Barack Obama's victory stirs Mississippi ghosts





PHILADELPHIA, MISS. -- Some places are defined by a single event. Roswell, N.M., will always be known for space aliens, Dallas for assassination. And this little town in the Piney Woods of eastern Mississippi will forever be the site of one of the most brutal crimes of the civil rights era.

But Philadelphia -- situated in a county once dubbed Bloody Neshoba -- can now add a remarkable footnote to its most nefarious chapter: The rural county where three men were killed for trying to help black people vote has cast the majority of its ballots to put a black man in the White House.

Much has changed here since African Americans like Sylvia Campbell, now 74, were told they couldn't vote unless they correctly answered how many bubbles were in a bar of soap.

But much is the same. For all the excitement about Barack Obama and his history-making run for president, there is anxiety, too, because the present is still a hostage to the past. Everything in this slow town of one-way streets and more than 80 churches is viewed through the lens of race. Obama's success makes some people as anxious as it makes others proud.

"It's just the impossibility of it," Campbell said again and again of the presumed Democratic nominee. She had just come from a weeknight Bible study at her church, Mt. Zion United Methodist, which the Ku Klux Klan once burned down. "I know Mississippians. Barack Obama will never change the uneducated whites from the South. I don't care what he does. If he made some of them millionaires, he'll never change them."


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