The Tom Joyner Morning Show is down in Gulfport, Mississippi this morning. What many don’t know is that aside from its historical traditions, it’s also the birthplace of author/radio and TV host/activist Tavis Smiley. The author of the book Death of A King about the last year of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life says that his mother and father met in the coastal city.
“I typically say [I’m from] Indiana because I left Mississippi so young,” Smiley says. “But I was born there in Gulfport. My father was stationed there at an air force base and my mother grew up there. My mother used to work at a restaurant that my father ate at all the time. My mom and dad meet, the rest of the story is history. I went back every summer to spend time with Big Mama and then when she got up in age, she moved to Indiana. So I still have friends and family there.”
Smiley says his experiences in the two states could not have been more radically different.
“The first time I went back to Mississippi when I was old enough to understand I distinctly remember seeing Black people everywhere. In Indiana, I went to an all-white school in an all white community as you know from my story we grew up in a trailer park in Indiana, so the only time I actually saw Black people when I went to church. But in in Mississippi there wee Black people all around. It reminds me of the first time I went to Africa and everywhere you look you saw Black people. The president of the country was Black. Everybody was black. [In Mississippi,] It was such a comforting, soothing and wonderful feeling to experience that as a child.”
Smiley says that although beaches in Gulfport were segregated in years past, by the time he was of age, everyone could take advantage of the city’s natural resource, unlike the limited options in Indiana.
“My grandmother lived on Hughes Avenue and we were six seven blocks from the beach we were skipping down the the beach. We were living in a cornfield, literally in Indiana,” he says.
Smiley, who still hosts his radio and TV show on PBS, is currently on book tour for his King book.
“Its doing very well. CSPAN did a wonderful piece on it last night. It hit the bestseller list. I was thinking of you guys on this tour. The last time I did a tour of this extent was when we did The Covenent of Black America. There’s still, after all these years, people that are curious about Dr. King.”