The name ‘Dahmer County’ has a nice ring to it …

I firmly believe that our country is going through a major makeover, and Mississippi has the opportunity to be at the forefront of those changes.

The May murder of George Floyd by a now-indicted police officer in Minneapolis has sparked a national discussion about civil rights, excessive force tactics utilized by police and the many symbols of the Confederate States of America that are on proud display in many states.

Those symbols are prominent in the Magnolia State, where the romanticized “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy is still rooted in the minds of many residents. Perhaps the most prominent symbol in Mississippi is the state flag, which includes the Confederate battle emblem. Significant momentum is building to change the flag, and we have been told that lawmakers are working to make a change either through the legislative process or a statewide referendum.

Locally, the Confederacy is memorialized through a 1910 statue that sits by the circuit court building in downtown Hattiesburg. The statue is dedicated to Confederate war dead and also to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who was born in Tennessee. When Forrest County was established in 1908, legislators decided to pay tribute to the infamous general – who was also the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan – by naming the county for him.

This past weekend, there was a large protest in downtown Hattiesburg by groups wanting the statue removed, and it has become a point of contention between Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker and the Forrest County Board of Supervisors. Angry residents have called on Barker to remove the statue, which is owned by the county. Of course, Barker has no authority to do so, and he has gently encouraged supervisors to consider removing it. I applaud the mayor for his public stance, and I am shocked at the lack of leadership from the supervisors on this issue.

The supervisors met Monday, and they should have made a decision on the future of the statue then. Instead, they squabbled with one another and eventually punted the issue to the polling place. The fate of the statue will thus be decided by Forrest County voters on Nov. 3, the same day of the presidential election. The statue vote will add more fire to an already hot election year, and I believe supervisors have, in this matter, failed in their basic responsibility of making day-to-day decisions for the betterment of the county.

My feelings on this particular statue – and the numerous other historical markers like it that are scattered throughout the nation – are complex, mostly because I was a history major in college and have a particular interest in Civil War history. I find myself to be generally against the removal of these monuments, but I do believe interpretive plaques should be added to each of them. These plaques should provide context and adequately explain the true nature of the Confederacy and its rebellion against the other states.

They should also minimize the heroics attributed to figures like Forrest, who is known for slaughtering more than 300 black Union soldiers following the Battle of Fort Pillow in April 1864. The plaques should be objective in nature and authored by credible historians, not by groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A plaque added to the Hattiesburg statue would have been a simple option for supervisors to consider, but they did not explore any alternatives beyond the removal of the statue.

Demonstrators have also asked supervisors to change the name of Forrest County, but that is a complex matter that would not be solved with an interpretive plaque. A name change would require significant action by the Mississippi Legislature, and I doubt lawmakers would consider it while also considering the various motions to change the state flag. However, a man can dream, and I think a name change is appropriate and necessary as we form a new and improved Mississippi that strives to be free of racism and has finally severed its ties to the Confederacy.

Personally, I think our county should be renamed in memory of Vernon Dahmer Sr., the civil rights leader and Forrest County NAACP chapter president who was murdered by the KKK in 1966. Supervisors recently honored Dahmer with a statue near the Confederate monument, so this idea should easily gain traction. By all accounts, Dahmer was a great man, and the county name would be a fitting way to memorialize someone who lost his life while helping his fellow citizens register to vote.

My idea may seem out of this world at this time, but it would be a great way to show the rest of the country that Mississippi is changing. For a moment, imagine the reaction of the world if we changed the name of our county, adopted a new state flag and added interpretive plaques to our Civil War monuments. Our state could be seen as a beacon of progress instead of as a laughingstock and as a place people should avoid.

A bright future is possible, but we have to stop imagining it and instead get to work. Leaders like Dahmer showed us how to make positive change happen, and we can follow in his footsteps to accomplish real and necessary change. Organize, write your legislators and local officials, peacefully assemble, petition … and we can move this state forward.

The status quo must change, and the state flag must come down

As a history buff, I have always been particularly interested in my family tree.

My mother spent several years compiling an exhaustive archive of information on our family, and some of that information dates back to the 1600s.

We have traced our family connections to Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, and we have even discovered a connection to Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States. He served one term between 1837-1841, and he is widely regarded as a below-average president. As you can imagine, I don’t tout my connection to him often, but it seems pertinent to include the president in this article.

My family has been rooted in southwest Mississippi for generations, particularly in Lincoln and Lawrence counties. In fact, my family lives pretty much on the line that divides the two counties, and they’re about 15 minutes away from Brookhaven or 10 minutes away from Monticello.

My parents – and most of my immediate family – live on Perch Creek, which empties into Fair River, on land complete with rolling hills and a nice fishing pond. It’s a great area, but don’t expect cellphone service or high-speed internet.

Anyway, the Wilsons have been there for a while. In fact, many of my ancestors fought in the Civil War, and several of them never returned home from that bloody conflict. We have detailed records on many of those family members, including my great-great-great-grandfather, Lorenzo Wilson, and his brothers.

Lorenzo enlisted as a private in the Confederate States Army on June 1, 1861, and he served his new country – the Confederate States of America, which Mississippi officially joined in February of that same year – for the next two years. He was captured at the Battle of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November 1863, and he spent the remaining three months of his life in a federal prison in Rock Island, Illinois.

The prison was unfinished when Lorenzo and his fellow captives arrived, and the temperatures were below zero. There was no hospital or sanitation system, and those early prisoners were subject to a smallpox outbreak and malnutrition. Lorenzo died, reportedly of starvation, on Jan. 31, 1864, at age 38. He left behind a wife, Jemima, and five children, including my great-great-grandfather, Orlando.

Lorenzo is buried in the prison cemetery, and a white tombstone marks his grave. My grandfather, Jerry, spent years of his life wishing he could reclaim Lorenzo’s remains and bury him with his family in Mississippi, but the cost was prohibitively high and the red tape difficult to cut. The emotional toll of losing someone in the Civil War was still fresh when my grandfather was born in 1926. In fact, Orlando lived until 1944, and he was able to share the memories of losing his father at a young age with my grandfather.

The pain of the loss – along with the anger over Lorenzo’s treatment at the prison – has traveled through generations, and it’s difficult for me to reconcile my heritage with my current thoughts on the debate over the Mississippi state flag. For the record, I want the flag to come down, and I believe it’s a symbol of white supremacy and hate. It features the Confederate battle emblem, and my ancestors fought under that very same emblem. I’m sure they believed their cause to be just, and they died for it. How can I be against that emblem and their cause without being ashamed of them?

I believe this is an ethical dilemma facing many descendants of Confederate soldiers who are aware of their heritage and want things to change for the better. This topic is a painful one for me, and it’s certainly uncomfortable, but it must be explored. White Mississippians must be able to remember their history without worshipping it, and we must be able to memorialize our Confederate war dead without idolizing their cause. We can’t write off our history, but we can no longer afford to glamorize it.

The “Lost Cause” mythos, or the idea that the South had honorable reasons to fight in the war, must end. We must recognize that the Confederacy was a failed state built on the evils of slavery, and its symbols – including the battle emblem – are, to our black neighbors, extremely painful reminders of that fact. We should be aware of our ancestors, and we should honor them by changing the status quo.

Racism has no place in 2020, and the state flag and its divisive symbol must go. The time is now, and I’m calling on my fellow descendants of Confederate soldiers to stand with me, to grasp hands with all of our neighbors and to push this change forward.

Medical school ranking should be point of pride for Hattiesburgers

Last week, we reported that the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is headquartered in Hattiesburg, was recently ranked third in the nation in producing primary care physicians by U.S. News and World Report.

The top three schools in the list were separated by barely more than a percentage point, and the ranking is a tremendous achievement for a relatively new medical school.

The medical school admitted its first class of students in 2010 after years of careful planning by the university administration, and that first class graduated six years ago. The most recent class graduated Saturday, and they joined the ranks of more than 600 doctors of osteopathic medicine trained by William Carey.

Those doctors are practicing across the country, and many have remained in Mississippi or surrounding states.

The ranking is also the fulfillment of a promise made by the William Carey administration when they announced the opening of the school at a press conference in Jackson in 2008.

The school is the second medical school in the state, and it was established, in part, to train doctors to serve underserved populations, particularly in the Gulf South region. Administrators promised to improve access to health care in Mississippi, and part of that pledge included graduating more primary care physicians.

To that end, the university recently reported that 78 percent of its graduates have entered primary care residencies over the past three years. Instead of resting on its laurels, the school is doubling down on its commitment to produce much-needed doctors.

Administrators recently announced plans to double the size of the medical school’s incoming class over the next three academic years. Currently, the school accepts 100 new students each academic year from a pool of several thousand applicants.

In the upcoming academic year, the class size will grow to 150 students, and an additional 25 students will be added for the 2021-2022 school year. In the 2022-2023 school year, the school will accept 200 new students for a total enrollment of 800 students.

As a William Carey alumnus, I’m particularly proud of the accomplishments of the medical school, especially since I was a student and later an employee at the university during the school’s early years.

I enrolled at the university in 2010 at the same time the school admitted its first class, and, as a member of the university’s public relations staff in 2014, I helped that inaugural class of 94 doctors celebrate their graduation. In fact, I was reminded of that event just last week through Facebook’s “Memories” feature.

It was a happy time for all involved, and the university staff breathed a collective sigh of relief after a rigorous but successful accreditation process.

Dr. Italo Subbarao, dean of the medical school, and his faculty and staff members, along with university administrators, should be commended for staying true to the mission of the medical school and for putting such an emphasis on improving the health care of Mississippians.

The ranking is a testament to a lot of hard work, and Hattiesburg as a whole should be proud of the school. It’s a fantastic addition to our city, and I look forward to its continued growth and success.

Order from Reeves has suspicious timing

Are politics at play during the COVID-19 pandemic?

They sure seem to be, and one doesn’t have to look far to see what I mean.

For weeks, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves resisted calls to implement a statewide shelter-in-place order, but last week, he suddenly reversed course and issued the order. The order came after a rapid rise in the number of positive cases throughout the state and multiple deaths.

Only hours before, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a similar order, and, in explaining his action, said that he did so after a “change in demeanor” from President Donald J. Trump.

In recent weeks, the president has certainly changed his tone on the virus. For months, he downplayed the severity of the threat, but he seems to have finally realized that the virus is a problem that will not be solved with partisan rhetoric.

Under his leadership, the federal government is now encouraging strict social distancing policies and finally pumping much-needed medical supplies to the states.

Did Reeves, like DeSantis, only change his mind about the order after receiving permission of sorts from the White House? The timeline seems to confirm my suspicion, and it’s also helpful to remember that both governors are well-known allies of the president.

It’s alarming to think that elected governors – leaders who should uphold the best interests of their citizens over the beliefs of a president – are taking cues from Trump in times of crisis.

These leaders should instead rely on experts – and, in this case – medical professionals.

Mississippi Today, the statewide nonprofit news organization, said that a big reason for Reeves choosing to issue the order was a grim plea from LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor and dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

In an email to Reeves, Woodward wrote, “Without a statewide ‘shelter in place’ starting very soon (which is proving effective elsewhere), our health system will be overwhelmed. The immediate time frame (right now) is our last inflection point in controlling COVID-19 in our state.”

Woodward added that a shelter-in-place order “is the only additional thing we can do right now to decrease the force of the impact … every ventilator and ICU bed we can spare will matter.”

Despite the excellent reporting by Mississippi Today, I think there’s much more to Reeves issuing the order than an email from Woodward. Her request should have been all that was needed, but I have a sinking feeling politics were at play.

During his lengthy career in Mississippi politics, Reeves has proven to be quite the political animal, and he has also chosen to closely align himself with Trump. Like DeSantis, he seems to bask in the limelight that Trump occasionally shines on him via his Twitter feed.

I hope I’m wrong, and I hope that Reeves is not making his decisions based on the shifting moods of the Trump White House. The governor needs to remember that he was elected to serve the citizens of Mississippi and not the president.

It’s time for Reeves to set politics aside and be a forward-thinking, independent and strong governor of the Magnolia State.

Payment to Southern Miss doesn’t pass ‘the smell test’

Mississippi Today recently wrote an eye-opening account of University of Southern Mississippi officials using $5 million in federal welfare funds – paid to them by the Mississippi Community Education Center – to build a state-of-the-art volleyball facility at the Hattiesburg campus.

MCEC was founded by a Southern Miss alumna, Nancy New, who also sat on the board of the university’s athletic foundation. The multi-million dollar payment was for a five-year lease on all of the university’s athletic facilities, and MCEC was supposed to use the facilities to provide programming for the local underserved population.

It’s unclear the extent of that programming, and university officials have only offered up one event as proof of the fulfillment of the lease. When I questioned them last week for our story, which added a Feb. 28 statement from the university to Mississippi Today’s fine account, they had no further comment but said they’d be looking to respond in the future.

I hope they do because, as one of our readers put in an email to me, this entire transaction “doesn’t pass the smell test.” It’s even more alarming when you consider that New is caught up in a state embezzlement investigation and is accused of stealing welfare money set aside to help our most needy neighbors.

As the Mississippi Today report pointed out, those neighbors don’t play volleyball and won’t benefit from the university’s beautiful new volleyball facility, which is officially known as the Wellness Center. I think it’s known as that, but I can’t be sure. University officials did not confirm its official name or when it will open when I asked for comment.

I do know it cost $7 million, and MCEC paid – upfront – $5 million. According to a statement from the university’s chief communication officer James Coll, the other $2 million was raised from private donors.

In the Feb. 28 statement I mentioned above, university officials admitted they were “disappointed that the concept (of services provided by MCEC) has not materialized to the extent presented to the University – through no fault of USM.” However, in the same statement, the university was quick to point out they had no legal obligation to return the $5 million if the deal fizzled out.

And it’s fizzling quickly, it seems. MCEC is suspending services around the state as its founder is in the midst of a legal battle and as grant awards to the nonprofit are withheld. According to an emailed statement from Coll to Mississippi Today, “it is now apparent that MCEC is unlikely to continue as an active partner in the agreement.”

From my viewpoint, it doesn’t appear that MCEC ever followed up on its promises, and I can’t tell if university officials ever pressed them on it – or if they just quickly deposited a check and started construction.

Under New’s leadership, MCEC received more than $65 million in federal funds from the Mississippi Department of Human Services over the course of a few years, and that money was supposed to help the state’s poor. The state has admitted that it did not follow procedures, and the money was seemingly mismanaged.

They’ve instituted new policies to ensure “these actions never happen again … and the money goes to people who need it,” according to a DHS spokesperson. In the meantime, the poor continue to suffer, including people who are our neighbors here in the Hub City.

University officials have to be aware of the bad optics of this situation, and the ethical – and logical – thing to do is void the agreement with MCEC. Additionally, they should return the $5 million to state coffers, and DHS officials should ensure it is used to provide direct assistance to those who truly need it.

I’m not at all against the USM women’s volleyball team having a great facility to use for their practices and matches, and I think the Wellness Center is likely needed on campus. However, in light of these recent developments, the $5 million should be found elsewhere.

Mitchell’s ‘Race Against Time’ confronts the South’s difficult past

Mississippi-based investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell is a hero in my eyes, and I was happy to see his much-anticipated memoir, “Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era,” hit bookshelves earlier this year.

The book – published by Simon & Schuster in February – is a lengthy and emotional walk through the author’s intense career as an investigative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, and I’m proud to recommend it as one of my favorite books.

“Race Against Time” begins with Mitchell’s start as one of the Ledger’s court reporters. He is interested in civil rights-era killings, and his bravery – and determination to win justice – takes hold of his work. Mitchell tackles cold cases that haven’t seen the light of day in years, and he is richly rewarded with numerous convictions of Klansmen who previously escaped justice.

Mitchell’s work was highly dangerous. In the 1980s, when his journey for justice began, the Klan was still highly active in Mississippi – and they made their disdain for Mitchell and his reporting known. Still, he doggedly pursued justice in cases like the assassination of Medgar Evers, the field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP.

Byron De La Beckwith shot Evers with an Enfield 1917 rifle in the early morning hours of June 12, 1963, as Evers was headed into his home. De La Beckwith was arrested for the murder and was tried for the crime – twice – in early 1964, but the juries deadlocked both times. He may have escaped justice forever had it not been for Mitchell’s determination.

The reporter helped unearth new evidence in the Evers murder, and he also put pressure on Mississippi authorities to retry De La Beckwith. He was successful, and De La Beckwith was convicted of murder in 1994.

Mitchell was also instrumental in securing justice for the family of Vernon Dahmer. Dahmer, who lived in the Kelly Settlement near Hattiesburg, was a local civil rights leader famous for his work to secure African Americans the right to vote. Dahmer was also a two-term president of the Forrest County chapter of the NAACP.

On the night of Jan. 10, 1966, a group of Klansmen firebombed Dahmer’s home, resulting in his death while defending his family and securing them from harm. Fourteen men were indicted for the Dahmer murder, but only four of them were convicted while another entered a guilty plea. The person who ordered the killings – Sam Bowers, the imperial wizard of the Klan – was tried four times, and each trial ended in a mistrial.

Once again, Mitchell used his journalistic talents to apply pressure to authorities. He sought out new evidence, built networks of information, cultivated sources and coaxed stories out of them, and his work was rewarded with the state reopening the case on the 25th anniversary of the Dahmer murder. It took seven years, but Bowers was convicted in 1998.

The third story in the book is about Mitchell’s investigation of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He interviewed one of the primary suspects, Bobby Cherry, who had previously evaded justice, and he identified numerous holes in Cherry’s alibi. With this help, the Alabama attorney general was able to reopen the case and convict Cherry.

In its final chapters, the book recounts Mitchell’s extensive involvement in the reopening of the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” murders. Civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were working with the Freedom Summer campaign to register African Americans to vote when they were brutally murdered by Klansmen in Neshoba County and then buried in an earthen dam.

Mitchell wrote about the “Mississippi Burning” case for six years and was able to locate new evidence and new witnesses. Through the process of elimination, he was also able to identify Mr. X, a key FBI informant, and make several other invaluable breaks in the case.

His investigation renewed calls for justice around the country, and the case was reopened in 2005. Edgar Ray Killen, a Klan organizer who directed the murders, was indicted on three counts of murder and convicted later that year.

Mitchell’s career has been full of success, and his memoir is a testament to that. It’s also a testament to the power of – and necessity of – investigative journalism. Mitchell is no longer employed by the Ledger, but he founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting in 2018. The nonprofit news organization will build off of Mitchell’s past work and continue it.

“Race Against Time” is a great read worthy of your attention. The book features excellent writing and strong pacing, and it’ll leave you wondering how the Klan’s hatred took hold in the South and allowed for such heinous crimes. It’ll leave you unsettled, but it’ll also leave you with hope. It’ll show you that justice is still possible and that people – and attitudes – can change with time.

Three short years, but wow, the ‘Burg is prospering

Last weekend, out-of-town friends came to visit, and we went on a sight-seeing tour of Hattiesburg. I was proud to show them the changes “my town” has made since their last visit three years ago in February 2017.

There’s been a bunch, and all of them have been overwhelmingly positive. As we ate – and drank – our way through the Hub City, I noticed many of these changes, and they filled me with a sense of pride. The ‘Burg is such a fun and fulfilling place to live, and I’m glad I planted my roots here back in 2010.

The District at Midtown is one excellent improvement to our city. Located across Hardy Street from Southern Miss, the district offers wonderful dining and shopping opportunities, including treats like Robert St. John’s sinful Midtown Donuts. The district’s anchor, Hotel Indigo, gives visitors a charming look into Hattiesburg’s culture and history. The entire area is fun to visit, and I send my kudos to the developers and business owners.

Speaking of Southern Miss, I’m always happy to drive through that beautiful – and growing – campus. If you didn’t know, I’m a William Carey Crusader through and through, but Southern holds a special place in my heart. My friends commented on the university’s beauty, and I was reminded of the devastating 2013 tornado that destroyed much of the front of the campus. The recovery was remarkable, and I’m always happy to introduce USM to others.

On our eating and drinking tour, we stopped by Southern Prohibition in downtown Hattiesburg, and it’s just one example of a local business that’s prospering. They just completed an extensive renovation, and the entire operation is impressive. It’s an asset to our incredible downtown, which is always growing. I hear downtown will soon get an axe-throwing establishment (talk about a new way to vent your frustrations) and another independent bookstore. This news makes me happy.

Walk a few blocks from Southern Prohibition to Front Street, and you can buy bagels, chicken and daiquiris, and other great food. Since my friends last visited, Nelson Haskin Jr. has bought the famed SouthBound Bagel & Coffee Shop and opened Blu Jazz Cafe and Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris. Haskin continues to make improvements on Front Street, and his investments are our town’s gains.

One of my favorite places in the ‘Burg is a hop and skip away from Front Street. The Depot on Buschman Street moved to a new location a few doors away from its previous one, and the building – a rehabilitation project, indeed – is beautiful. Their old location, also on Buschman, is now filled by Fika, a Swedish cafe. These restaurants add great flavor to downtown, and I’m happy they’re here.

I can never resist an opportunity to “show off” my alma mater, and William Carey University has seen tremendous changes since 2017. If you’ll recall, on Jan. 21, 2017, an early morning storm produced an EF3 tornado that made a 31.3-mile trek across east Hattiesburg and into Petal. The tornado killed four and destroyed or severely damaged more than 1,100 homes.

The damage to Carey was catastrophic, with every building on campus receiving damage. Tatum Court, the 103-year-old administration building, was destroyed, along with the 98-year-old twin dormitories, Ross and Johnson Halls.

Shortly after the storm, I wrote, in a Signature column, “…Carey will rebuild. Its picturesque campus will one day be whole again – different, but with its same qualities: a beautiful, safe school offering a valuable education in a Christian environment. Carey will continue to be a place for the next generation of bright-eyed and eager students to find hope and peace within its gates.”

Thankfully, I was right, and, in three short years, Carey is back and better than ever. Its beautiful new administration building, still named Tatum Court, was completed last year, and several other new buildings are now in place. A three-story student center – the tallest building on the campus – is under construction at the site of the former Tatum Court, and the university is growing by leaps and bounds.

East Hattiesburg as a whole is steadily recovering and growing. I always loved driving by the very unique-looking Seventh-Day Adventist church on William Carey Parkway, and I was heartbroken when it was lost in the storm. The church recently finished rebuilding, as have several other places of worship, businesses and homes. There’s still work to be done, but the foundation is strong.

My friends, who last saw this area of town in tatters, were tremendously impressed by these recovery efforts and the overall growth of our city in three years. I’m not even mentioning their reactions to the growth down Highways 49 and 98 – and their reaction to our new Steak ‘n Shake – but I will tell you that one of them even said she’d like to move here.

That’s a testament to our greatness, Hattiesburg. Not only are we great, but we’re also resilient, and we’re poised for a bright future.

Let’s keeping moving upward.

Remembering Revels

On Feb. 11 in the House Chamber of the Old Capitol in Jackson, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the state agency that operates the fantastic Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, celebrated the life of Hiram Rhodes Revels.

It was in that very room 150 years earlier that Revels, an African American born to free people of color in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1827, was elected by the Mississippi State Senate to serve as one of the state’s two senators in the United States Congress.

Revels was the first African American to serve in Congress, and, on the 150th anniversary of his election, there was a great deal of national interest given to his life. Eric Foner, author of “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution,” penned an op-ed largely about Revels for the Feb. 14 edition of The New York Times.

“Hiram Revels is worth remembering as both a pioneer of black political power and a refutation of racist stereotypes,” wrote Foner.

Revels, a barber by trade, grew up as an apprentice to his older brother, who owned a barbering shop in Lincolnton, North Carolina. Following the death of his brother, Revels took ownership of the shop until becoming an African Methodist Episcopal Church priest.

He spent many of his younger years ministering to African Americans across the Midwest, a dangerous role. Revels provided religious instruction to slaves, and, as he later recalled, was met “with a great deal of opposition.” He was briefly imprisoned in Missouri in 1854 for, in his words, “preaching the gospel to Negroes, though I was never subjected to violence.”

At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Revels was a Methodist Episcopal Church minister in Baltimore, Maryland, where he also led a black high school. He helped the U.S. Army recruit two volunteer regiments of African Americans, and, two years later, he joined the Army as a chaplain for an African American regiment in Mississippi.

According to Foner, Revels “came to Union-occupied Mississippi … and threw himself into educating the former slaves.” At the war’s conclusion in 1865, Revels returned to preaching and briefly led churches in Leavenworth, Kansas, and New Orleans before receiving the call to permanently lead a church in Natchez.

He settled in Reconstruction-era Natchez with his wife and five daughters in 1866. In 1868, the state’s provisional governor, Adelbert Ames, appointed Revels as a Natchez alderman, and, one year later, he was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi Senate.

While in the state legislature, Revels delivered the body’s opening prayer in January 1870, a prayer so powerful that Mississippi Congressman John R. Lynch later noted it “made Revels a United States Senator.”

Prior to 1913, state legislatures elected U.S. senators, and, in 1870, Mississippi’s two Senate seats had been vacant since the start of the Civil War. As Foner notes, “Mississippi’s lawmakers, who included almost three dozen African Americans, chose Ames for one vacant United States Senate term and Revels for the year that remained of another.”

During his time in the Senate, Revels supported racial equality, later writing that “I did all I could for the benefit of my needy and much imposed-upon people.” He fought for the reinstatement of black legislators from the Georgia General Assembly, and he persuaded the Secretary of War to hire black mechanics at the Baltimore Navy Yard. Revels also fought for integration in public schools and in the railroad system.

His Senate term expired in March 1871, and Revels returned to Mississippi, where he was appointed as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, which is now Alcorn State University. He briefly served as Mississippi’s interim secretary of state in 1873 and continued as college president until 1882.

Following his retirement, Revels moved to Holly Springs, where he resumed preaching and served as editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a Methodist newspaper. He also taught at Rust College prior to his death on January 16, 1901, at the age of 73.

I agree with Foner that Revels had a life worth remembering, but I wonder how many people do. There are few mentions to Revels in our culture; indeed, there are not – to my knowledge – any significant public memorials to him. Looking at a Mississippi map, one that is covered with honorariums to Civil War figures, I do not see a municipality named Revels or a county called Revels County.

Where are the highways devoted to Revels? The schools? The statues?

As our state debates touchy subjects like the removal of Confederate monuments and the possible changing of our state flag, it may be time to look at honoring people like Revels, who committed their lives to racial equality and fought the hard fight when others could not or would not.

Revels deserves more respect than a tall tomb in his adopted hometown of Holly Springs, and, while we are taking a deep look into ourselves and the image our state projects to the nation and to the world, he is a figure we should remember.

A life intertwined with newspapers comes full circle

My life has been intertwined with newspapers for as long as I can remember.

As a little boy, I loved retrieving the newspaper from the bright-orange box at the end of the driveway and looking at the pictures. I was especially excited when my dad, a police officer, was mentioned or pictured in the paper, and I still remember the first time – in the second grade, after winning a spelling bee – that I saw my own name in print. It was exhilarating.

I caught the reporting bug shortly thereafter, and I loved to hold mock interviews with my grandparents after school. In about the fourth grade, I founded my own newspaper at my church. It was called Kids R Us and focused on my friends and our adventures. I think it ran for an issue or two, and I remember designing it in Microsoft Word and even selling ads for it.

In 2005, at the age of 15, I accepted my first newspaper job as a community correspondent for The Daily Leader newspaper in my hometown of Brookhaven, Mississippi. For the next six years, I wrote a weekly column covering the goings-on of my small community, East Lincoln, and I dutifully covered every church potluck dinner, school reunion and new resident I could find.

When I wasn’t reporting live from my neck of the woods, I was in the paper’s newsroom typing obituaries, reviewing copy, answering phones and, eventually, writing stories ranging from the latest antics of the local legislative delegation to a bank robber on a bicycle. (Yes, the “Bicycle Bandit” was eventually caught, but not before I filed several stories on the topic.)

I fell in love with newspapers during that time, and I also learned their importance. Newspapers are more than ink on paper; they tell a community’s good news, help neighbors connect with one another and serve as a watchdog for local governments. They provide an incredibly valuable public service.

Those six years of on-the-job training provided me with a first-class education in journalism and reinforced my passion for writing and telling stories. My early experiences in a newsroom also opened an avalanche of professional opportunities for me, and, in 2010, I was recruited to Hattiesburg as the new editor-in-chief of William Carey University’s student newspaper, The Cobbler.

I was involved with Carey’s newspaper for another six years, including three as editor and three as adviser, and my work in its pages landed me my first full-time job as Carey’s marketing specialist. My career detoured into public relations and marketing for a few years, but the desire to return to my first love of newspapers was never far away.

So, I was thrilled when David Gustafson asked me to be the new managing editor of HubCitySPOKES and to help mold the pages of this newspaper and of Signature Magazine. You may have heard that newspapers are a dying breed, but I submit the paper you are reading now as evidence contrary to that opinion. The PineBelt NEWS is a strong, community-based newspaper, and David and his team have positioned it for long-term success in a challenging media landscape.

Our community needs, and deserves, a community newspaper, and The PineBelt NEWS is glad to be yours. I ask that you support our work, buy advertising for your businesses, encourage your friends to subscribe, and, most importantly, share your stories with us. We are looking forward to a bright future, and we know we can depend on our community.