Pool Hall Reflections

If you want a sense of what Oxford looked like before the boutiques, you can pick up "Faulkner's World," a new book of photographs by Martin Dain. Or you can walk into Purvis Pool Hall just off the square.

Owner James Purvis bought his first pickup by planting, picking, ginning, and selling cotton on land his father gave him. He doesn't like to talk about the 1962 riots to keep James Meredith out of Ole Miss. "It looked like a battleground around here. A schoolmate of mine got shot," he says.

He resents how then-Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett tried to fire up the crowds against federal troops, "Like I'm going to walk down there with a sling shot and a couple of rocks, and go up against a tank. They were crazy then."

"We all get along," says Mr. Purvis, waving to the mixed crowd racking up pool balls. "They call me a redneck. Some black people had a problem when I called 'em boy. But I call everyone boy. So I just say, 'I can appreciate that,' " he says.

"If they were all as bad as this guy, we'd have to shoot 'em all," he adds, flinging an arm around patron Cornell Sanford, who is black. It's a remark worth a good gasp in Boston, but it just prompts a smile here.

"There are lots of pool halls I could go to ... but this is where they really make you feel comfortable," Mr. Sanford says.

As for the president's call for a dialogue on race: "I don't think it will do any harm. It might do some good," Purvis says.

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