of the Mississippi Delta for 20 years. And he's been running this place, Senator's place, for 11.
BOURDAIN: What's the difference between soul food and southern -- traditional southern food?
SIMMONS: It -- it depends on the culture and what neighborhood you were in. If you were in the black neighborhood, then it became soul. We probably put a little bit more of the throwaway in our cooking, the pig feet, the pig tail, the neck bones and all of that's fatty.
BOURDAIN: Now, you're making me hungry. Now, you're (ph)...
SIMMONS: Where (ph) they (ph) make (ph) more (ph).
BOURDAIN: OK, oh, that's it.
SIMMONS: So greens, sour (ph) greens...
BOURDAIN: Well, I'll have some of that, for sure. Is that fried okra there? I'll have a little of that. Might need more than one plate at this rate.
Let me get some mac and cheese. What's that, lima beans? The red bean -- oh, man, that looks kind of good, too. Yes, a little bit of that.
Neck bones floating around somewhere?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, right here.
BOURDAIN: OK, yes, I'll have some of those. Little rice and gravy on there, yes, thanks. And oh, I'll have a piece of fried chicken there.
If you've got a thigh, that would be great.
EDGE: Okra's perfect.
BOURDAIN: Yes, it is. Man, that's good.
SIMMONS: Now, here in the south, if you want to, you can throw your fork away and just grab (ph) it (ph) by (ph) hand (ph).
BOURDAIN: Don't worry, I'll be working on that one.
SIMMONS: We forgive you and don't hold it against you.
BOURDAIN: Could eat this okra all day long, man. It's good.
SIMMONS: I don't know what you think about those greens. But the (ph) beans (ph)...
BOURDAIN: They're nice. Yes, that's tasty. Do you see the way people get the credit for southern cooking as we know it?
SIMMONS: I do.
BOURDAIN: You (ph) see (ph) the (ph) way (ph) people get the credit? I mean...
EDGE: People know. People know who's behind this food, whether it's called soul food or whether it's called country cooking.
BOURDAIN: How is the Delta, the mindset of the Delta, different than the rest of the state?
SIMMONS: No one else can compare with us like -- they have no other (ph) something (ph) who can sit on top of you and tell you that they represent Dockery plantation where the blues supposed to have been born. There's no one else that can tell you in his district is the home of B.B. King, can tell you that he represents the area where his (ph) family (ph) came from, where Jared Butler (ph) was born, going to name others, the Staple Singers.
When we talk about the heritage and the culture and what comes out of the Delta, that's all within this district that I represent. So Mississippi Delta has that pride.
BOURDAIN: Forty-six miles southeast is Greenwood, a town with a lot of history, most of it of the not-good variety, known unfortunately as much for Byron de la Beckwith and Tom Brady's infamous speech after Brown versus the Board of Education as anything else. Fairly or not, it's hard to get past that.
During all the years of cruelty and struggle from 1933 on, through it all, and until today, this place, Lusco's, was a beloved institution. Once a grocery store, it turned restaurant to the moneyed class, serving them in discreet quarters in the pack where one could enjoy an alcoholic beverage in what was then a dry state.
Still going after all these years, unchanged. Why?
EDGE: This place is like a relic, like, indiscretions, past, you know.
BOURDAIN: But maybe, to really tell the story of this place, you have to start with the story of its most famous employee, Booker Wright. He'd been working at Lusco's as a waiter since he was 14 years old.
WRIGHT: Pleasure (ph) to you all. We don't have a written menu. I'll be glad to tell you what they're going to serve tonight.
BOURDAIN: In 1965, NBC News came to town, making a documentary on race relations. Booker's entertaining recitation of the menu at Lusco's was famous around town so they asked him to do his usual routine for the camera. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
WRIGHT: We have great (ph) cocktail (ph), the (ph) shrimp, (inaudible)...
BOURDAIN: But at the end of his usual litany is where he dropped the truth bomb that nobody was ready for right here.
WRIGHT: Now, I put (ph) my customers (inaudible) expecting of me (ph) (inaudible) so I must (ph) smile (ph). Some call me Bookie (ph). Some call me John (ph). Some call me dim (ph). Some call me nigger.
Follow (ph) the (ph) day (ph), but you have to smile. If you don't, what's wrong with you? The meaner the man be, the more you smile, although you're crying on the inside.
I'm not going to get that nigger (ph). You don't look for no tips. Yes, sir, thank you. What did you say? Thank you, sir. That's what you have to go through here but remember, you have to keep your smile.
BOURDAIN: Telling the truth was still risky business in 1966 Mississippi. And Booker Wright was not rewarded for his candor.
It was not a good experience for him. It did not make him a star by...
EDGE: That was in the White community. But even though Stephen Carmichael (ph) maybe first chanted black power here, that was less important to the black community here than what Booker said on the NBC News.
The private dining rooms at Lusco's are still here. The menu, much the same -- steaks, fish, the famous broiled shrimp, the Lusco's special salad with the house Italian vinaigrette dressing and a healthy dose of anchovy, onion rings.
EDGE: Salad makes me happy.
BOURDAIN: Yes, me, too.
EDGE: Mostly the anchovies make me happy.
BOURDAIN: Yes, yes, love those.
Catfish for Mr. Edge, the famous pompano for me.
EDGE (ph): It's kind of the mark of being a great restaurant in the Delta if you have pompano.
BOURDAIN: It's a big damn fish. No way I'm finishing this.
EDGE: Sitting here, the booths, the curtains, the whole ring bell for service thing, it seems lost in time.
EDGE: We got a long and ugly history but one (ph) of the things I love about this place is you can't deny the burden of the past. It gets on your shoulder.
It's right there, like, you know, I mean, America chooses to deny its providence (ph), you know, in many ways, you know, I mean, it declares itself a post-racial society.
That's just shitting (ph) on the flag (ph) of Mississippi. You can't keep playing that.
BOURDAIN: Oxford, Mississippi is a lovely, incongruously eccentric little island, a mutation, a college town, a magnet for writers, thinkers and oddballs, drawn perhaps by its rich literary tradition is the home of one of our greatest authors, William Faulkner. Faulkner was a Mississippi native, a former postman, an outdoorsman and eventual winner of the Nobel Prize in literature and two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction.
He never graduated high school. This was his house, Rowan Oak. Faulkner wrote such American classics as "The Sound and the Fury," "As I Lay Dying," "Light in August" and "Absalom, Absalom. And many of his works took place in a fictional county, a place very much like this place, in Mississippi.
GRIFFITH: This is where Faulkner started his writing career, in this room here.
BOURDAIN: For the past 10 years, Bill Griffith has been curator at William Faulkner's estate.
GRIFFITH: He had in (ph) this (ph) room (ph) on (ph) after he won the Nobel Prize. On the wall here is an outline of one of his novels.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that was his greatest book.
GRIFFITH: Faulkner thought that was his masterpiece.
Jack Pendarvis is the author of "Your Body is Changing," "The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure" and "Awesome" as well as a staff writer for the game-changing animated series "Adventure Time," all works of which I am a huge fan.
BOURDAIN: So he wrote right -- right on the wall?
GRIFFITH: He just wrote on it. BOURDAIN: It's -- it's his man-cave.
GRIFFITH: Yes, it's his -- it's his version. He said that houses in Mississippi who have a family business have one room dedicated to the family business. And this family's business is writing.
BOURDAIN: From as early as 1919 through the early '60s, Faulkner wrote extensively about the post-civil war south. He was the first author to do so, at a time when most writers were writing about anything but.
GRIFFITH: He always said that he wrote about a south torn between itself, torn between the old ways, the old traditional ways and modern development. He said he was going to break the Anabella (ph) code.
GRIFFITH: And he did.
GRIFFITH: He did. And yet...
BOURDAIN: Then they bailed (ph) him (ph) out (ph).
GRIFFITH: He had those hobbies, interests that were definitely of a gentry class and a gentry nature.
PENDARVIS: His portrait and his horse...
GRIFFITH: Yes, there's a great example...
GRIFFITH: ...I mean, and -- and his writing habit, that's a great example. You do get to a certain level of success and all of a sudden, this seems like a good idea and it's never a good idea at that age.
BOURDAIN: At any age.
BOURDAIN: Was he politically active at all? I mean, there was a lot going on...
GRIFFITH: He was the middle of the road Democrat. That's what he said. He said you have to bring black education up with white education. And since the state of Mississippi will not invest in black education, it's up to its citizens to do so.
He said that segregation wasn't about being right or wrong. He said any sane, sober Southerner knows that it's wrong. It's about wanting to change or not. But people don't want to give up power.
Fear is still alive and well in Mississippi. I think racism is one of those great things in the world that you'll never solve. And that's why Faulkner wrote about it. BOURDAIN: Writers, as I know from looking in my own dark heart, are generally terrible people. Put 10 of them together and it's like putting your head in a bag full of snakes.
I meet a bunch of them above City Grocery, John Currence's place on the square. There's the brilliant author, Tom Franklin and his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly.
Grisham writer in residence, Megan Abbott (ph), Pendarvis, you know, poet, Chiyuma Elliott , Wright Thompson is the Senior Writer for ESPN, fellow writer on the series remain (ph), Chris Hoffman (ph), novelist, Ace Atkins. Poet, Derek Harrell (ph) is originally from Milwaukee, Crime novelist Billy Boyle (ph) from Brooklyn.
Downstairs, Currence's restaurant City Grocery cranks out many delicious things. The man known as big bad chef, a.k.a. Johnny Snack, is sending some of those goodies upstairs as there is nothing professional writers like more than free food.
BOURDAIN: They usually put five writers in a room, it's an ugly hell broth of envy, hatred...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all hate Tommy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, that goes without saying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even me, I hate me worst of all.
PEDARVIS: Around here anyway, the writers are really supportive of each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
PEDARVIS: For writers to argue would be like arguing over a piece of dirt.
PEDARVIS: I mean, what are we fighting about? The stakes are so low. Why would you be a jerk about it?
BOURDAIN: If Mississippi were a country and there were a national hero, dead or alive, by consensus, statewide, who would -- who would the statue be of?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Elvis.
BOURDAIN: Really? Wouldn't it B.B. King?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It should be -- it should be B.B. King. I mean, yes, but it would be Elvis.
BOURDAIN (ph): But it would be Elvis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I mean, Mississippi is, you know, the joke is that it's not a state, it's a club, that it's so small that everybody knows everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the middle of Mississippi, Oxford is an oasis of thought and -- and art and literature and feeling...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...and sentiment and everything. It's the bonus (ph) place for velvet (ph) ditch (ph).
BOURDAIN: Why the velvet (ph) ditch (ph)?
PEDERVIS: I guess you just roll in and it's pretty freaking comfortable. And you don't care much about getting out, right, right? Am I right?
BOURDAIN: Well, no one here seems too bitter about that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a place that needs help but it's a really great place. We're never leaving.
BOURDAIN: Is there a distinctive barbecue style in the state of Mississippi?
CURRENCE: No, not that -- that we can really discern at all. And it's part of the reason that we wanted to do this. We -- and we got our hands on this place and sort of been puzzled for years, you know, of what Mississippi barbecue is all about.
The more I dug into it, the less and less I can find. And so what we wanted to do is sort of take a look at barbecue that surrounds us and see if we could sort of Frankenstein barbecue.
BOURDAIN: There isn't really any fixed idea of Mississippi barbecue. And other than this place, Lamar Lounge, John Currence's not-for- profit bar/restaurant, there's no other pit-smoked whole hog barbecue in the entire state.
A 175-pound pig will feed many mouths. About 250 people eat here a day.
Now, this is a not-for-profit establishment?
BOURDAIN: Is that -- is that right?
CURRENCE: Yes, it sure is.
BOURDAIN: What kind of socialist, communist are you up to, Currence? What -- what -- what's going on here? This is the state of Mississippi.
CURRENCE: Just a feel-good kind of guy.
BOURDAIN: Me, too.
I've been here only a week and my sentences are starting to change already, because there's not just a physical rhythm to the speech, but the way I'm organizing my thoughts is starting to change.
Some of the Oxford writers from last night managed to make it out of bed, heads pounding no doubt, filled with the shame and self-loathing, surely familiar for writers. But like such greats of the past as Malcolm Lowery, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charles Bukowski, they, too, have learned that more alcohol first thing will often make you feel better about the world, particularly if accompanied by freshly baked cornbread, biscuits, pulled pork off that whole hog, sweet jerk chicken and brisket.
Hell, I feel better already.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Mississippi that I perceived is not the Mississippi that I've had in my head. I was surprised how on sold I was off the bat. If you want to write, come to Oxford.
BOURDAIN: Do you think that's true?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, apparently, yes.
PERDARVIS: Like that line in Barton (ph), if you can't throw a rock without hitting a writer, many says, do me a favor, throw it hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's easy to look at Mississippi and go, that just happens down there so we're good. Our hands are clean.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a totally misperceived place. When I came, I fell in love with the place. I never thought that I would. There's something to it but you can't put your finger on what it is.
BOURDAIN: What it is can be found in the dark spaces across the tracks and on the other side of town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Rampage Lounge (ph) right by the cemetery and back by the river.
BOURDAIN: What is a juke joint? You've heard reference to them, no doubt, but -- but what is it? I guess the first thing you've got to know is it's pronounced juke joint.
And this one, this is a real good one. Scholars have suggested the work juk (ph) came from the Gullah, descendants of enslaved Africans. And it meant wicked or disorderly, to dance, or a place of shelter.
Juke joints started in this (ph) plantation community rooms during slavery times. They went on to become the small, private African- American-run bars, clubs and lounges.
First in rural areas, then in towns and cities, where workers could dance, drink, party and gamble as respite from the hard labor of Delta sharecropping, tenant farming, house service and segregation. They were often condemned by church leaders as houses of the devil.
William "Po' Monkey's" Seaberry (ph) runs this place, as he has since 1963. And he makes the rules.
How long has this been in business?
SEABERYY: Currently (ph) on (ph) its (ph) 50th (ph) year (ph). I'm 74.
BOURDAIN: How did you get into this business?
SEABERRY: I just got into it, something I like to do. Then everybody come in and enjoy themselves, no problem.
BOURDAIN: Please explain this policy. No hats backwards and no pants hanging down...
SEABERRY: That's right. That's right. If you don't like my rules, don't come.
BOURDAIN: What other rules here? No rap music.
SEABERRY: No rap (ph) -- bump, bump, bump, I don't like that (ph) stuff (ph). Give me a headache in this brain. I love all blues, all of (ph) the (ph) good, I mean, only blues.
BOURDAIN: Good R&B?
SEABERRY: That's right, that's right.
BOURDAIN: But no rap?
SEABERRY: No, no.
BOURDAIN: Never? Even if I Kanye West wants to rent out the place, you're going to rent it to him?
SEABERRY: I'll rent it to him.
BOURDAIN: Just (ph) in (ph) case (ph).
SEABERRY: So, I ain't got time. And the world would be able to peek (ph) down (ph) all (ph) blues (ph). If you came (ph) for a good time, stay (ph) with me.
BOURDAIN: Words to live by. Thank you, sir. I love your place and thank you for having us.
SEABERRY: Well, you've got to come back again.
BOURDAIN: Oh, I surely will.
SEABERRY: I'll find somebody to get naked with you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, DJ, you can kick it back off.
BOURDAIN: Thursday night is family night at Po' Monkey's, mostly locals, a mixed bag. The music is classic R&B and pre-disco soul. The attitude, loose.
Just familiarize yourself with those rules and there won't be a problem. In the cities of the north where I come from, in some ways, we've been able to buy ourselves free from our past.
New arrivals pour in with no memory of the ugly parts of our history. We can afford the luxury of the new. We can live in comfortable bubbles, our apartments high in the sky.
In many ways, more separate than at anytime in history. But for Mississippi, the past is right there to see, still present, and coming to terms with it, not in abstract discussion, but the daily business of life.