40 years later, Mississippi waiter's 'magical moment' renews race relations

July 15, 2012 | Source: Monroe Gallery of Photography

 Mississippi: A Self-Portrait
Via NBC Dateline

"He came to me one day and said, 'I got a wonderful black man. His name is Booker Wright. And he's a waiter at Lusco's Restaurant. And what he does, is a minstrel scene. He does a singsong of the menu. And that's the only menu they have. People wanna know the menu, they get, 'Booker, go tell 'em.' And he'll sing them the song of the menu. And it's absolutely delightful.'"

Once Frank saw Booker Wright perform the menu recitation, he arranged to film the routine the next day. So Booker Wright recited the menu for Frank's camera. Then, without warning, he shifted gears and launched into a monologue that had been 40 years in the making:

"Now that's what my customers, I say my customers are expecting from me," he began. "Some people nice. Some is not. Some call me Booker. Some call me John. Some call me Jim. Some call me @!$%#! All of that hurts but you have to smile. The meaner the man be the more you have to smile, even though your're crying on the inside.

"You're wondering what else can I do. Sometimes he'll tip you, sometimes he'll say, ‘I'm not gonna tip that @!$%#, he don't look for no tip.’ I say, 'Yes sir, thank you.' I'm trying to make a living."

For nearly two minutes, Booker Wright, spoke straight to the camera, and straight from the heart.
"Night after night I lay down and I dream about what I had to go through with. I don't want my children to have to go through with that. I want them to get the job they feel qualified. That's what I'm struggling for," Booker concluded.

"I went there to photograph a minstrel show," Frank says, "And I stayed there to hear a man talking about his life and what his dreams are. And it was so moving."

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Tags: Civil Rights documentary film Mississippi Burning