An infamous event in the year 1948 – provided there were several during that time – may or may not be one of the Mississippi Delta’s best kept secrets.
Greenville native Beverly Lowry’s memoir, “Deer Creek Drive: A Reckoning of Memory and Murder in the Mississippi Delta,” reveals to readers – those who may not be familiar with the event – one of the most challenging instances in which moral fitness in society was a foregone conclusion.
“Deer Creek Drive” chronicles not just her life, but a murder that “shook up” the area she called home and “forever shaped” her perception of it.
This murder was that of Idella Thompson, nicknamed a society matron.
The suspect and eventual convicted murderer was Thompson’s daughter, Ruth Dickins, who stabbed her mother “some 150” times and accused a black man of committing the vicious crime, even though she was the only other person in the house. house at the time.
Lowry was asked if writing the memoirs was somewhat therapeutic given the disturbing memory of the murder and the unfolding of events that followed.
“It was not my intention, when I started working on this book, to do therapy on myself or to heal old wounds, although it could be said that all books, that whether they are fiction or non-fiction, emerge from the writer’s desire or need to deal with a particular event or issue in their life,” Lowry said. “This is now the third non-fiction book I’m writing that deals with a particularly gruesome murder. The first came out in 1992.
She continued: “Since then, I have often been asked why I was writing about such terrible events. I always answer the same way: because of the unimaginable, unforgettable crime that happened just nine miles from my home in Greenville, Mississippi, when I was 10, 11 years old.
Now that Lowry has written about it, she can neither affirm that she is cured nor that the “ghoulish details of the crime” no longer make her tremble in horror.
In fact, the details and uncertainty of exactly what happened at Leland on Deer Creek Drive on November 17, 1948 still haunts her.
One thing her memoir indicates she is certain of is that no one has “let go” of the memory and that even people too young to remember know it.
People’s willingness to talk about the murder is another thing.
“It should also be noted that the two women’s houses were located on what some Leland families consider to be the ‘wrong’ side of the creek. It is, of course, a measure of small-town snobbery that there is, for some, a wrong side of the best street in town, but the distinction is also important in terms of current property values,” Lowry writes. . “Homes on South Deer Creek Drive, according to a longtime realtor and longtime resident, command a higher price. When asked why, she replied with a sigh, as if the reason should be obvious. Because, she says, “black people live on the north side.”
Lowry not only provides historical context in his memoir, but also legal context.
From the architectural rendering of the Thompson home featured as the state’s No. 1 exhibit on the first day of the trial to referencing the Nov. 18, 1948, issue of the Delta Democrat Times, Lowry frames this moment in history in what the one might call detail captivating.
What exactly could have caused Lowry’s life and his perception of his home to be forever shaped by Thompson’s murder and subsequent trial?
One could easily infer that she saw what it was like for a certain group of people in society to cry out against the enforcement of justice and to have someone at the highest level of authority to actually take heed of these cries.
What she saw was just one example of a myriad of atrocities being the accepted norm of the Jim Crow South.
“The timeline of the book spans from 1948 when the Jim Crow Rules were obtained, through 1956 and beyond, after the Brown decision changed everything in every Deep South state, racially, cultural, educational…an avalanche of possibilities,” Lowry noted.
On what she hopes readers will glean, she said: “The murder of Idella Thompson and the subsequent trial of her daughter, Ruth Dickins, reveals much about the situation in the late forties and early fifties, especially in the coverage of both in newspapers and magazines. My own life gives history, I think, not just a measure of personal experience over those years, but also a voice, speaking from now, looking back. I wanted to weave these three narratives into one solid story.
“Lowry’s memoirs have been reviewed by some of the most acclaimed and respected writers of that era, including John Grisham, who is best known for ‘A Time to Kill.’
“Mix together a bloody murder in a privileged white family, a false accusation against a black man, a suspicious town, a sensational trial with colorful lawyers and a punishment that did not fit the crime, and you have the best of southern gothic. fiction. But the best part is that the story is true,” Grisham wrote in his blurb.
Lowry will discuss her book on August 20 at the Mississippi Book Festival, which will be held at the State Capitol Building and Grounds in Jackson.
She will also discuss her book on August 24 at Square Books in Oxford.