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Back to Mississippi: A Personal Journey Through the Events That Changed America in 1964 Hardcover – August 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1 edition (August 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786867965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786867967
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,683,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although Winstead was born into "a family of storytellers" and possesses a promising tale, the pedestrian style and rickety structure of this memoir defuse what could have been a riveting and revealing historical account. The story concerns her discovery of her father's cousin's involvement in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in rural Mississippi. Amid the ragged juxtaposition of bits of research with unabsorbing details of daily life, Winstead's periodic sketches of the victims (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) are often more intrusive than significant. This is also the case with her depiction of cousin Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen, who coordinated the killings and was released in 1967 by a deadlocked state jury. (According to Winstead, his case will be tried again soon, and Mississippi's attorney general has named him as the state's main suspect. He did not talk to Winstead for this book.) Winstead's colorless retelling of growing up in Minneapolis during the 1950s and '60s, with occasional trips to visit her father's Mississippi family, suggests comparison with Diane McWhorter's Carry Me Home (2001). Alas, writing one's life does not always mean examining it. Winstead's acceptance of the notion that "most people in Philadelphia [Miss.] believed that the whole thing was a hoax" calls for greater scrutiny of her source, the Meridian (Miss.) Star. Andrew Goodman's mother tells Winstead the event was a very important time in the nation's history, and that for a long time not much was said about it at all. Winstead adds little to that record.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Though billed as a memoir, Winstead's first book is a compelling history of the 1960s South from the inside out. A Minnesota-based journalist, Winstead grew up in Minneapolis but was raised on her father's stories of his boyhood days in rural Mississippi. When as an adult she visited her many relatives down South to connect names with faces, she got more than she bargained for. Along with the love and humor of family ties, Winstead discovered racism, involvement with the Klan, and an undeniable tie to the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers. The author masterfully merges national news with firsthand narratives and anecdotes. Emotions change by the paragraph, as a favorite aunt and uncle laugh over childhood mischief and in the next sentence utter racial epithets. The author is caught between the conflicting feelings of love and revulsion and has to reconcile the two. This book would be an excellent choice for a book discussion group and is recommended for public libraries. Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book to learn more about the 1960s civil rights movement and ended up with much more. Winstead's stories about her childhood and family experiences were delightful bringing to mind many long forgotten memories - her mother's housework, delicious food prepared by southern relatives, happy times with cousins, to name a few.
Winstead's accountof her family's involvement in the deaths of civil rights workers is engaging and powerful.
A wonderful first effort. Buy this book!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Back to Mississippi is suspenseful even though you already know the ending. Starting out to pass on stories of her father's south to her children, Mary Winstead found herself taking a good look at what is family loyalty when it comes up against something as shocking as murder. She uses specific personal memories of the same time period growing up in Minneapolis, a mostly white, segregated northern city, a childhood journey to Mississippi to meet her father's family, and recent research into the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner in her father's home town in Mississippi, to delve into themes of discovery. As she describes swimming across a dark-watered lake in Mississippi as a child, worried about where the bottom was and what was down there, she is also describing swimming on the surface of family relations, worried about the depths. Most people know that civil rights workers were murdered in the south in the 1960s; some even know that the murderers have not all been tried and convicted. Winstead's book takes you through her discoveries of who Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner were, why they felt compelled to go to Mississippi, and their murders when they arrived. Who these three young men were is important to her story because once she understands who they were and that her aunts and cousins to this day believe the three young men were "trash" she has to decide what family loyalty means. I found the book riveting and Winstead's willingness to push for family truth daring.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Catherine on October 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I found Back to Mississippi a book that was hard to put down, unexpectedly so. From the beginning of the book you know that the story to be told is of the murder of three civil rights' workers and a family's denial of those murders. At the same time this is a personal story of discovery and loss that really pulls the reader in. There are three themes in this memoir: the writer's Catholic upbringing in the north, the delightful discovery of a warm and loving family in the south, and the historical record of the bitter civil rights struggle in Mississippi. As the book progresses there there is an increasing feeling of foreboding of the connection between the family stories and the brutal murders of the civil rights' workers. This foreboding, good stories, and pertinent historical detail made this book more than worth the read. Also, it left me wanting to know more about this period and the concealment of the violence perpeptrated then.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By clyde on September 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was riveted with the stories Ms. Winstead's father told, and her trips South. For that alone, the book is worth something, also for some insights into isolation of Northern suburban living, something I could relate to, growing up in similar protected surroundings.

But the story all became confusing and I became as confused as she was, about all of the issues and it all turned into a muddle. I did not see the story lines integrated well; the jumps between her personal crises, the family stories and the stories of the murders in Neshoba County all remained separate and jarring, - not fully integrated at all. She has a lot to say about these things, but she is not saying them well, giving each half the treatment they deserve. Maybe this should really be 2 or 3 books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Southern Reader on November 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
First, in the interest of full disclosure, I grew up in Meridian, MIssissippi and was there when the crime happened in Neshoba County. It was a seminal event in my life that led me to question a lot of what we were told by our elders in the state. One of the reviewers criticizes the author for a bit of muddleness in confusing her story with the story of the murders. I can see that, but there is so much good in this book. The author does an excellent job of exposing the reader to how many whites in Mississippi viewed the crime and how they reacted then and still react to it today. The book gets better as it goes along and the author's being rejected by her father's Mississippi folks after it became clear that she was about writing a "civil rights" book says so much about how Mississippians react. I really enjoyed the book. It brought back things I had forgotten about those times. I even liked the cover ( sometimes you can tell a book by its cover ). I would recommend the book to anyone seeking an insight into Southern thought.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Peterson on August 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Living in Minnesota, Mary Winstead becomes fascinated by her father's stories of growing up in Mississippi in the 1920s and 1930s. Deciding that she must preserve these stories, she digs a little deeper into the Southern side of her family, who reside in and near Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the infamous 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, J.E. Chaney and Michael Schwerner.

She is welcomed warmely, until she gets close to the family secret: They are related to Edgar Ray Killen, the alleged mastermind behind the murders, who at the time of the writing (about 2001, 35 years later) had not yet faced murder charges.

Part personal memoir, part history of the murders, this book explores Winstead's travels to Mississippi and family relations, starting from her childhood, to the present day. It also delves into her personal coming to terms with her family's past and struggles with keeping and perpetuating family secrets and honoring a culture of silence that she cannot subscribe to.

I grew up in the upper midwest and now live not far from Philadelphia, MS. I think Winstead has accurately captured the attitudes of both cultures, and she has wonderfully voiced her inner struggle.

This book was written before the 2005 conviction of Killen on three counts of manslaughter. But, as Winstead said, the book isn't really about civil rights, it's about her family, so perhaps the conviction doesn't matter for the purposes of this book.
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