Last night a group of us gathered to hear Jay Jennings talk about his just-published book, Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City. He was met by a couple of friends from graduate school, a number of Central High School graduates, and the rest of us, curious about this book that creates a brilliant narrative out of layers of dramatic events: the landmark desegregation of Central High School in 1957, the nearly-forgotten 1927 story of Little Rock's John Carter, who was lynched near the site of Central High as it was under construction; and the thrills and agonies that play out through the seasons of the school's football team under legendary coach Bernie Cox.
Jay Jennings knows his material. A former Sports Ilustrated writer who grew up in Little Rock, he graduated from rival Catholic High in 1976. A long-time New York resident, Jennings, curious about the coming 50 year anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, returned home in 2007 to see what had changed, and Carry The Rock is that story -- one of the intersection of race, football and community that has played out in various ways throughout the South.
Jennings gave a concise and compelling account of his book, which anyone who enjoys reading about sports or the South will be fascinated by. In the picture above Jennings (far left) appears following his talk with several Central High graduates (from left): Jo Ann O'Quinn (class of '73), Ole Miss professor; Houston Nutt (class of '76, star quarterback), head coach of Ole Miss football; Ann Shackelford (class of '76, valedictorian), with the B. B. King Museum in Indianola; and Clark Irwin (class of '04, star quarterback), assistant coach of Ole Miss football.