The writer Hubert Creekmore was born in Water Valley in 1907. He lived on Panola Street and was lucky to be born into a prosperous family. But his family moved to Jackson when he was a young man, seeking an economic future and Hubert, after going to college in Oxford, moved to the east coast in the 1930s. After serving in the Navy in World War II, he lived in New York City until he died in 1966.
Much of his writing was centered in the fictional town of Ashton, a place described in his novel “The Welcome” published in 1948, that is unmistakably Water Valley. The narrator in the novel describes the physical layout of the town. He adds his opinion about the place and, in his view, it seems stifling. Though it would be a rookie freshman mistake to take a fictional character’s voice as the author’s own personal opinion.
Last week at a screening of a short film about Creekmore, someone asked if he ever returned to Water Valley after his family left. Certainly, he was back in the area when he was still a young man. He went to college in Oxford and I would imagine he came back to visit and see some friends here. But no one knew for sure. He certainly didn’t live here again, though the town stayed in his writings.
In bringing up Creekmore as a native son who left, his leaving is part of a steady pattern of leaving that continues to this day. The old expression “if you don’t like it, leave it” is not the real answer as seemingly generations after generations have responded and did just that.
I have made the comment before that the most famous play about New Orleans, “A Streetcar Named Desire” was written by a Mississippi man nicknamed Tennessee about Blanche and Stella, two sisters who left Laurel, Mississippi. And they were not going back. It is a fiction that rings true, my paternal grandmother left Laurel in the late 1920s. Her name was Charma.
Now Creekmore’s Mississippi in the 1930s is not the Mississippi of today. But Mississippi is still more relative to the rest of the United States. And that is the same as the 1930s.
I am, for once, trying not to make a political point here. Just that rural does not always mean conservative and urban doesn’t always mean liberal. There is space and place in this state, or should be, for all. What is still the same since the 1930s is the exodus.
The bigger question is if there are less people, and effectively there are in the state relative to the rest of the country, then there is less economy. Meaning less need for the existing buildings and homes and very little need to build or re-build. That’s stagnation at best.
Growth comes not only from keeping the people you have, but from bringing in new. Those people in places growing came from elsewhere, places like small towns in Mississippi.
Last year both Laurel and Water Valley received a statewide award for community transformation, an award based on a collective and cumulative effort that acknowledges both places becoming and being better places to live for everyone. This is not to say both are fixed and finished, rather more that both have turned a corner. Maybe Hubert and Charma would approve.