Plenty of good books about and by Mississippians to enliven your summer

The Mississippi Encyclopedia
The Mississippi Encyclopedia

War! What is it good for? History. What can we learn from it?

Read on and find such answers as set to print by Mississippi authors or by other writers intent on revealing the wide-ranging aspects of Mississippians at war and of whom history has taken particular notice.

Brown Condor

You won’t read a better-written, more engrossing story this summer than the one penned by Gulfport author Thomas Simmons, “The Man Called Brown Condor,” the story of Mississippi’s African-American pilot and father of the Tuskegee Airmen, John C. Robinson.

Winner of a Gold Medal Award from the Military Writers Society of America when originally released, this recently released paperback edition chronicles the rise of Robinson, who grew up in Gulfport in the 1910s but moved to Detroit to find substantial employment beyond sweeping out garages.

Determined to become a pilot, Robinson finally found his niche training black pilots in his own schools, offering them opportunities they couldn’t find elsewhere.

He ultimately founded the Tuskegee Airmen corps and valiantly served Ethiopia in a losing effort as an unarmed reconnaissance pilot flying in a sky dominated by armed Italian fighter planes.

Civil War

Two Civil War novels bring unique stories to life that most Americans were hardly aware had occured.

Virgil C. Moon III’s “The Picket” details the story of those men charged with guarding the picket lines halfway between their own companies and those of the enemies.

Moon offers a surprisingly sensitive and engrossing tale of the interplay between soldiers and non-combatant women and children, as well as a riveting tale of the tense existence of a “solitary sentinel,” suffering such horrors as, “before I could react, there was a sudden sharp stinging in my right ribs and chest.” You’ll read it straight through.

Equally enthralling is “Robert E. Lee’s Orderly” by Al Arnold, who, after graduating Jackson State and then the University of Mississippi’s School of Physical Therapy in 1991 with the Minority Scholarship of Academic Excellence in his pocket, chronicles the Civil War experiences of his forebear, Turner Hall.

Hall, along with many other African-Americans, served the Confederacy as valets, laborers, cooks and soldiers. Arnold argues that history should not be erased or torn down, but like God’s rainbow after the destruction of the world in the Old Testament, should be reported and remembered as a “beautiful reminder of what God has done, both in how some days will never be seen again, and as a lasting tribute to my ancestor and his role in the war.”

Mississippi Profiles

And then there’s history encompassing the grand scale rather than individual accomplishment.

Biloxi author and editor Phil Levin offers a most enjoyable walk through Mississippi history with his “Mississippi Profiles: Stories of Memorable Men and Women from the Magnolia State.”

Divided between sections focused upon 19th Century celebrities such as Varina Davis, 20th Century artists such as Eudora Welty, Walter Anderson and Richard Wright, and modern notables William Winter, Morgan Freeman and Leontyne Price, these bios were penned by new and oft-published coast authors including Elaine Stevens, Johnnie Bernhard and Levin.

No Mississippian should be without it.

Mississippi Encyclopedia

The final entry is surely the biggest, and one of the largest you will ever read.

It is the 1,400-plus large page “The Mississippi Encyclopedia,” compiled by editors Ted Owenby, Charles Reagan Wilson, Ann Abadie, Odie Lindsey and James G. Thomas Jr., in which over 700 scholars wrote entries on every Mississippi governor, numerous musicians, writers, artists and activists, plus essays on the Civil War, agriculture, folk life, law, medicine, politics and just about any subject pertaining to our state that you can imagine, and many that you cannot.

I won’t begin to describe it further except to say that you will never read another reference book that so perfectly and thoroughly captures the Mississippi experience as acutely as this one.

If you do nothing else this summer but get sunburned, don’t miss out on “The Mississippi Encyclopedia.”