Author uncovers long lost dark family secret

“Death in the Delta: Uncovering a Mississippi Family Secret” by Molly Walling is published by University Press of Mississippi ($28, hardcover).

With so many compelling – and sometimes harrowing – stories in Mississippi, it is proven over and over that truth really is stranger than fiction. Delving into dark family mysteries is not for the faint of heart, but Molly Walling tackles it full-on with this story of a closely held, 60-year-old family secret. It undoubtedly is a story some of her relatives would have rather she’d left undisturbed. Certainly many who read this book will recall the events and rumors chronicled in Death in the Delta.

The tragic secret began on Dec. 12, 1946, with the murder of two black men in Anguilla, deep in the Mississippi Delta. Growing up, Walling did not understand the source of the dark and intense discomfort in her family home. In 2006, she discovered her father’s complicity in the murder of those men in 1946. Thus began her search for the truth behind the family secret.

Though Walling’s mother and father wanted to protect their three children from that past with its secret, its effect was profound. When the story of a fatal shootout surfaced, apprehension turned into a devouring need to know.

Each of Walling’s trips from her home in North Carolina to the Delta brought unsettling and unexpected clues. After a hearing before an all-white grand jury, her father’s case was not prosecuted. It appeared as if the incident never happened, and he resumed his life as a small town newspaper editor.

However, family members of one of the victims tell Walling their stories. A 93-year-old black historian and witness gives context and advice. A county attorney suggests her family’s history of commingling with black women was at the heart of the deadly confrontation. The author recognizes how privilege, entitlement and racial bias in a wealthy, landed Southern family resulted in a deadly abuse of power followed by a stifling, decades-long cover-up.

Certainly it had to be painful for Walling to make this story public, but her mission became one of hope that confronting the truth might somehow move others toward healing and reconciliation.

The author lives in Asheville, N.C., where she is an adjunct writing instructor at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. She was born in Anguilla.

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