Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and she was right there to witness the violence and social turbulence that emerged in the South during the push to obtain full and equal rights for America’s black minority population. Welty knows the hearts and minds of Southerners of her era in a way that only someone of the same background and raising will ever know them. That is what makes “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” such a disturbing short story.
|Scene of the Evers Assassination|
Tragedy struck Jackson early on the morning of June 12, 1963 when Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers, carrying a load of “Jim Crow Must Go” t-shirts in his arms, was killed on his driveway by a rifle shot to the back. His assassin was arrested just nine days later, but an all-white male jury found him not guilty of the Edgars murder. Finally in 1994, at a third trial based on new evidence, seventy-three-year-old Byron De La Beckwith was found guilty of the murder. The assassin died in prison in 2001 at the age of eighty.
“Where Is the Voice Coming From?” places the reader inside the mind of a character standing in for the real Byron De La Beckwith. In the story, this character kills Roland Summers (a stand-in for Medgar Evers) in the exact way that Evers was killed. The most appalling thing about this fictional murderer, however, is not his crime; it is his lack of remorse and pride in the act. Even the man’s wife was only concerned that her husband had left the murder weapon at the scene, not that he had killed a man.
Through the words of her fictional killer, Welty offers some insights into the thinking of people like Byron De La Beckwith:
“He was down. He was down, and a ton load of bricks on his back wouldn’t have laid any heavier. There on his paved driveway, yes sir.”
“I done it for my own pure-D satisfaction.”
“Everybody: It don’t get you nowhere to take nothing from nobody unless you make sure it’s for keeps, for good and all, for ever and amen.”
“Anyway, I seen him fall. I was evermore the one.”
With never a thought to the humanity of his victim, or to what that victim means to his family and his country, a simpleton like Byron De La Beckwith can change history. Eudora Welty’s “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” should scare the hell out of the rest of us.
Collection from which this story is taken: