We all have dreams. Some come true and some dreams get snuffed out. I've always dreamed of living in a town made perfect by the hard work of one of my two cousins, Nan Pharr Hughes, who puts on a Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Miss., every April, and her sister, Margaret Pharr Holcomb. You see, Clarksdale is the birthplace of the blues and you can go visit and stay in old sharecroppers quarters, visit the artsy stores and get the biggest dose of Southern hospitality you've ever enjoyed. And that's before you've ever started listening to the music that goes non-stop for three days.
My father, William Evans Rust, Jr., was born there, his father mayor, so I have been watching this town for a good long while. When I was a child, there were such poor people there that I remember when the community put screen doors on homes for the poor who were so under-educated that they cut holes in the screens because they did not understand how they were to be used. Today's Clarksdale has well-educated citizenry, is pretty as a picture, is reasonably priced, integrated, happy, prosperous and a dream town. People move to Clarksdale daily. It has the prettiest homes I've ever seen and the poor ones are a thing of the past.
When I visit, it's primarily to see my Aunt Margaret, my father's sister, whom I aspire to be like when I am well into my 80's. To compare her to Miss Daisy is unfair because she is extremely independent, and gardens, cooks and plays with her pretty things, lives to see her grandchildren, and drinks a glass of bourbon every night with her cigarette. As I have come to understand it, she took up smoking with her bourbon in her 80's and I say, "Go Aunt Margaret!" Her husband was a World War II veteran with a war injury who ran the town's advertising agency which had Memphis, Tennessee business, too. (Oh, heck, call her Miss Daisy -- she has enough spunk to power nine future generations!)
They had two daughters who are married with grown children and live there, too. It is so idyllic that after my cousin's daughter took an interior design internship in Beverly Hills, she couldn't wait to return to Clarksdale to open her own practice. Maybe it's something in the water but even my father wanted to rest in peace there (he didn't but that's because my mother wanted to be in Hawaii where they were living.) So Clarksdale even has a Beverly Hills-trained interior designer (and, FYI, an acupuncturist from California). I'm sharing all this for a reason. To set the stage for murder:
It was within this framework that Clarksdale's own Marco McMillian rose in both community matters and politics. He had that rare combination of being a great guy and a willingness to serve... oh, and he was both black and gay. Now given the artistic nature and open mindedness that people like my cousin had created in Clarksdale, McMillian was such a bright 30-years-young star on the horizon that he was already meeting with past presidents such as Bill Clinton and being called "presidential."
The Mississippi of my childhood is the opposite of Mississippi today. Because there was so much discrimination, it has gone the opposite way and has been an example of integration, especially in Clarksdale. So when it was announced that McMillian had been killed in this small hamlet of 17,500 people, I was stunned. Apparently the police have his alleged killer.
Marco? Impossible! But why? Was this a hate crime? Not in Clarksdale, where peace and love rule the day! A lovers' quarrel? At this point, we don't know. But if it was a hate crime, does it negate all the work my cousins and others have done in my lifetime in places like Clarksdale? Or, if it was a lovers' quarrel, can't lovers learn to talk and communicate and break up or make up?
Nothing can bring back Marco or his ready smile or kick-ass attitude for his community. No one can bring back his future. Because he is now in the past. Let us remember him and try to imagine the dreams he had for a better world that had already been once transformed by integration and twice transformed by acceptance. Surely love must have been part of the plan.
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