Mississippi’s Giant House Party: Being White at the Neshoba County Fair

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Mississippi’s Giant House Party: Being White at the Neshoba County Fair

by Trent Watts
Southern Cultures, Vol. 8, No. 2: Summer 2002

"'No normal person could resist the gregarious contagion of this congenial event where merchants and farmers, visiting celebrities and natives met and mingled.'"

For more than one hundred years, Mississippians have braved their long hot summer to head to the eastern part of the state for the Neshoba County Fair. For one week in late July, thousands of men and women from Philadelphia (the county seat), the rest of the state, and even farther afield descend upon the fairgrounds to create a Mississippi town of respectable size. Joined by well over fifty thousand additional visitors, including the occasional reporter from a Washington or Boston newspaper, they gather to enjoy food, drink, horse racing, gospel singing, and political oratory—in short, as National Geographic accurately characterized it, to “join in tribal rites of fellowship” where “a whole way of life finds affirmation.” This annual ritual is an assertion that one can go home again. “It’s a place,” as one admirer explained, “where there is comfort in knowing that tomorrow will be little changed from today.”