Rocky Springs

February 22, 2014 § 3 Comments

The community of Rocky Springs, in Claiborne County, grew up at the site of natural springs near the Natchez Trace where settlers had first set down roots in 1796. The springs attracted thirsty travelers on the heavily-used Trace.

In 1837, a Methodist church was built on the bluff overlooking the village.

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By 1860, the population of Rocky Springs had grown. Within two and one-half miles of the village center were more than 2,600 people, which number included around 2,000 slaves. Farming occupied most of the community outside the immediate environs of the town. Fifty-eight planters worked the land with slave labor, primarily in cotton, which was the area’s principal economic engine. Within the village there were physicians, merchants, trades, clergy, and even an academy.

General Grant’s invading army in 1863 marched north from its river crossing near Bruinsburg and passed through Rocky Springs on its roundabout march to invest Vicksburg.

The village survived the economic devastation of the Civil War, but traffic on the Natchez Trace had dwindled as the area developed and the wilderness receded. In 1878 the population was slashed by a yellow fever epidemic.

By the 1900’s poor farming practices and severe erosion had crippled the cotton industry, and In the 1920’s the boll weevil infestation essentially ended it in the area.

In the 1930’s the springs dwindled and then dried up completely. The last store closed.

The only surviving structure of the once-thriving community is the Methodist church. It continued active until 2010, when its membership became too small to sustain it, but its doors are still open to visitors. On the chilly day that we dropped in we added our names to the register alongside others from New York, Germany, New Zealand, the UK, and many other places.

Behind the church is its cemetery. Tombstones date from the early-to-mid 1800’s to the present.

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The National Park Service displays a painting purporting to depict what Rocky Springs looked like in its heyday.

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The painting may be fanciful, or it may be an accurate depiction. I can’t say for certain. It does show the land cleared and cultivated, as we know it was, and the cluster of village buildings below the bluff commanded by the Methodist church. Still, it’s hard to square that idyllic portrait with the overgrown, heavily wooded, and deserted contemporary scene.

Today, Rocky Springs is nothing more than an historical stop on the Natchez Trace with an interpretive trail through its site. There is a nearby campground.

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Scene in Mississippi

December 13, 2013 § 3 Comments

Where?

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Jacinto Courthouse

November 4, 2013 § 6 Comments

Shortly after the Chickasaws sold their lands in north Mississippi in 1832 and moved west, settlers populated the area, established villages and towns, and set up local government.

In the northeast corner of the state, the County of Tishomingo was founded, comprised of what are now Prentiss, Alcorn, and Tishomingo Counties, and covering nearly 1,000 square miles.

The town of Jacinto was established in 1836 as the County Seat at the center of the large county, and it quickly became the commercial and governmental hub of the area. Named for the site of Sam Houston’s decisive victory in the Texas Revolution, the little town’s population grew, and it soon had boarding houses, a newspaper, taverns, inns, smithies, mercantile shops, and all of the other amenities one would expect in a prospering frontier town. At the height of its growth, the town had more than 6,600 residents. Its future appeared bright.

In keeping with its ambition to greatness, the county in 1859 constructed a fine courthouse in the federal style in the center of the town to replace the original log building.

Only a few years later, however, the Civil War raged through the area. Corinth, 15 miles north, was devastated by two major, bloody battles over its vital railroad junction, and Shiloh, only a few miles north of Corinth, was the site of two of the deadliest days of the entire conflict.

In 1870, the original Tishomingo County was split into its three present-day counties. Since Jacinto was not conveniently located, it was no longer suitable for a county seat.

The town’s once-promising future became doubtful when it lost the government business that came to the county seat, as well as the trade and traffic that came with it. To compound the problem, the town fathers had made a crucial strategic error when they voted not to allow the noisy, smoky, intrusive railroad to come through the town. Jacinto was further isolated when the telegraph companies refused to run lines into the town after local farmers kept chopping down the poles, blaming the telegraph for a disastrous drought.

The population dwindled until the thriving town was no more than a forgotten rural wayside, albeit a rural wayside with a lovely courthouse.

Through the years the grand old former courthouse served as a Methodist school and church. In the 1960’s the building was sold for salvage for $600. Local citizens became involved and persuaded the salvage company to sell it to them for $2,000. A doctor wrote the check, a foundation was set up, the group raised funds, and preservation of the courthouse was assured. The foundation saw to it that the building was restored faithfully to its original condition. Today, the Jacinto Courthouse is regarded as one of the finest examples of federal style architecture in the nation, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1972, the movie Tomorrow, starring Robert Duvall and Olga Bellin, was filmed in the area. Courtroom and courthouse scenes were filmed in Jacinto.

The courthouse is open to visitors. A caretaker will usher you through and tell you the stories of the town and the old courthouse. There is a rustic museum and there are some reconstructed outbuildings of interest.

Jacinto (the locals pronounce it JAY-sinna) is the site of a massive July 4 celebration each year that is renowned for its political speaking. Thousands of folks congregate for the holiday celebration, and the event is considered second only to the Neshoba County Fair in its attraction for statewide politicians.

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The court room, on the second floor, on the left side of the building in the photo above. Jurors sat on the semi-circular bench …

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First-floor lobby. The floor is unglazed bricks set in sand. When the building was restored, the bricks were worn, so, in order to keep the original bricks, they were simply turned over in place. The tax collector’s office is the door to the right …

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Judge’s chambers on the first floor …

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CHOOSING NOT TO PLAY CATCH-UP

July 31, 2012 § 6 Comments

This is not a political post, I swear. You who have read this blog for any length of time should be aware that I eschew politics here.

But this is a post about a subject that has reverberated in Mississippi politics for quite some time.

The issue is education, and, specifically, early childhood education, as in pre-k.

TIME magazine on July 27, 2012, published an article online entitled “Mississipi Learning: Why the State’s Students Start Behind — and Stay Behind.” I encourage you to read it.

Some of the article’s major points:

  • Mississippi has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the country and test scores that are consistently among the nation’s worst.
  • Neighboring states have made great strides in early education, but Mississippi remains the only state in the South — and just one of 11 in the country — that doesn’t fund any pre-k programs.
  • Researchers have found that high-quality pre-k programs can improve long-term outcomes for low-income children and help close an achievement gap for minorities that tends to worsen over time. Being able to stand in line, listen to directions or make eye contact with the teacher play in an important role when it comes time to try to teach kids how to read and write.
  • Failure to prepare children for kindergarten or first grade costs the state a lot of money. One of every 14 kindergarteners and one of every 15 first-graders in Mississippi repeated the school year in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available. From 1999 to 2008, the state spent $383 million on children who had to repeat kindergarten or first grade, according to the Southern Education Foundation. who repeat one or more grades are much more likely than their classmates to drop out of school, decades of research have shown.
  • The state’s academic results, which trail other states’ significantly, don’t improve as the children grow older. In 2011, the state’s fourth-graders were outperformed on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress by their peers in 44 states. In math, they finished second to last in the nation, ahead only of fourth-graders in the District of Columbia.
  • Just 61 percent of Mississippi’s students graduate from high school on time — more than 10 percentage points below the national average.
  • More than 75 percent of young Mississippi residents are ineligible to join the military because, among other reasons, they failed to graduate from high school on time.

Whether to fund early-childhood education in Mississippi is an issue wrapped up in budgetary, educational, political, and socio-economic considerations. Some legislators believe the state can not bear the cost. Some are not persuaded by the data that it would be beneficial. Some are motivated negatively by the political repercussions they believe they would feel back home. A few are motivated by lack of interest in any further funding for public education.

As a chancellor, with Youth Court responsibilities in Clarke County, I see the crippling cycle of poverty and poor education that keeps an underclass trapped in a perpetual dead end. We who are more fortunate tend to look down our noses and sniff that “those people” can lift themselves up by their bootstraps if they will only try. But a child who shows up for the first day of kindergarten not knowing her colors, or his street address, or his letters, or how to interact in a disciplined fashion with other children, has miles to go before ever reaching the starting line. And quite often those children come from homes in which there is a heritage of generation after generation in the same circumstances.

The results I see in my court include chronic unemployment and underemployment, malnourished and neglected children, reliance on costly government programs that often have dubious success, inability to pay child support, rampant teen pregnancy and the resulting reliance on the dole, school dropouts, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, shattered family structure, subhuman living conditions, and on and on in a panoply of human misery. As chancellor charged with the responsibility as superior guardian of children and incompetents, I can not overlook what I see.

I am not saying that throwing more money at this problem would fix it. I am saying that the overwhelming evidence from other states is that early childhood education pays dividends. Until we get moving, we will fall further and further behind.

A society is only as strong as its weakest members. When we reach out and give a hand up, we all benefit.

DATELINE’S SELF-PORTRAIT OF 1965 GREENWOOD

July 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

If you missed Dateline NBC’s piece last night on Greenwood in 1965 studying white citizens’ racial attitudes, here is a link that will take you not only to the original 1965 report, but also to last night’s that focused on Booker Wright, a black waiter at the then-segregated Lusco’s restaurant, who spoke from his heart about the humiliation of segregation, a statement that cost him his job and other indignities.

For those of us who lived through it, the 1965 report is a disturbing reminder of the way things were, and how desperately unequal were our two ways of life — black and white.

For those of you too young to have experienced it, I urge you to see this to help understand where we were, and to help you evaluate where we are.

Ray DeFelitta, the son of the photojournalist who filmed the 1965 study, has a post on his blog about the Dateline segment. Ray is working on a documentary showcasing his father Frank’s work on Mr. Wright, along with Mr. Wright’s granddaughter, Yvette Johnson.

I recommend you take some time to view these.

 

MYSTERY SOLVED: THE BUILDING WITH THE THREE ARCHES

October 30, 2010 § 1 Comment

In the post below about Elvis in Meridian I posed the question about the building with the three arches.  Turns out it was the YMCA located on the corner of 23rd Avenue and Ninth Street, which is now the location of WTOK-TV.  The television station renovated the building and removed the arches and porch roofs.  Tom Williams, the President of Meridian Regional Airport, sent me an aerial photo of the building in its pre-WTOK state.  Here is the pic that Tom sent …

Recognize the three arches and the porch roof from the Elvis parade photo? That’s the Temple Theater directly behind the YMCA Building.

Tom pointed out that he had an interest in the building because his father, Marvin Williams, Esq., at one time had an office in the building. 

Thanks to Tom for unlocking this mystery for us. That building would most certainly have been on any downtown parade route.

THE KING OF SOWASHEE

October 30, 2010 § 2 Comments

I have to confess to my second tour this weekend of that mystical shrine of tackiness, Graceland in Memphis, home of Elvis Presley and spiritual Mecca for his adherents.  We took some Louisiana relatives who had never been there.

It got me thinking about what I had heard for years — that Elvis had performed in Meridian.

What I had been told was that the King had been in Meridian years ago to perform at the fair and calf scramble before he became famous.  I even heard that there were photos.  So I dug around on the internet, and actually found a couple of photos.  The photos are both dated May 26, 1955, which would predate Elvis’s 1956 appearances on the Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan shows, the gigs that propelled him into national attention.  The pictures show him in his more princely days, before he was anointed king.  

The photo below shows Elvis and Jimmy Snow riding on a Cadillac in the parade for the 1955 Fair in Meridian.  Anybody recognize that building?  It’s interesting to me that the crowd appears more interested in whomever is coming up behind Presley and Snow; of course, Elvis back then was merely a musical act from Memphis who was mostly known for his performances on the Louisiana Hayride.  Those folks on the parade route had no clue then that they were seeing a future international superstar.  Jimmy Snow, incidentally, was the son of country music legend Hank Snow, and deveoped his own career eventually performing on the Grand Ole Opry before becoming a minister in Tennessee.

The other photo, below, shows Elvis with Bill Black and Jimmy Snow on the same Cadillac. 

Nobody I know in Meridian has developed any oral history about this or any clearcut description of the event. 

Here’s an interesting wrinkle:  a Wikipedia article on Elvis gives a different time frame …

“The audience response at Presley’s live shows became increasingly fevered. Moore recalled, “He’d start out, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog,’ and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time.”  At the two concerts he performed in September at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, 50 National Guardsmen were added to the police security to prevent crowd trouble.”

According to the article, this was in 1956, after Presley had appeared on both Milton Berle’s and Ed Sullivan’s tv shows and created a national sensation.  Of course, the reference to the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair and Dairy Show is Meridian’s own and was back then.  Not enough info for me to resolve the discrepancy in dates beyond doubt.  My best guess is that the source for the Wikipedia info, who was part of Elvis’s entourage back then, may be a little confused as to the timing. I would go with the dates of the photos for two reasons:  first, that the dates of the pictures are part of their provenance; and second, after the national tv appearances, the crowd in the parade picture would have been far more focused on Elvis.

Steve Labiche did a little more research and found that the Cadillac had been purchased by Presley in Florida, and he had the dealer paint “ELVIS” on the door. 

NOTE: the mystery of the building above with the three arches is solved here.

It’s an interesting little tidbit of Meridian history.

THE BALDUCCI FILES

October 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

If you’re familiar with the story of Dickie Scruggs’ downfall, you know that the final, climactic act in his Greek tragedy began in the Calhoun City offices of Circuit Judge Henry Lackey, who met with Scruggs operative Tim Balducci and recorded Balducci’s offer to bribe him. 

Patsy Brumfield of the Tupelo Daily Journal, has obtained copies of the FBI recordings and has posted them online here.  There are four video and three audio recordings.  Six are in Lackey’s office, and one is in Scruggs’ office after Balducci has been arrested and has agreed to cooperate with he FBI.

What is most remarkable about them is the prosaic, almost ho-hum nature of the conversations.  The tone is business as usual, which is chilling, considering how far-flung were Scruggs’ conflicts with other lawyers similar to the one that led to the Lackey bribe attempt.

Another compelling feature of the recordings is how they show the banal nature of evil.  It seldom manifests itself with the dramatic flair we see on tv and in the cinema.  It is a handshake, a wink and a nod, an exchange of consideration. 

Thanks to Tom Freeland at NMissCommentor for posting about this.

Tom also has a great post today about whether Curtis Wilkie’s upcoming book, FALL OF THE HOUSE OF ZEUS answers some questions about the handling of the Scruggs trial.

EVER IS A LITTLE OVER A DOZEN YEARS

September 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

W. Ralph Eubanks is publishing editor at the Library of Congress and a native of Covington County, Mississippi.  His book, EVER IS A LONG TIME, is a thought-provoking exploration of Mississippi in the 1960’s, 70’s, and the present, from the perspective of a black child who grew up in segregation and experienced integration, and that of a young black man who earned a degree from Ole Miss, left Mississippi vowing never to return, achieved in his profession, established a family, and eventually found a way to reconcile himself to the land of his birth. 

It was his children’s inquiries about their father’s childhood that led Eubanks to begin to explore the history of the dark era of his childhood.  In his quest for a way to help them understand the complex contradictions of that era, he came across the files of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission and found his parents’ names among those who had been investigated, and he became intrigued to learn more about the state that had spied on its own citizens. 

Eubanks’ search led him to Jackson, where he viewed the actual files and their contents and explored the scope of the commission’s activities.  He had decided to write a book on the subject, and his research would require trips to Mississippi.  It was on these trips that he renewed his acquaintance with the idyllic rural setting of his childhood and the small town of Mount Olive, where, in the middle of his eighth-grade school year, integration came to his school.

There are three remarkable encounters in the book.  The author’s meetings with a surviving member of the Sovereignty Commission, a former klansman, and with Ed King, a white Methodist minister who was active in the civil rights movement, are fascinating reading.

The satisfying dénouement of the book is Eubanks’ journey to Mississippi with his two young sons in which he finds reconciliation with his home state and its hostile past.

If there is a flaw in this book, it is a lack of focus and detail.  The focus shifts dizzyingly from the Sovereignty Commission, to his relationship with his parents, to his rural boyhood, to life in segregation, to his own children, to his problematic and ultimately healed relatiosnhip with Mississippi.  Any one or two of these themes would have been meat enough for one work.  As for detail, the reader is left wishing there were more.  Eubanks points out that his own experience of segregation was muted because he lived a sheltered country existence, and his memories of integrated schooling are a blur.  For such a gifted writer whose pen commands the reader’s attention, it is hard to understand why he did not take a less personal approach and expand the recollections of that era perhaps to include those of his sisters, or other African-Americans contemporaries, or even the white friends he had. 

This is an entertaining and thought-provoking book, even with its drawbacks.  I would recommend it for anyone who is exploring Mississippi’s metamorphosis from apartheid to open society.

The title of this book has its own interesting history.  In June of 1957, Mississippi Governor J. P. Coleman appeared on MEET THE PRESS.  He was asked if the public schools in Mississippi would ever be integrated.  “Well, ever is a long time,” he replied, ” [but] I would say that a baby born in Mississippi today will never live long enough to see an integrated school.” 

In January of 1970, only twelve-and-a-half years after the “ever is a long time” statement, Mississippi public schools were finally integrated by order of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a member of which, ironically, was Justice J. P. Coleman, former governor of Mississippi. 

Eubanks

 

ANSWERS TO WICKED MISSISSIPPI TRIVIA

August 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

From last week

1.  Which Mississippi county changed its name in 1865 to Davis County in honor of Jefferson Davis and the name of its county seat to Leesburg, in honor of Robert E. Lee?  What was the name of the original county seat? (Note: the names were restored to their originals in 1869).

It was Jones County. Ellisville was the original county seat, because Laurel, which is now one of the two county seats, was not founded until 1882.

2. What is the present-day name of the Mississippi county that was established in 1871 as Colfax County?

Clay.  Colfax County was created in 1871 from parts of Chickasaw, Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Monroe.  It changed its name in 1876 to honor Henry Clay. 

3. From which present-day county did Bainbridge County separate in1823, only to merge back into its original county in 1824?

Covington.  There is no record of the reason for the establishment of Bainbridge county, or for its dissolution, nor is there any identfication of the person or place for whom the county was named in the act establishing it.   

4. What is the present-day name of the Mississippi county that was established in 1874 as Sumner County?

Webster.  The county was renamed in honor of Daniel Webster in 1882. 

5. In 1918 , the last county to be established in Mississippi was formed. What is its name?

Humphreys.  Named for Benjamin Humphreys, 26th governor of Mississippi.

 6. What present-day county seat was founded in 1832 as the Town of Jefferson? (Note: no relation to the Faulkner’s fictional town of the same name).

Hernando.

7. John L. Sullivan defeated Jake Kilrain in 1889 in the last official bare-knuckled bout in what was then Perry County.  In which present-day county is the site located?

Forrest.  Forrest County was carved out of the western part of Perry County in 1908.

8. President James K. Polk owned a 1,120-acre estate in the Troy community of which present-day county from 1835-1849?

Grenada.

9. Which Mississippi county seat was the home of thirteen generals of the Confederacy?

Holly Springs.  The original name of the town was “Suavatooky,” which would have been a nightmare for today’s image-conscious tourism promoters.

10. Which Mississippi town was named after a newspaper published in another state?

Picayune.  Eliza Jane Nicholson, a famed poet and resident of Pearl River County, was editor of the New Orleans Picayune, now the Times-Picayune, and the town was named in honor of her achievements.

11. In which Mississippi county did Teddy Roosevelt’s famous bear hunt take place in 1902 in the community of Smedes?

Sharkey.  Smedes was the name of the train landing at Onward Plantation in Sharkey County.  Onward, which is the surviving community in the vicinity of the plantation, is usually given as the locale, since the train landing has long since disappeared.  You can read the fascinating story how African-American Holt Collier, legendary bear hunter, former slave, Confederate soldier and Texas cowboy, guided Roosevelt on his hunt here.

12. In which Mississippi county does the “Southern cross the Dog?”

Sunflower.  At Moorhead, where a line of the Southern Railway crossed the Yazoo and Delta (YD=Yellow Dog, or “Dog”) at a 90-degree angle, reputedly the only place in the western hemisphere where two rail lines cross at a perpindicular.  The junction is mentioned in blues recordings, notably by W.C. Handy and Bessie Smith.

13. Which Mississippi county’s name is derived from an Indian name meaning “tadpole place?”

Yalobusha.  Some other unusual names:  Pontotoc means “weed prairie” or “land of hanging grapes”; Noxubee means “stinking water,” and Oktibbeha means “bloody water”; and Attala was named after the heroine of an 1801 novella by Franois-Rene de Chateaubriand, spelled Atala in his work.

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