Mr. Hooker, who lives in Atlanta and teaches at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., stepped into the Ajax bar to order some food. A white Mississippian sitting at the bar said to no one in particular, but within Hooker's earshot, "I remember when they didn't let niggers in here."
Recounting the episode, Hooker says he replied, "That was crazy, wasn't it? I remember that, too."
Hooker adds: "He kind of looked at me, like, 'What do you mean? You're not going to be offended?' "
The two ended up having a 45-minute chat that spanned the election of Obama, the Ole Miss football team, and hopes for their kids. "He was asking to have a conversation about race – he just didn't quite know how," says Hooker. "The reason I could hear that as an invitation is because I constantly remind myself that hurt people hurt people – they're exposing you to a place of their own pain."Times are changing, it seems, though not in the way Northerners might imagine. Willie Griffin, an entrepreneur who moved back South is quoted as saying, "If there's prejudice today, it's more of a class thing than a racial thing."