A couple of weeks ago I had one of my classes read Eudora Welty’s “Where Is the Voice Coming From?“, her 1963 story in which she imagines the thoughts and motivations of the man who assassinated Medgar Evers. We talked about character and representation, the students grappling with the difficulty of making out the nature of the man who was killed when surrounded–almost to point of suffocation–by the nature of the man who did the killing.
I’m thinking about this now because I’ve visited Eudora Welty’s home and seen where she lived when the news came in about Evers’ assassination. I’ve listened–twice–as Myrlie Evers shared memories and issued challenges to audiences at Millsaps, her strong voice resonant and resolute as she continues the fight this 50 years on. I haven’t visited Evers’ home, haven’t seen his grave, haven’t read or understood what I need to about this man whose assassination stands as a most horrific breach in a state of horrid breaches. Mississippi’s ghosts are legion. As I type this, I realize that I’ve been reluctant to listen to their stories.
What strikes me most about Welty’s story is how contemporary it feels. In the wake of Florida’s most recent legal dustup, I am saddened by how easy it is to imagine the thoughts of Welty’s protagonist–or some close variation–running through Michael Dunn’s mind. I am ashamed that I don’t think about what must have gone through Jordan Davis’s, through Medgar Evers’s, through the minds of so many victims whose lives were cut horribly short by so much hate. I imagine that what’s kept me from visiting Evers’s house is the ordinariness of it all–an average house on an average street that should have been safe from such extraordinarily evil intervention. Teenagers play loud music in convenience store parking lots. Young families live in small houses and drive cars and try to make their lives better. I am afraid to visit the home. It should be an unremarkable place. It isn’t, and that serves as a reminder to me that Welty’s narrator is out there in our culture, waiting for another moment to surface.