Thursday, May 30, 2019

Racism, Satire and Scotch-Irish awareness in 1950s Mississippi

“I do not believe God wants us to mix with the Scotch-Irish, else why did he put them off on a little island by themselves?”

I have never been to Mississippi. It connects Tennessee to the Gulf Coast, a long vertical strip just to the west of Alabama. Its external reputation has been forged in movies such as Mississippi Burning, creating an image of racist discrimination and violence.

This is a pretty eye-opening article, on, cataloguing an anti-racist initiative on campus of the University of Mississippi in the town of Oxford in the north of the state, in the 1950s. These events were a precursor to the campus riots of 1962 when the university enrolled James H Meredith as its first African-American student.

As a method to counter the 1950s campus racism, a group of people led by former US Marine and Korean War veteran Jean Morrison published a newspaper. Also involved was the university Baptist chaplain Will D. Campbell. In later years renowned Nobel Prize winning writer William Faulkner took inspiration from their actions.

Morrison could be outspoken, and he was itching to make a public statement on race. He decided to create a fictitious, satirical newspaper warning of the dangers of allowing the “Scotch-Irish” into proper society. Of course, many white Mississippians are of Scotch-Irish descent.
Their satirical strategy was to take the slurs that Black people endured, and apply them to Scotch-Irish people instead. It was a clever and shocking idea, to provoke a response from the racist whites.

Some editions of the newspaper, called The Nigble Papers, (a combination of a racial slur word and 'Bible') are online along with a later publication which reprinted its content called The Southern Reposure. The psychology at work is fascinating; and if you're familiar with the authentic anti-Scotch-Irish commentary from 1700s New England, the language used by Morrison in his razor-sharp satire is in some ways similar to what the first waves of Scotch-Irish faced when they first arrived in America.

Only two editions of The Nigble Papers were ever published. The episode shows the awareness of a Scotch-Irish identity was in 1950s America. It is very possible that Faulkner, Campbell and Morrison may themselves have been of Scotch-Irish descent, but they certainly understood that it was a meaningful, effective term and concept to be deployed.

The Nigble Reposure blog reproduces some extracts
Digital scanned editions are online here in the University's Archives and Special Collections, which is where the two examples below are from