Willie lives alone in this large Antebellum house built during the Civil War era. He says that at night the street lights give his sculpture a warm glow, giving it a more flesh like appearance.
This block is the site of the 1909 lynching of Willie James, a black man accused of raping and killing a young white woman. His rope broke during the hanging, so the angry mob riddled his body with bullets, dragged him a mile to the scene of the crime, then set his body on fire. All of this took place in front of 10,000 cheering spectators, of whom many who participated in this horrific event were women. Commercial Ave. now sits vacant, the victim of a civil rights boycott that lasted three years during the early 70's as blacks refused to shop in the stores where shop owners wouldn't hire them, eventually driving the white business owners out of business. The city never recovered economically after that event. In its heyday during the 1920's Cairo's population peaked around 15,000. Recent census figures report only 2,800 residents, 60% of which are black living at or below poverty level.
In the 1970's Colp Bar opened as a mixed-race tavern when the other local bar in town refused to serve blacks. Many well known black blues musicians performed here. Colp Bar closed down in 2007 due to the dwindling population of the town.
The small hamlet of Gulfport was completely destroyed when a levee 20 miles up stream broke along the Mississippi River and put the town under 20 feet of water. It took the Army Corps of Engineers two months to pump out the water. I shot these images on the first day residents were allowed to back onto their property to assess the damage.
Willie is sitting on the exact spot where 100 years to the day Willie James, a black man was dragged from his jail cell by a raging mob and lynched in front of 10,000 cheering spectators. He never got the fair trial for the murder he was accused of. There weren't any witnesses or evidence to pin him to the crime, just a terrible racial hatred.