Gary C. Harrell
7 min readDec 1, 2022


Everyone did the same thing yesterday. They paused for a long moment, perhaps to hold back any urge to cry, before ever speaking a word. Each of their faces were initially expressionless, attesting to a long tradition of stoicism against the hardship before them. And with their eyes fixed on the unimaginable, in one way or another, everyone said the same word — unbelievable.

According to Accuweather, as many as twenty tornadoes touched down across Mississippi, between Tuesday, November 29, 2022, and the subsequent morning of Wednesday, November 30, 2022. They were spawned by a violent storm system racing eastward through the state. Many more tornadoes also impacted the neighboring states of Louisiana and Alabama. The devastation from these events was widespread and indiscriminate. In fact, among the tornadoes that impacted Mississippi, overnight, one with the intensity of an EF1 severely damaged homes and buildings near Magnolia, Mississippi, and in its path stood the Carter family home.

Nearly seventy years ago, J.J. and Willie Mae Carter built their farmhouse on a tract of rural land seven miles southwest of the nearest town. There, they raised eleven children. They were not wealthy people. Like many other African-American families of their time, they simultaneously worked laborious jobs and the land, herded cattle, regularly attended church, and led very modest lives, by today’s standards. But they also did something more — something that, though not entirely unique, would lay the foundation for the remarkable story that followed. In their home, J.J. and Willie Mae emphasized the importance of faith, of education, of character, and of courage; they stressed a love for family and the traditions that bound them; and they accepted nothing less than excellence. They reared their progeny with consistency, patience, intelligence, and even a stern hand. So, their children, and the successive generations that spent time in their home, went on to make notable impacts all over the continent.

And so, it stood for decades — more than simply an unpresuming, white house along a quiet country road. It was a place that encapsulated generations of memories. It was a place where so many gathered to laugh, to cry, to love, and to remember what truly mattered. It was a place where strangers were welcomed as family. It was a place where biscuits, sausages, and syrup were breakfast staples — and you did not get up until your plate was clean. And it was a place where respect still mattered; you said “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am”, along with “no, sir” and “no, ma’am” — no matter your age. It was a place that everyone still called home.

Speaking to the local press, County Supervisor Sam Hall stated: “On J.J. Carter Road, it’s bad, bad […] We’re so thankful no one was injured.” His words provided a perfect summation.

The Carter family home appeared to be in the direct path of the tornado that impacted this part of Pike County. Nearby trees snapped, twisted, and even completely uprooted. The winds moved the entire house from its moorings by seven feet. The living room and front porch collapsed. And the masonry chimney fell into the house. Meanwhile, other barn and storage structures were also leveled. Fortunately, no one was in there at the time, but the destruction across the property was as complete as it was heartbreaking.


For everyone, the loss of our family homestead comes at a difficult time. The family was already grieving the loss of my uncle (one of my mother’s brothers), who passed just days ago. Now witnessing the destruction of the home where they all grew up only compounds that grief. “Unbelievable”, we know, is one of the only words that easily defines the enormity of the shock.

It has been a lot, to be sure, but the words written by my cousin Jerika are particularly salient: “We have endured so many emotions in one week — a new life, a death, and a natural disaster. But we gone get through this, because we are #CarterStrong!” Indeed, while grief is expected in a sorrowful moment such as this one, we cannot surrender to our despair. It is important for us to remember why the lives of J.J. and Willie Mae Carter, and now the life of one of their sons, mattered so much to us all. And with them, it is important for us to remember why this homestead also matters now.

You see, the Carter family home is not comparable in a way to what we think about other properties to which we hold title. Even as an ardent capitalist, on this matter, I recognize the distinction between economic motives and familial motives, and I believe that there is no price anyone could place on this land. That is because this land is special, and the house on it is a physical symbol of that uniqueness.

Today, we have essentially commoditized real estate. We easily outgrow our homes — and downsize from them — on average, according to the consultancy McKinsey & Co., about three times over our lifetime. And while the rate of home ownership is lower for African Americans than, say, for white Americans — 43 percent to 72 percent, respectively — a good number of African Americans still purchase homes with a mind for asset appreciation; a meaningful number of them also buy properties only for investment purposes and rental income. Today, permanence is a cursed notion, but that was not the case for our grandparents. Making these kinds of real estate purchases or exercising residential mobility was not as easy in the early and mid-1900’s, when institutional discrimination (i.e., red lining) was so much more pronounced. And so, our forbearers, like J.J. and Willie Mae Carter, bought tracts of land with a mind for laying down deep and lasting roots. That, they did successfully (and the same is also true for the Harrell family, IJS).

No matter where we go in this life, it behooves us to remember where we come from. Indeed, it is from a modest homestead along a once-gravel road, in a rural part of Mississippi, where our roots run deep and our great traditions still come to life. Without these roots, without a physical place serving as a focal point for our traditions, we are inclined to operate with a me-and-mine mentality that defies everything on which our family was built.

Understanding this fact, we have an obligation to show reverence to the legacy that originated in this special place. And if a humble man and woman with nearly a dozen children could create the bonds of a family that can endure two and three generations, then we can — and damn well should — pick up the torch to carry the legacy for two and three more. After all, we owe them that much.


Grief is understandable. It is necessary. It is expected. But what it cannot be is permanent. Today, it is fully acceptable for members of our family to say that they are overwhelmed. Who wouldn’t be? And so, everyone should take as much time as they need to cope with the difficult changes our family has endured. We must remember, though, that no one who has gone before us would want us to indefinitely wallow in our sorrows, particularly when we know that they are in a better place.

As we prepare to contend with change, it might be helpful to remember “four A’s”. We should acknowledge what has changed in our lives. We should accept what has changed for what it is — not approach it from a place of resistance or victimhood. We should adapt to the change. And we should act to move forward in our new reality. Knowing that change is the only true constant in life, our journeys are made smoother when we are nimble, future-focused, and ready.

And this is how we start to build anew — with open-mindedness, clarity, and resolute hopefulness. After all, who are we not to do so?


In January, 2020, my mom said that it felt like we were entering “a season of testing and discernment”. Back then, during the pandemic, those words echoed in my head daily, and only recently have they begun to do so again. Now I feel as if we, the Carter family, are enduring one of those tests — a test of who we are and of our resolve, a test of the devotion to the ideals that bind us, and a test of our willingness to stay together as a family. I do not doubt our ability to pass this test, of course, but I know that there are a few watchers who doubt that we can.

As I videoed the damage to the house, I happened upon my mother. She was standing over a picnic table, poring through the few documents and albums that had spilled out of the damaged structure. (Everything else was still inside.) The sight of her standing there, so focused on these keepsakes, while surrounded by fallen trees and wind-ravaged debris, moved me to tears. All I could think of were her three words — “testing and discernment”. I knew immediately that this moment, and every moment that would come after it, was going to define who we are.

And who we are, for better or worse, is Carter Strong. . . We have to be now, more than ever. . .

I close this missive with words to my family: I want you all to know how much I love you and cherish you. May God bless each of you, and may He provide comfort and strength to everyone in the difficult days and weeks ahead of us.



Gary C. Harrell

Entrepreneur. Writer. Son. Brother. Friend… Visit to learn more.