Once upon a time at a certain daily newspaper in a certain Southern town, I edited the opinion pages.
In an editorial board meeting with the publisher and the executive editor, where plans were made for the week’s opinion pieces, I commented that Mississippi once taxed illegal liquor. There was a state tax collector, I added, whose salary was a percentage of the take.
Pretty confident of my home state’s history, I punctuated these remarks with “That’s how William Winter got rich.”
Maybe this newspaper had not yet gotten the word that women were becoming a force in journalism, for the publisher immediately put me in my place. “That’s ridiculous!” he retorted, “and I know Bill Winter. Bill Winter is not rich.”
When the publisher left the conference room, the editor, in front of the other board members, looked at me and snapped, “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, keep your mouth shut!”
I kept my mouth shut.
I did not tell him that my brothers-in-law Paul and Harold and my brother Leroy were friends of William Winter, former Mississippi governor, back in their Grenada, Mississippi, growing-up years.
Nor, did I tell him that William Winter had never in his life been called “Bill.”
Didn’t even mention that seen from the perspectives of a publisher and a lowly editorial editor, “rich” might be relative.
Heck, Mississippi politicians were among those who practically wore out the old Pearl River bridge connecting the state capital to “The Gold Coast,” a Rankin County road lined with wooden shacks dispensing illegal whiskey from drive-through windows.
A few days ago I ran across the delightful memoirs of retired Mississippi Judge Thomas Givens of Oxford.
Drawing me into Judge Givens’ stories were his title, "Whiskey, Chickens and Cherry Bombs," and this on the Web site:
“Note from Ye Editor: Judge Tom Givens writes stories that are not only entertaining, but also give us a glimpse into a rapidly fading era of Deep South history. Readers will enjoy these four memoirs - and will learn a thing or two.”
Learn a thing or two, indeed!
With permission of Beth, whose Web site, USADEEPSOUTH.COM, is an amazing collection of all things Southern – “stories, humor, travel, news, links, poetry, personal essays, memoirs, and lots more” - I quote a few words from one of Judge Givens’ stories:
“As I said before, just about all the (Mississippi) Delta and River counties allowed liquor sales. You could walk into any of those establishments, and there tacked on the wall would be their black market tax receipt.
“Now, get this, they had a ‘State Tax Collector.’ His only job was to collect the black market tax, and his compensation was a percentage of the collection. In the 50's, Life magazine did a profile on him as the highest paid public servant in the United States. That was none other than the most Honorable William Winter. To Winter’s credit, he lobbied the legislature to do away with the position, which they finally did.”
Well, that makes two Mississippians who know what they’re talking about!
Thanks, Judge! Once upon a time a woman could get pretty lonely working at a good-old-boys club.
This post originally appeared in my archived blog, “I See My Dreams.”