As I write this column, the rain is pouring down outside. The wind is whipping the tall pines in the backyard like a buggy whip and threatening to snap them like matchsticks.
The last gasp of Tropical Storm Cristobal is wreaking havoc on the lawns all across DeSoto County, littered with small limbs and debris.
Storms come at us now from all sides. Not only the natural storms which brew way out into the Gulf and then gradually whip their way past our shores and into the hills and delta to the rainswept cities and towns far inland but also the powerful storms of another nature — human nature.
Snarling, menacing faces abound. There is the oddly distant sound of crunching boots on pavement. Raised fists and raised voices and obscenities and insults hurled through the air like Molotov cocktails.
If history is our guide, these storms hit us with powerful one-two punches just like 150 years ago.
As yellow fever raged in cities and towns from New Orleans to Noxapater, hurricanes drenched and drowned hundreds. Race riots peppered our cities then as now. Some people turned to violence. Some people turned to Almighty God.
Former longtime DeSoto County law enforcement officer Rick Ward, the nephew of my good friend, Mr. Earl Ward, wrote a beautiful book about a horrible crime just a few years ago. The book was called “Blood for Molasses.” It’s not only a great read from a talented writer but it brings to light an ugly incident in the 1880s in my ancestral hometown of Carrollton, Mississippi, where the Longs first set foot on Mississippi soil in the 1830s.
Rick was a tough-as-nails narcotics undercover agent here in DeSoto County in the turbulent 1970s. He saw his share of violence and mayhem.
Using Carrollton as a backdrop, Rick shares what can happen to a town and a people when they turn a blind eye to hate and injustice.
It seems that a black man accidentally spilled molasses on a white politician’s pants. Before it was all over scores would be dead, so much so that blood seeped down the courthouse stairs at the old courthouse.
President Grover Cleveland would send federal investigators to investigate. The entire incident was hushed up for decades until Rick, a conservative ex-lawman with a heart for God and a thirst for justice, dared to write about it. He would later receive standing ovations in Winona, Greenwood, and other places when he shared his gripping story.
As a pastor and theologian, as well as a historian, I sometimes surmise that all this rain that we have been having is the tears of God.
During this pandemic, I have noticed that it has seemingly rained off and on for days on end.
During this time of quarantine, I have also enjoyed listening to music as well as reading books like Rick Ward’s moving real-life account of justice and injustice.
I found myself listening to songs about rain.
My all-time favorite is the folk singer and troubadour Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall.” It’s pure poetry. It’s about a coming storm, heeding warnings, and the effects of people left out in the rain on the hillsides and mountainsides of humanity. No wonder Dylan won the Nobel Prize.
My next all-time favorite is the live version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Didn’t It Rain, Children?” filmed onstage at a train station in England under a drizzling, gray sky. Sister Rosetta could have been electrocuted as she walked onstage holding her electric guitar in the pouring rain. But this faithful woman preacher-musician played and sang with all her might.
And then there is the epic rain song by the late great Elvis Presley, “Kentucky Rain,” about a man searching for his lost love in the middle of a rainstorm, hopping a ride with a trucker in his quest. Talking to old men at a general store. The man never found his true love. The rain kept falling.
The man keeps on searching.
It’s a story about hope as well as sadness. It’s a storyline contained in a song that prompts each of us to keep right on searching despite the rain for love, redemption, and ultimately salvation.
There is that line in the lyrics to “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Sometimes it feels like it is raining all over the world.
My good friend Mr. Frank Wills, a bailiff in DeSoto County and a revered “No. 4” deputy as he was referred to, used to keep a rain gauge and rain records of all the rainfall in DeSoto County.
No doubt, with all this rain, Mr. Frank would have worn out his rain gauge and probably would have had to buy another one.
Let the rain fall. Let it wash across the hillsides and through the valleys. Let it wash this plague from our midst.
I take heart that soon and very soon, our world will be “right as rain” once again.
Robert Lee Long is Curator of the newly-reopened DeSoto County Museum.