B J Hollars

Ten days after they took him from the jail, shot him through the heart, and hurled him from the Bogalusa Bridge, Mack Charles Parker—age 23, black—was dredged from the Pearl River near Poplarville.

This was in May of 1959.

Mack had been accused of raping a white woman and maybe he did. But maybe he didn't, too. Regardless, the answer was an afterthought to the men who made up the mob.  They'd been taking men like Mack all their lives, one way or another, and what was Mack to a Mississippi mob but one more colored boy to shoot and sink in the river?

Never mind that Mack had no history of violence. Never mind what the lie detectors said. And never mind the jailer's keys, so readily accessible that night.

Never mind the man with the blue and white handkerchief wrapped round his face, or the man with the white cotton gloves. Or the other man, whose job it was to twist the light bulb to plunge them into darkness.

Never mind Mack's head, which cracked upon each marble step as they dragged him down the courthouse stairs. Or the marshal who, when called to investigate, ordered a cup of coffee, instead.

Never mind the men who drove Mack 20 miles to the Bogalusa Bridge. Or the man (or men?) who pulled the trigger twice, then weighed down his body with chains.

Never mind the moonlight, the splash, the empty seat on the drive back into town. For fifty years, no one minded at all.

I first learn of his murder while in Montgomery, from a woman who nearly met her own end in that town two years after Mack. She tells me how she crouched in a phone booth while the mob gave chase. Her crime: integrating a bus.

"I survived," she tells me. "But all along I was thinking of Mack."

Later that night around midnight, I hear a pounding on my motel door.

I sit upright—a dream?—before the pounding comes again.

"Front desk!" a man calls. I do not answer it. Do not even rise from the safety of my bed. Once the pounding ends I rise slowly, peering through the curtains, the peephole, but all I see is night.

Mind you, I am a white man.

Mind you, there is a deadbolt on my door.

I am 250 miles from Poplarville, though when I hear the man pounding, I, too, find myself thinking of Mack. About the men who didn't knock when they unlocked his cell, about the men who cupped their hands around his heels.

I call the front desk but nobody answers. I try again, and this time the phone line is dead.

The handset, apparently, has come unplugged so I re-plug it and try again.

"Hello?" I ask. "Is there a problem? Did someone just knock on my door?"

The man at the front desk apologizes. He says he'd received a phone call about an emergency in room 143, that he was informed that a Mrs. Johnson was in danger.

I tell him there is no emergency in room 143, no Mrs. Johnson, either.

Perhaps, the man concedes, it was a prank.

Never mind what it was or what it wasn't.

Never mind the fear I thought I felt.

As I return to my sheets all I think about is what I'm trying so hard to forget: the way my heart had seized when I heard pounding, the way I'd momentarily confused myself for somebody else.

That night I search for sleep in the hum of the highway just beyond my motel door. Instead, I'm kept awake by the sounds I cannot shake: the turn of a key, the twist of a bulb, and the hushing whorl a body makes when hurled into a river.






I wrote the first draft of this piece in a cockroach-infested Red Roof Inn in Montgomery, Alabama in the moments following the events described in the latter half of this essay. I was so shaken I couldn't sleep.  Still can't, some nights.  A few days later, while driving to the airport in Jackson, Mississippi I passed a sign for the Pearl River, where Mack's body was found.  These days, I can't pass a river without thinking of Mack Charles Parker, or Emmett Till, or...