Mississippi's evolution hidden by racial history

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CORINTH, Miss.: On a small-town Saturday night, a half-block from the town square where a deteriorating Confederate statue stands guard, state Sen. Eric Powell walks into a restaurant for dinner.

Powell orders fried pickles. Bubba Carpenter, a Republican state representative, ambles over with his 5-year-old son, Noah. The two freshmen legislators make small talk about a Civil War reenactment and plans to attend Friday's scheduled debate between Barack Obama and John McCain at the University of Mississippi.

Noah wordlessly reaches his hand across the table, palm up. Powell gently slaps him five, his large brown hand swallowing Noah's tiny white one.

This is the new Mississippi — where Powell, a Democrat, is the first black person ever elected to the state legislature from a rural white district. Where a combination of the murderous past and the nation's largest percentage of black residents have, in some surprising ways, pushed Mississippi race relations ahead of the rest of the nation.

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