East End Tea Room' completes the puzzle
Editor's note: This is the second of a four-part series on a new book by historian Hewitt Clarke, a Meridian native. The book depicts the civil rights movement in the 1960s, but also describes an era of honky tonk fighters in Meridian, never equaled before or since. The East End Tea Room was not a Klan hangout but a colorful beer joint that depicts the honky tonk scene during that bygone period of Meridian's history.
By Mike Pierce / special to The Star
Oct. 3, 2002
I suppose I could write, "If you don't read this book I will whup you." Of course I never had the courage and the skills that many of the early 60s patrons of the East End Tea Room had and, in some cases still have, so that is at best a hollow threat.
But, suppose you had read a book of Grisham, Welty or Faulkner or a play of Tennessee Williams, before they had become legendary writers? Wouldn't you be proud of yourself?
Read Hewitt Clarke's saga of the "Honky Tonk Fighters in the Second Reconstruction of Mississippi" and you will not only be proud of yourself, but also glad you did not miss this excellent read.
Someone said a newspaper should be written so that a sixth grader can read it, because many sixth graders do read the newspaper and too many adults read on a sixth grade level. You won't waste your time looking up big words in "The East End Tea Room." You will use your time putting together puzzles and discovering that words on paper can be a lot better than the big screen or the TV.
I don't mean to infer that the book is a puzzle. You can know nothing about Meridian or the early 1960s and fully understand and enjoy this tome of history. But if you are like me and you know a little about the locations, the people and the subject matter, then this book will fill in the gaps and make the puzzle complete.
Hewitt Clarke did this not by just writing memories, but by doing long and thorough research and talking to the actual characters. When that was not possible, he talked to eyewitnesses and those who knew the characters best.
Wayland McMullen used to do "Six Days on the Road" as a guest singer with a band I played in. He liked me and so did everyone else, because you don't mess with Wayland's friends.
My most vivid memory of Wayne Roberts was when he was selling civil rights, 45 rpm, records in the parking lot of a drive in on Tom Bailey Drive. He was standing on his car and the jukebox, in the parking lot, was playing a song from the record.
I also remember when he punched out a photographer, Laurens Pierce, on the lawn of the federal courthouse.
But, all of my memories are little pieces of a puzzle that are put together by Hewitt Clarke, a guy who knows this area and its people and a guy who spent his time gathering all of the information that most of us would otherwise have never known.
And didn't the killing of the three civil rights workers in 1964 touch us all? The FBI came to my house, because my daddy ran heavy machinery and helped build NAS Meridian. My dad also sold all of his 18-wheelers to the owner of the Neshoba County pond dam where the civil rights workers were found buried.
And all is not history. It hasn't been long since I ran into Preacher Killen in the grocery store. Connie Chung has tried to convince us that he planned the killing of the civil rights workers.
Each of us who was in Meridian in the early 60s has our ties to events, people and places and now Hewitt Clarke's The East End Tea Room ties the whole story into a neat package.
Many will have some ties to the people, places and events of the summer of 1964. But, with or without that, you can get what Paul Harvey calls, "the rest of the story," in this well written book.
You know what happened next. You have at least seen it depicted in one of several movies made on the subject of the killings of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Now you get the detail of what happened on Rock Cut Road, what preceded that infamous few minutes and what happened later from the master historian Hewitt Clarke.
A good novel reads a lot better than a good history book. A good history book that reads like a novel is a treasure indeed.
See you at the bookstore.
Mike Pierce is news director of radio station WMOX-AM in Meridian.
Tomorrow: A fascinating portrait of early Meridian