Wednesday, May 30

William Ferris: The Man Who Shared Our Voices

"They don’t teach mule trading at Yale University, but Bill Ferris had a sneaking suspicion the blue-blooded Ivy Leaguers he ran with in the 1970s might benefit from some practical knowledge, the kind you don’t find in books. That’s how Ray Lum, an 84-year-old Vicksburg, Mississippi, mule trader, wound up spending a late September day in 1975 outside Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, holding forth to any student or professor who would listen. Ferris had grown up on a Mississippi Delta farm called Broadacres — '16 miles on a gravel road,' he says, from Vicksburg. He had known Lum 'from the time my father would take me to the auction barn' where Lum held his weekly livestock sales. At this stage of his career, Ferris was 33 years old and in his third year as an associate professor in Yale’s American and Afro-American Studies programs. He had long since understood the spell a drawling, self-made raconteur from Mississippi could cast upon the unSouthern. He’d learned it well after years of up-North and overseas education at a Massachusetts boarding school, Chicago’s Northwestern University, Trinity College in Ireland, and finally the University of Pennsylvania. ..."

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