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Twice within a couple of days on our road trip through Mississippi attempting to pay for coffee, I was told to forget about it, pronounced as one word. This was a new experience for me. The first time was on a warm, breezy afternoon in Jackson at Peppers. We wanted to stick around after lunch to use the free Wi-Fi on the patio, so we ordered two coffees. The African-American waitress brought large red mugs of delicious java and said, “Forget about it” when we offered the cash. A little later she brought us two more mugs!

The second time was when I was in a chain restaurant, Waffle House, outside Jackson in the take-out line. When it was my turn, the African-American waitress filled both travel mugs to the brim, asked me if I needed cream and sugar, and said, “forget about it,” when I tried to hand her a twenty. “Forget about it,” I repeated. One thing to have paid for a nice lunch and be “comp’d” coffees, but at a chain restaurant when it’s all I’m having, I thought. The African-American man at the counter chuckled at my reaction. The waitress repeated it so that I understood not to insist on paying. I thanked her and left.

That phrase stayed in my mind as I visited historic landmarks along our route to New Orleans. One was the mural depicting the famous eleven-year boycott of local businesses by the African-Americans of Port Gibson, Mississippi. The town’s main street retains the commercial scars of that time with empty storefronts and faded signs, but the Supreme Court ruled that the boycott was legal and many of the demands of those activists have been met.

African-Americans walking around today come from a line of ancestors who have survived generations of violence, injustice and agony. This part of our national story is so alive in Mississippi. Natchez, for example, a lovely river town of fine homes and gardens, had slaves bought and sold on most every corner of the downtown at one time.

At morning coffee on a fine spring morning, smile at your neighbor and give a stranger a cup of coffee to start the day right. I’m beginning to understand something about survival and the New South where, at least superficially, there is some harmony and mutual concern across the color lines.