The comedian Dick Gregory used to joke bitterly during the civil rights era, that you could always spot a white moderate in Mississippi. He was the “cat who wants to lynch you from a low tree.”
Few in Mississippi got to hear Gregory’s crack. When it came to race issues the state operated under a virtual media lockdown in the early 1960s. When James Baldwin was a guest on “Today,” NBC stations in Mississippi cut to an old movie. When Thurgood Marshall, then an N.A.A.C.P. lawyer, appeared on TV, a notice flashed: “Cable Difficulty.” Mississippi’s ABC affiliates didn’t want to air “Bewitched,” a new sitcom. Marriage between man and witch? Surely that was code for interracial sex, for the coming mongrelization.
Mississippi pretended its race problems didn’t exist. But as Bruce Watson makes plain in his taut and involving new book, “Freedom Summer,” the rest of America in 1964 was beginning to have trouble looking away from Mississippi.