The Education of Mr. Mayfield: An Unusual Story of Social Change at Ole Miss
David Magee. John F. Blair Publisher, $19.95 (237pp) ISBN 978-0-89587-366-8
More than a decade before the University of Mississippi, a.k.a. Ole Miss, admitted its first black student, the friendship between a white art professor and a black artist quietly transcended the region's deeply-held policy of racist segregation; columnist and Ole Miss alumnus Magee (The South is Round) charts this aberrant relationship, between University professor Stuart Purser and untrained artist M.B. Mayfield, a reticent, impoverished sharecropper who fed his endless drive to paint by extracting hues from flowers and vegetables. In 1949, initially attracted by the art and sculptures adorning Mayfield's yard, Purser daringly invites Mayfield to work as a janitor at Ole Miss and take clandestine art lessons from him. (Even Oxford resident William Faulkner contributes to the cause, offering money for Mayfield's art supplies.) Perhaps most remarkable is the endurance of Mayfield's career through the enormous social upheaval of desegregation: Ole Miss's first black student, admitted in 1962, drew an angry mob armed with ""brickbats, sticks, and homemade firebombs."" Paralleling that pioneering student's career with Mayfield's, Magee illuminates the debate over discrimination, its hard-line adherents, and the heroes who defied it in a narrative sure to please historians, civil rights scholars and anyone looking for a heartwarming and entirely honest story of the Old South. B&w and color photos.
Reviewed on: 08/31/2009