Contemplating a Special Three-Sixty and Telling Its Stories

Editor’s Note: Thanks to University Press of Mississippi, we are pleased to present CABA members with this exclusive excerpt from Jimmy Robertson’s introduction to his forthcoming book, Tales from a Lawyer Rambling Around Mississippi’s State Lines. In his introduction, Jimmy reflects on telling stories about our history from all corners of Mississippi.

James L. Robertson

Article by James L. Robertson Featured Author


For decades, my qualitative substantive thoughts about Mississippi began with William Faulkner – and with Faulkner’s Novel Prize for Literature awarded in 1950, or was it 1949? Soon thereafter, such thoughts had expanded to include the voice of Leontyne Price, the glorious soprano, born and reared in Laurel, Mississippi, who graced the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, and so many other stages around the world. As a young girl, Price gave concerts in towns like my hometown of Greenville, Mississippi, to raise money for her musical education. 1 Later, as an established star, she returned to her home state and performed to raise funds for scholarships at Rust College in Holly Springs, where her mother attended college. 2

Of late, we think of John Grisham who grew up in Northwest Mississippi, trained as a lawyer at the University of Mississippi (coincidentally, my student in my law school teaching days), and whose achievements, contributions, and public service may well supplant all Mississippians who have come before him. America’s storyteller without peer in our time, John Grisham has penned and published nearly half a hundred best-selling novels, translated into many languages. 3 But there is so much more, sure to come.

When he is not writing, John puts his legal skills and values to service via the Innocence Project and Centurion Ministries, two national organizations dedicating to exonerating and freeing those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, and educating the doubting thomases so prevalent within our country.

These Mississippi cultural heroes inspired me to tell of more tales, and here they are and in the pages that follow. Hopefully to listeners who are not in a hurry but are imbued with the wisdom to slow down a bit and think and learn more about Mississippi.

And, who at this point along life’s paths are prepared to visualize, to accept on faith that, come the close of this read, he or she might sense having had a good journey. Readers who are open to shedding long-held views and accepting that there may be more than a few pages in Mississippi’s stories that do us proud.

There are considerable differences between and among lifestyles and cultures, wherewithal and interests, fortuitous happenings, serene waters that include Pickwick Lake 4 bounding extreme northeast Mississippi, and not just its corners, but elsewhere around our three-sixty of choice. Yet there are other waters not so serene but sometimes roiling, rough, roaring, if not downright flooding, and at unforgettable times, a bit bloody — other such waters, bounding the state’s far away southwest corners.

Still, some say there’s not much difference among the ways of sizeable groups of the state’s people, Delta folks, for one, from the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, 5 then hugging close to The River all the way down to the arguably apocryphal Catfish Row in Vicksburg. 6 Tombigbee folks in northeast Mississippi have generated a culture and lifestyle and values of their own. 7

This saga starts at the southwestern most corner of Mississippi and follows me as I meander clockwise about the borders of the state — telling stories of the places and people, stories that are only loosely woven together by the geography, for the most part, and punctuated by personal recollections. A point is to illustrate the best and the worst of those who have lived and worked here in tales told by one who has resided and meandered in and through this state for eight decades, enough time to collect a plethora of varied experiences.

  1. “A Fine Project,” Greenville, Mississippi, Delta Democrat Times, 4 (Sept. 12, 1949); “Many Attend Concert,” Delta Democrat Times, 5 (March 15, 1967).
  2. “Rust College to Honor Leontyne Price,” Delta Democrat Times, 3 (Oct. 1, 1968).
  3.; David Marchese, “John Grisham is Still Battling His Southern Demons,” New York Times, MMii (June 26, 2022).
  4. See Quadrant A-10, Official Highway Map of Mississippi (MDOT 2019); also Chart Index Nos. 1 and 5, Tenn-Tom Waterway Chartbook, Yellow Creek, Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama, pages 3, 9 (Duthie Learning, 2014).
  5. See Quadrant A-6, Official Highway Map of Mississippi (MDOT 2019).
  6. See David L. Cohn, Where I Was Born and Raised 12 (1948); Quadrant H-4, Official Highway Map of Mississippi (MDOT 2019). The substantive point holds, even should the Vicksburg Post have been technically correct in its front-page article entitled, “Despite what you may have heard, Vicksburg doesn’t have a Catfish Row,” published July 22, 2017. Of course, you can take that one with a grain of salt, given that the author(s) of 2017 were not a gleam in their fathers’ eyes when Greenville and Delta native David Cohn was living the life he described in his still cherished book.
  7. See, e.g., U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills’ enjoyable work, Twice Told Tombigbee Tales (2007). Nothing said here is intended to denigrate the efforts of those who have sought to tell the state’s story from broader or different perspectives. See, e.g., Dennis J. Mitchell, A New History of Mississippi (2014); Wesley F. Busbee, Jr., Mississippi: A History (2d. ed. 2016); Maude Schuyler Clay and Richard Ford, Mississippi History (2015); David G. Sansing, A Place Called Mississippi (2d. ed. 2013); Bradley G. Bond, Mississippi: A Documentary History (2003); John K. Bettersworth, Mississippi: A History (1959).