On the night of June 11, 1963, Dr. James Hardy performed the first successful lung transplant from one human to another. That happened at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, in Jackson, MS. Because of that doctor’s work, and that surgery, and his transplantation of a chimpanzee heart to a human (also at the University Medical Center, in Jackson MS) the following year, there are many, many thousands of people – including my wife – who are alive today who otherwise would have died.
About twenty-four hours later, on a quiet street in Jackson MS, a civil rights worker named Medgar Evers was shot down in his driveway by Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist. He was taken by ambulance to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which according to some reports, initially would not admit him to the emergency room because of his race until it was explained who he was. He died of his injuries. His murderer would be free for more than 30 years before being convicted.
And that 24 hours is the most goddamned emblematic story of Mississippi I know. Horror and hope, death and resurrection, terror and triumph – all in the same 24 hours, in the same city, at the same damned hospital, even. Mississippi is the best place I know. And the worst place I know. It will suck you in with its charms. And it will break your heart.