Water Valley Doing Its Part To Better State
By Mickey Howley
Jon McLeod was singing at the Farmers Market last Saturday morning. He was singing a bluesy tune about leaving Mississippi because there had to be other better places. Here’s a small section of the lyrics, “I’m hitting the highway, cause it keeps calling back to me, get out of Mississippi and find some better place to be, well, I got no final destination, just looking for a place to stay.”
Sounds a little bit fatalistic and desperate. It is. But that’s a very common theme in many songs written by native sons and daughters about their home state. For many years this state was a place that was great for too few, good for some, and just about any other place was a better place for far too many.
I was in Cleveland, Miss. last Wednesday. It was early evening and everyone in town was on the side of Highway 61, waiting for the funeral caravan bringing Riley “B.B.” King from Memphis, heading south to Indianola. I thought about him and all the others that have taken that road – either south to New Orleans or far more folks going north to Memphis and St. Louis and beyond.
Mr. King was of that generation between 1940 and 1970 where half a million Mississippians left the state and of those leaving, 75 percent were African-American.
Sure the overall population of this state has increased since then, 2.2 million in 1940 to just shy of 3 million today. But look at the U.S. as whole, 132 million in 1940 to 320 million today. (Alaska and Hawaii added 900k in 1959) Say what you want but anytime you’re losing population to other places, that’s negative growth and that brings a certain economic instability.
And so, last Saturday B.B. King was laid to rest in Indianola. That’s 92 miles southwest from the Valley. Mr. King was just shy of 90 years old. In two years Mississippi makes 200 (Dec. 10, 1817, Mississippi became the 20th state) and doing the rough math, B.B. lived through almost half the state’s existence. For he could have certainly left the state and never returned like so many. Who would blame him or the others? Can you imagine what being in his shoes was like when he was young? And while he moved away, not far, as a young man, he never really left this place and he carried Mississippi, the good and the blues, wherever he went. One of Mississippi’s greatest ambassadors to the world.
In Cleveland, Miss. last week there was a Main Street Design Conference. Kagan Coughlin was talking about the renovation of the five Blu-Buck Building storefronts. Brandon Bishop and Shipman Sloan were talking about the Mechanics Bank renovation of the bank’s five storefronts-buildings. It looked like to all those present that Water Valley is doing its part in making Mississippi a better place to be. For everybody.
The Farmers Market is Saturday morning in Rail-road Park. Always lots of fun and fresh things. Very tasty, but not exactly fresh is Lawton Gafford’s jerky. Well, it is as fresh as jerky can be. For you and your dog – come on out and strut your mutt under the big magnolia.