No. 3069, Benton County, MS

Photos of Benton County, Mississippi, which is ranked by the New York Times among the hundred hardest places to live in America.

It’s hard to decide what to say about a county that has a plaque honoring one of the founders of the Klu Klux Klan in its town square. A plaque like that is distracting; it begs for discussion. Should it be there? What does it imply in today’s climate? Is there a better way to honor confederate heritage? And so on and so forth.

But Nathan Bedford Forest’s plaque is hardly the only item of interest in Benton County. There is also building the courthouse is housed in (one level, brick, next door to the Dollar General), as it stands against the building housing the Department of Education (antebellum, tall, big columns, imposing steps, located in the center of Ashland, the county seat). Also, there is the subject of luck– when I was in Benton County, they had just escaped any major damage from a tornado that leveled homes and businesses in neighboring Marshall County. There is the shuttered historical archives building, and there is the home decorated with suns and moons and wind chimes- just off main street.

It is easy to choose one symbol, and to use that to represent an entire community, but people’s homes are more complex than that.

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