On Richard Grant’s first day in Natchez, Miss., he saw the antebellum mansions for which the town is famous but also the site of Forks of the Road slave market, which until recently had not merited public mention.
He also attended a fancy party hosted by a cookbook author, Regina Charboneau, who told him how progressive and tolerant the town had become, while in a room of her house hung a large oil painting of her son dressed in a Confederate uniform — a souvenir of the Pilgrimage, an antebellum pageant that still takes place every year. It was all part and parcel of a town that once staged the nation’s largest Ku Klux Klan rally but in 2016 elected a gay Black mayor with 91% of the vote. Grant’s mind was swimming, but he had one clear thought… more
ABOUT THE BOOK
“This richly layered book offers a multifaceted view of the culture and history of an American city that, in its history, reveals the roots of the racial conflicts that continue to haunt the American psyche. An entertaining and thought-provoking memoir and sociological portrait.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Grant deftly and pointedly juxtaposes anecdotes of garden club turf wars among the city’s wealthy, white elite with appalling accounts of slave auctions, life under Jim Crow rule, and the continuing inequality still facing the city’s Black residents. At a time when our country once again attempts to confront its systemic racism, Grant’s potent examination of the confluence of white and African American cultures presents a timely overview of the source of many deep-seated misperceptions and struggles.” —Booklist (starred review)
Bestselling travel writer Richard Grant offers an entertaining and profound look at a city like no other.
Natchez, Mississippi, once had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in America, and its wealth was built on slavery and cotton. Today it has the greatest concentration of antebellum mansions in the South, and a culture full of unexpected contradictions. Prominent white families dress up in hoopskirts and Confederate uniforms for ritual celebrations of the Old South, yet Natchez is also progressive enough to elect a gay black man for mayor with 91% of the vote.
Much as John Berendt did for Savannah in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and the hit podcast S-Town did for Woodstock, Alabama, so Richard Grant does for Natchez in The Deepest South of All. With humor and insight, he depicts a strange, eccentric town with an unforgettable cast of characters. There’s Buzz Harper, a six-foot-five gay antique dealer famous for swanning around in a mink coat with a uniformed manservant and a very short German bodybuilder. There’s Ginger Hyland, “The Lioness,” who owns 500 antique eyewash cups and decorates 168 Christmas trees with her jewelry collection. And there’s Nellie Jackson, a Cadillac-driving brothel madam who became an FBI informant about the KKK before being burned alive by one of her customers. Interwoven through these stories is the more somber and largely forgotten account of Abd al Rahman Ibrahima, a West African prince who was enslaved in Natchez and became a cause célèbre in the 1820s, eventually gaining his freedom and returning to Africa.
Part history and part travelogue, The Deepest South of All offers a gripping portrait of a complex American place, as it struggles to break free from the past and confront the legacy of slavery.