Tag Archives: mississippi 2018

Day 13, last day of work, Mississippi Clarksdale

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by Kaitlyn Lee ’19

Today is our last day here in Mississippi. Over these two weeks, we met lots of wonderful people, learnt the foundation of building houses, bonded with one another through this hardship, and we have survived. In my mind, I still feel like we were here just yesterday and time flies so fast. I still remember the time I was exhausted through priming the walls in Tutwiler, till this day where my right arm is still sore from hammering the top of the house in Clarksdale.

We worked only on the second house today, and witnessed how to make the concrete as the foundation of the shed. Since we didn’t have access to the water we were supposed to have, a concrete truck came by and poured in the concrete as opposed to making the concrete ourselves. We successfully made the concrete for the shed and also the pavement for the sidewalk outside the front door. I was surprised how Ben reused the excess concrete from making the shed and turned it to the sidewalk. This was my first time actually witnessing the making of a foundation, and I was intrigued by how you turn seemingly useless dirt and cracked concrete into a brand new one. It was a very insightful experience.

After all the work, we took our group picture with Ben (our supervisor) and headed back to the dorm. We cleaned up the dorm, ready for tomorrow’s departure.

Originally, I wasn’t excited to give up my spring break in order to do service in a place I have never been to and with people I have mostly never met before. But after this experience, I understood that doing service isn’t a burdensome thing after all. I learnt many new things from people that came from very different backgrounds from me, and I enjoyed this experience of learning their culture and (of course) their unique accents. I think I also grew an interest in country music (I never thought I would say this) and understood a lot more about the history and culture of the southern part of the United States.

At the end of this blog, I would like to thank everyone we encountered through this trip, especially Valerie, Brendan and Emma for taking the time to lead the trip. Thank you for being so considerate and working so hard to make sure we enjoy this trip as much as we worked.

Once again, thank you and it’s time for dinner.

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by Max Malavsky ’18

After a long day yesterday we woke up, ate a breakfast that consisted of baked oatmeal, cereal, and oranges, then we piled into the vans ready for another day of work.

We roll up to the “worksite” (the house we’ve been working on) at around 9am, hop out of the vans and meet up with Ben at the front of the house. The door is already open and the group files into our places. At this house, we worked on making face boards and frames for doors. Beau, Ben, and I focused on taking down the lengths of the frames and figuring out the correct angle measurements that were needed to accurately make a frame. After Beau found the necessary length of one side of the frame, Ben would take it out to me at the saw. There, Ben and I would find the angle that would make the frame fit. Don’t get me wrong, this process was very tedious and time-consuming, but it got the job done and Ben insisted that this was not only the correct way, but the only way that we could accurately make measurements on the frames.

We worked in the morning from 9-12. Beau and I filled the house with music, while sparking conversations about today’s rap music with Ben and the other members of our group. It turns out that Ben happens to be a huge 2Pac and Snoop Dog fan. When asked what his favorite album of all time was, he immediately replied, “Dude, are you serious? The Chronic 2001, of course.” We carried this discussion throughout our morning work until we were interrupted by Wanda. Wanda works in Clarksdale and came into our house. She was impressed with our work and by the fact that we were giving up our spring break to work with Habitat for Humanity, and decided to by us Dominos for lunch! The group gathered outside and talked about the afternoon’s activities while we were waiting for Wanda to bring us our lunch. After a few minutes of small talk, Wanda arrived at the worksite and we took the pizza back to our Habitat house for lunch.

During lunch we made major progress on our new pastime: puzzles. Puzzles and 2018 Mississippi Service Trip go together like peanut butter and jelly. We have taken puzzling to an entirely new level and have put in WAY too many hours into completing the three puzzles we’ve already conquered on this trip. We are currently trying to tackle a 2,000 piece puzzle as of now and it is going quite smoothly.

After lunch we once again piled into the vans and headed to the second house that we have been working on this week. Here, Beau, Ben, Alyssa, Jacob and I headed to the back of the house to dig ditches in the scorching Mississippi afternoon sun. We listened to music and continued our conversation from earlier in the day about our individual tastes in music. It has been great getting to know Ben over these past couple of days, he is definitely a person that I plan on writing to after this trip. During the afternoon, we worked from 1:30-4. Once we finished, we drove back to our Habitat house for some puzzling before our potluck dinner.

Ben and Nat came to our house at 5:30 and cooked until 6:45. During this time, the members of the group played with the neighborhood kids. I developed a close connection with a young boy whose name I think is “Darius” but he cannot speak very well so honestly I’m not quite sure what his name is, so I told everyone to call him D. He is a very aggressive child who loves to pull hair and threaten other kids. However, we bonded very quickly. He always asks me to carry him, he sits me down to talk to him, and gives me the occasional kiss on the cheek.

It was time for dinner, we said goodbye to the kids and sat down for a delicious meal. Once the meal was finished, our guests left and the members of the group returned to our new favorite hobby. Yes, you guessed it, puzzling.

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by Susie Mott ’18

I emerged from the girls’ dorm at 8:00 this morning to a finished 1,000-piece puzzle. I admire the determination it took to do this in one night.

Today, Ben had us installing hurricane clips and assembling the wooden foundation for a shed on South Edwards Ave. The hurricane clip crew worked along the perimeter inside, thoroughly nailing metal to beams and walls such that the roof ought to remain on this house in high winds. The rest of us filed outside, where we moved a pile of wood scrap across the yard – uncovering a newt, and a whole bunch of roly-polies! When starting the shed, Ben made sure each of us got a turn with the hammer, offering mini motivational speeches to anyone who became unsure or frustrated with the task, ensuring that we finished each nail off well.

Two other men showed up to help at this site; Bill and Mark, wielding a power saw. Mark addressed us collectively as “teens.” “Hey, teens!” “Teens! Come help with this!” I spent much of the morning standing by the scaffolding as a safety measure (“If we fall, that’s our mistake. If you don’t catch us, that’s your mistake, and there will be lawsuits! Lawyers everywhere!”), and found out that they’re history teachers. They offered to let me have a go with the saw, but asked Valerie first, and she vetoed this on account of my safety.

We had the afternoon off work, so by popular demand Valerie and Emma drove us to have a look at Ole Miss. I conked out in the van, as did most of my peers, but I was aware enough to notice the shift out the window from cotton fields, patched-up houses, metal fences, mallards swimming around the trunks of trees in opaque flood water, to neatly manicured lawns and huge houses enclosed by walls. I noticed benches in town designed such that homeless people won’t sleep on them.

Ole Miss is big. Just, so huge. We left Valerie and Emma at a Starbucks and trotted off to explore Oxford, Mississippi. This involved Insomnia Cookies, a book store, a bright red British telephone booth, and the most interesting-looking shop on the square: End of All Music, a record shop accessible by a staircase in an alley. We also noted a couple of Confederate memorial statues. We piled back into the vans as bells rang “For the Beauty of the Earth” across the university.

We visited Ground Zero Blues Club for dinner and music. Morgan Freeman was there. He high-fived me and shook my hand. I swear this actually happened and I’m not just redoing Terry Culleton’s surrealism assignment.

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Mississippi Day 10

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by Jacob Hoopes ’19

A very early morning has become 8:00. I don’t know if anyone was awake then. I got up around 8:30. We had a small breakfast of leftovers from previous meals. The French toast from yesterday’s breakfast was brought out again, although a common first meal was cereal, either off-brand honey-nut-cheerios or Lucky Charms, both in bags. We aimed to be out by 8:50 in order to be at the house that we would be working on by 9:00. We left at 8:55 and arrived at 9:05, a little late, but totally acceptable. The group split up to do different jobs around the house. Tiles were to be put down on the floor where glue had been applied (yesterday), painting needed to happen in the room that would become the bathroom, and cabinets asked to finish being painted and reinstalled. I worked with the cabinets. Reaffixing the hinges to the recently painted doors went fairly smoothly, although the first four I installed were put in backwards, so I had to redo them.  People did their things, and soon it was time for lunch.

We piled in the vans and headed to the dorms, leaving many projects unfinished. Lunch was unexpectedly tasty! Valerie made quesadillas for us from some of the remaining tortillas and a variety of cheeses. While Valerie worked her way through those, a handful of us continued to work on the two 1000 piece puzzles that we brought out; one was found on the shelf and was both partially completed and missing pieces and the second had been bought yesterday at Walmart. Some of the neighborhood kids came by and wanted to play on the lawn. We are not supposed to let them in, keeping to someone’s rules. Anyway, some folks went out to play, I was not among them; I was enjoying working on the puzzles. The people who played with the kids came back in, wishing them well and parting fast, although with difficulty. The kids have proven to be very clingy, supposedly they do not get many opportunities to play, so when people like us come in and are willing and generally excited to play with them, they seize the chance and don’t let go. We finished both of the puzzles during this lunchtime. After lunch, we went back to work.

We showed up at the house, but Ben, the supervisor, told us that he needed to pick up some material and that he had to leave but that he’d be back soon. We waited in the car so as to stay warm; some people ended up sleeping during what turned out to be a period of relaxing that lasted about half an hour. Eventually, he came back. The first thing that he had us do was carry the wooden trim, which he had just brought, into the house that we had been working on. We laid it down, and he directed us to get back into our vans and follow him to the second house. It was much closer in layout to the houses that we had worked on last week, except it had an additional bathroom, by the master bedroom. It was also much less far along in the construction process, consisting of only a wooden skeleton. We brought some wood in that was laid outside, some long 2 x 4s and a great deal of plywood boards. We took a picture inside, perhaps it’ll end up on the IG soon. We went back to the first house and resumed work.

My job continued to consist of working on reattaching the cabinet doors, which at the corners, where two hinges competed to occupy the same space, was especially difficult. A group got the opportunity to use a nail gun to install some of the trim, after it was painted. That seemed fun, and just the right amount of dangerous. We finished screwing in the last pieces as our work day ended. People had washed the paint brushes and done all the usual cleanup. We went back to the dorm.

After dropping the people riding in her van at the dorm, Emma went off to Walmart and bought some things. By a partial popular consensus, Emma bought one 1000 piece puzzle and one 2000 piece puzzle. When she got back, work on the 1000 piece began. We relaxed during the first stages of puzzle-building. Some slept. Dinner consisting of delicious, GS-people-made macaroni and cheese with the added bonus of green beans was served. The neighborhood kids came over again and caused an uproar, hitting the dorm with sticks and piling up against the door; it was noted by more than one person that it seemed like the apocalypse. Some people went out and played with them, but the puzzle still seemed to be the main focus. The kids were let go and we played a game I know as Spanking Yoda, although it goes by many names. After that we returned to puzzling. We have worked on it for upwards of four consecutive hours today, for some, the only breaks were dinner and Spanking Yoda. It seems possible that we will finish it tonight, in the after-hours.

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Mississippi Day 9

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by Kerry Chen ’19

As the first day of work at Clarksdale, we woke up to a mild weather and a decent breakfast. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood and were ready to accept a new set of assignment. We waited until the person in charge, Ben, arrived and filled us in with all the essential information we need to keep in mind. His humor, gratefulness, and excitement accompanied us all the way into the worksite.

The morning passed by as Ben explained what we needed to do for the rest of the week, which is much different and fascinating to me: setting down the tiles, installing the doors, and—this is no longer a surprise—painting. Ben spent some time teaching us how to cut and align the tiles, since none of us had this kind of experience; he then showed us how to put a whole set of door in place with great patience. Tired of a week of brushing the walls and longing for something I haven’t done before, I chose to put on door locks. The job turned out to be much more interesting than I had expected, for it added a new perspective to my knowledge. I never knew how pieces of the door are put together and function the way they do, and I never imagined I would be putting together something we see every day. What I did today, however, provided me a chance to get out of my comfort zone—lying in bed and watching Netflix with AC on—and take part in the construction of the asset that would make such activity possible. I took delight in screwing the locks in and hammering the door to the frame, not only because I have never done it before, but also for the fact that I am doing something beneficial for the community.

We had a conversation regarding some changes in schedule over lunchtime, which we resolved later tonight. The workload was the same in the afternoon, and we painted—there’s always more painting—the doors as we finished stabilizing them. In spite of the exhaustion, playing with Ace—the most adorable puppy I’ve ever seen in the neighborhood—was the highlight of the day. As Kaitlyn and I were taking a break on the porch, a small, brown, and fluffy ball rolled under my legs; the scare turned into surprise as I discovered that it was Ace seeking a hug. Though he ran away after I held him on my shoulder, he swept away much of the fatigue and gave me the energy to keep working.

Since the weather became so nice in the afternoon, we decided to take a walk around Clarksdale. I took out my jean shorts and sunglasses, which had been lying on the bottom of my suitcase from the day I got to Mississippi, and was glad to have the chance to put them on. After passing two cafes that were closed, we finally got to Yazoo, a decent café with wifi and nice decoration. We chilled for a while and I got vanilla frozen yogurt, with strawberries on—it was only me trying to be healthy. I really enjoyed the weather and the view around the neighborhood, as well as how we took the chance to come out and get some fresh air. The area of Clarksdale could be described as peaceful and comfortable, where everyone was so nice and friendly. We actually had a lot of fun hanging out with the local kids; playing games with them reminded me of childhood flashbacks, a feeling I seldom have time to relive and cherish.

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by Ben McCormick ’18

Day 8 BBKings bandDay 8 BBKings dancing

A day of pause began with an 8:45am wake-up call in room 231, one of the rooms where our group was staying in the Hampton Inn. The thirteen of us grabbed a quick complimentary breakfast and left at 10:00am sharp to visit Memphis, TN before driving back to Clarksdale, MS for our second week of service with Habitat.

Expecting Memphis to be as typical as any other city, I was pleasantly surprised by the rich musical history and Southern qualities that made the visit a unique experience. Ironically unlucky for the group, the streets were engulfed in the remnants of St. Patrick’s Day festivities. When I say unlucky for the group, I specifically mean Elenor, who stepped in vomit while admiring an adorable puppy tucked away in a woman’s jacket. We continued to explore the streets in groups despite the misfortune. We first stopped at the nearest souvenir shops, which seems to have become tradition these past few days, and then continued down to the banks of the Mississippi River.

By the water we saw a large pyramid that seemed to glow in the distance. The time read 11:25am, but Valerie asked for everyone to meet back at B.B. King’s Blues Club for lunch at 12:30pm and we knew we had limited time to reach the building. We decided to seize the opportunity and accepted the journey along the river to meet the pyramid, which held Bass Pro Shops.

With limited time after arriving 25 minutes later, we raced in and were greeted by hunting and fishing gear galore along with many tasteful candies and arcade games. What specifically caught our attention was the gigantic elevator that led to the top of the pyramid. Admission to the top was shockingly $10, so we decided to shop around downstairs anyway. Our purchases ranged from snapbacks to camo hoodies. If you know me at all, you know that I would never wear something camo or that is typical to hunting or fishing, but this was a special occasion. In my mind, I see this as two things: one, an impulse purchase, or two, that the South is really changing me in small ways. Valerie and Emma were kind enough to come and drive us back, and I happily embraced my new hat for the entire five minute ride to the restaurant. Then I realized I can’t pull off hats.

B.B. King’s Blues Club greeted us with fantastic live music, courtesy of Flic’s Pics, which featured a Grammy nominee on the drums. The food was equally as terrific as the music was compelling. After we finished our meals we had to dance to the music, and we were greeted by a pro on the dancefloor.

Our time in Memphis was a success, and we began our journey back into Mississippi by pausing to place our feet on the grounds of Arkansas and then to immediately pile back into the two crammed vans. We arrived at our new home in Clarksdale after an hour and a half in the vans. The small light blue house was surrounded by energetic children riding their bikes, who I look forward to getting to know throughout the course of our stay. Before truly settling in, we took another trip to Walmart to shop for groceries.

Tortillas and nachos were the featured entrees to our home-cooked meal that evening. While Beau, Susie, and Jacob prepared guacamole, I sliced and diced some veggies to make the salsa recipe my mother taught me, Emma prepared nachos, and Julia perfected tortillas. The joint effort between all of us made this dinner special, and the confusion of the others who were piecing together a puzzle a few feet away added to the home-like environment. During dinner, there was not a single person quiet, and we were all enjoying the food and our new home. Tomorrow we begin our first day, and I know we all are anticipating the new work that lays ahead.




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Mississippi Day 7

Day 7 GS group dinner

by Julia Wilson ’18

Our day started early at 7:30 because we had to get Kailee and Brendan to the airport. We will miss them this upcoming week. Upon arrival at the airport though, we met Valerie’s brother and he kindly found us a hotel and drove us to our next location: Graceland. Graceland was Elvis Presley’s home and easily one of the strangest places I have ever been. It was a huge concrete complex, similar to an amusement park, but 80% empty. There was however a private bell choir who played songs like the Jurassic Park theme song. I think this made the experience a little weirder but also a little more entertaining. Elvis’s home itself was pretty big but not abnormally sized; the decorations are what made it stand out. There was one room that was all blue and yellow, and another that was floor to ceiling a very detailed pattern. There were also mirrors and carpeting everywhere… even on the ceilings. Later we were picked up by Valerie and Emma, our new week two chaperone, and taken to the Civil Rights Museum. There was a lady standing outside the museum, which had once been a motel and was where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, who had been protesting for over 30 years. Members of our group were curious to find out her arguments for this but Valerie had us go ahead with the tour anyway, as we were meeting Fred Davis, who had walked in protest with MLK and also sat on the stage with MLK on the day of his last speech, waiting to walk the tour with us. The museum itself was very nice and very interesting. It covered the civil rights movement and its history and had 22 different exhibits, each of which was interactive and highly informational and included artifacts and historical photos, letters, and more. After our group got through the museum a few of us still were inside so the rest of us relaxed on the lawn across the street. After the museum we went back to our hotel and were met by a great dinner cooked by Valerie’s brother and his neighbors. It was delicious! At night we went to the mall for about an hour and then came back to hang out before going to bed.

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by Alyssa Fread ’18

This morning after a late start, we arrived at the work site to find an enormous pile of dry wall waiting for us to move into the house. Although mildly dangerous, we quickly turned the job into a race, or a more pc name: competitive walk with a winner, with people teaming up in pairs to pretty much run holding enormous rectangles of sheet rock. Even though we all had two people to work with, Lorenzo beat out the competition by a mile and shifted into fourth, out of apparently eighteen, gears and won just working by himself.

During our break Lorenzo led us around for a tour of Tutwiler, where we saw a bunch more homes, the community center, and the funeral home for Emmett Till. It was crazy to see the state of disrepair the funeral home was in, basically one step above falling down, with really only a sign to commemorate the site. If you go around back, you can see the hearse in the garage. One great thing we saw on the tour were the plans to create a really large park. Lorenzo said that within three to four years, the park would be completed with baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and pools, all of which I think would make a huge difference to the community. I would love to check back in four or so years from now and see the finished park and if it’s changed anything for the people of Tutwiler.

After yet another aggressive game of Egyptian Rat-screw, half of our group left to make a grocery run to the Dollar General and the other half stayed behind to play a four on four game of football. Although my team was stacked, with me, Kailee, Lorenzo, and Beau, the other team, Brendon, Jacob, Susie, and Max, somehow managed to beat us out for the win. By the end of the game we were all dead tired, but returned to the work site to finish all of the windows and fiberglass for the walls and ceilings. It was a great feeling. After finishing our work for the day, Sara, one of the nearby homeowners who also had a house built by Habitat for Humanity, offered to have us all tour her home. It was really cool to see what we were working on in relation to the finished product, also she decorated impeccably with a strong burgundy theme that added a very stylish vibe to the house.

We all cleaned up and went to the community center for a pot luck with a bunch of people from the town. The food was fantastic, and although I wouldn’t know because I’m a vegetarian, I was told the fried chicken was to die for. It was really great to meet the families who would be receiving the houses we were working on and made the effort we were putting in all the more meaningful. Overall this was a great day. The more time we spend here the more I don’t want to leave and I can only hope that when we have to move to Clarksdale for our second worksite, we have just as good of a time as we’ve had so far.


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Mississippi Day 5

Day 6 Elenor birthday 2

by Elenore Wang ’18

When I was woken up by the alarm at 8:30 in the morning, I felt exhausted from last night’s work. It was the aroma of pancakes that gave me strength to roll out of bed. Valerie had made us delicious chocolate chip pancakes for our last morning in Tutwiler. Tomorrow we will be moving to our next work site at Clarksdale. This means today is a day of cleaning up, saying goodbyes and leaving a memento.

We were informed by JD that we should design our memento and he would help us cut it out. After a discussion, we decided to use cut dry wall into the shape of the letters “GS” and write our names on it, then cut out a separate rectangular board to hang origamis with strings. The origamis would be vessels of our memories. Together, we made a list of inside jokes and significant moments we want to write on the origamis. Some of the items on the list include “lost car keys”, “Beau’s dry skin” and “sports with the neighborhood kids”. JD did an impressive job of cutting out the letters precisely. In addition, Jacob decided to step up our game and hang the origamis in a way that from one angle you would see them forming the shape of “GS”, from another angle you would see the shape of “2018”.

We finished the memento in the morning. After lunch, we went into the cleaning up phase for our work sites. In the midst of picking up trash from the floor, I stood up and took a look at the interior of the house. It had never occurred to me how much the house had changed due to our work until that moment. I was very proud of the instillation I did on the ceiling, but I was prouder of the hard work that we put in as a group. I wish we had more time at Tutwiler to actually finish the houses. It was a hard goodbye!

Our evening was spent in the community center with Lorenzo and Tony. The community center was huge and equipped with basketball, volleyball, hula-hoops and jump ropes. While Max, Brendan, Lorenzo and Tony engaged in a competitive basketball game, our less athletic folks played our own game with jump ropes. We revisited some kindergarten games such as Octopus. I am perhaps the least athletic person you’ll ever know, but I enjoyed the games surprisingly much.

I noticed that Julia and Ben had left the gym early, but I did not overthink it, so the birthday party really took me by surprise. When I stepped into the dorm, the first thing I saw were streamers, a birthday cake with candles in the shape of “16” and a sign that said “Happy Birthday Yueyao!” I was so confused because neither was it my birthday nor was 16! Nevertheless, I thanked Ben and Julia. Turns out that Ben was inspired by the birthday supplies at Dollar General and just wanted to throw a birthday party. Somehow this impulsive idea was not only carried out, but also successfully hidden from me for days. I couldn’t believe that Ben and Julia baked a cake without me noticing. They even brought me a tiara which made me feel really special. We played music and laughed. It was perhaps the best night we had.

We are leaving very early the next morning for Memphis. I would say that the birthday party drew a nice conclusion for our staying at Tutwiler. We will definitely miss JD and Lorenzo, but I’m glad we are able to have made some changes to the neighborhood here.


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Mississippi Day 4

by Caleigh Hoffman ’18

Four days in and I am an expert at installing windows. We spent our first night in the dorms, woke up and had cereal and baked oatmeal, and started work earlier than previous days because of this. One house got painted a lovely beige while the other house finished installing very large windows and putting up wall installation. We finished work early for the day and had a quick lunch of PB&J and chips. After lunch we spent a quick hour and a half playing Egyptian rat-screw, a card game involving speed that I excelled at losing at.

After we finished our game of cards we got in the vans and headed to Sumner, Mississippi to the courthouse where the two men who kidnapped and killed Emmett Till were tried and acquitted. We went to the Emmett Till Interpretive Center where we learned about the town and county’s relationship with the Emmett Till trial. The two men who killed Emmett Till were acquitted; they later confessed but received no consequence. They were acquitted by a 12 person jury of all white men. We toured the courthouse that was remodeled to look like it did in 1955 when the men were tried. We also learned that a statue outside the courthouse of a confederate soldier was put there even though no one in the county fought in the civil war. We then explored the town a little and went to the bridge overlooking the Little Tallahatchie River, where we also learned that the town was split between the white neighborhoods on one side of the river and black neighborhoods on the other. In 2018 the town still has some degree of segregation. I thought it was so interesting to learn of the outrage the wider US felt over the murder of Till while Tallahatchie County mainly felt apathy.

After visiting Sumner we started our dinner of stir fry and Valerie made a pecan pie and a peach pie (for Pi Day). We played some more cards after dinner.

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