MSU professor pens book on Shubuta Bridge lynchings

MERIDIAN, Miss.—A Mississippi State associate professor of history has released a new book chronicling events in a small Mississippi town that is home to a tragic monument to racial struggle.

Written by Jason Morgan Ward and published by Oxford University Press, “Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence and America’s Civil Rights Century” examines decades of racial tension in the Clarke County town of Shubuta, where a bridge that crosses the Chickasawhay River served as the site for lynchings. Morgan will sign copies of his book at 5-7 p.m. Thursday [May 26] in the Phil Hardin Foundation Library on MSU-Meridian’s College Park Campus.

Ward, who joined MSU’s faculty in 2008, said the book focuses on three major events in Shubuta, two of which involved the steel-framed bridge. In 1918, a mob lynched four young blacks, including two men and two pregnant women. Twenty-four years later, in 1942, two black teenagers were lynched there.

The book also recounts the height of Shubuta’s civil rights movement in 1966 and highlights the efforts of local civil rights activists.

“This story is told over such a long period of time, so you see different characters, events and themes elevated,” Ward said. “There are lots of communities in Mississippi that have their own stories like this that haven’t been told. I would like for this to be a model for seeking out these stories and thinking about new structures for telling them.”

Both Shubuta bridge lynchings occurred in an era of world war, when Ward said bubbling social conflicts and anxieties reached new heights. Membership to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People grew during both world wars, he said, and pressure on the government to make social changes increased on many fronts.

Also, economic shifts brought by the wars allowed blacks opportunities for higher paying jobs, which Ward said challenged the prevailing class structure and helped people leave a system of debt and credit that had kept them in a cycle of poverty.

Challenges to economic and class themes re-emerged in Shubuta in the late 1960s, Ward added, especially when the Head Start anti-poverty program offered jobs to African American women that paid three times more than common subservient labor.

Time Magazine has published an excerpt from the book’s introduction, and Ward has talked about it in interviews for National Public Radio and Vice Magazine. He said what he thinks makes the story so unique is having the bridge, which is still standing, as a physical device tying it together.

“Every town is famous for something,” he said. “You just don’t necessarily get to choose what that thing is.”

This is Morgan’s second published book. His first, “Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936-65,” was released in 2011.

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