When an older person dies a library burns down.
I’m unsure who coined that phrase; however, I vividly remember the first time I heard it. I was at a writers’ conference in Tennessee. The keynote speaker, Bill Ferris, made that statement. Ferris is a renowned historian and author who, among other accomplishments, started the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.
As a history buff and writer of local lore, Ferris’ words continue to stick with me. I think of that iconic quote often. It most recently came to mind a few weeks ago during a Heritage Committee meeting where I sat with Dr. Dayton Whites, Gussie Vise, Dixie and Bill Wilkerson, Cindy Morgan and Joyce Rutherford. The meeting focused on the potential establishment of a county museum for local history. Local history intrigues me; that’s why I spend much time researching topics like Bailey’s Scratching Post, Inland Beach, and the Merrill Bridge.
Neighboring counties have museums and strong historical societies. For example, Greene County has a public museum on the top floor of its courthouse in Leakesville. It’s filled with artifacts and memorabilia giving visitors a visual taste of life dating back generations. It also has a good collection of paper documents and newspaper accountings of its history. Volunteers man it a couple of days a week and by prearranged appointments.
Stone County has a museum called the Old Firehouse Museum housed in what was once the Wiggins’ Fire Department. Former school teachers founded the museum in 2013. Its mission not only includes housing documents and artifacts but also hosting events such as doll shows, tea parties, and model train shows.
Jackson County has two museums, the LaPoint-Krebs House and Museum, and the Shipbuilding and Maritime Museum. The county also has a very active historical group called the Jackson County Historical Society which publishes journals of local history throughout the year and hosts fundraisers for local history sites. Its members provide significant and valuable volunteer service to the Singing River Genealogical and Local History Library, a branch within the Jackson-George Regional Library System dedicated to preserving historical documents for Jackson and George Counties.
For the past 20 years, there has been an interest in preserving George County’s history. Shortly after the turn of the 21st Century, the Chamber of Commerce Heritage and Cultural Committee was formed. Efforts were made at that time to document the burials and obituaries of George County residents. In 2001 the city celebrated its 100th anniversary and in 2010 the county did the same. That committee supported the commemorative events. In 2018 the committee created a pictorial book about the county’s history. At that time, interest was expressed and much discussion took place about establishing a county museum. However, that discourse diminished.
Currently, a new effort is underway to determine whether enough interest exists to pursue the establishment of a county museum. One strong advocate for the cause is Dr. Dayton Whites. In a recent meeting to discuss the museum Whites said very candidly, “If we are ever going to do this, now is the time because we’re all getting older and some of us are dying.” I was in attendance at the meeting when Whites made that statement; it reminded me of Bill Ferris’ comment about older people being libraries.
When Lucedale was first incorporated in 1901, it sat in Greene County. George County did not exist until 1910 when parts of northern Jackson County and southern Greene County were pulled to form the new county. The county’s history predates its formation as the area is rich in accountings associated with early French and Spanish explorers, the War of 1812, bandits and more folklore. A wealth of history from the 1900s can be documented from living citizens’ first-hand knowledge or testimony based on stories their parents and grandparents told.
This column is a call for help. The next committee meeting is set for Tues., March 28, at 4 p.m. at the Lucedale-George County Public Library. All interested citizens are welcome. The committee needs to know if residents are interested in preserving and documenting our local history. It needs to know if people will support a museum with their time and/or money. If the idea of a museum isn’t a good one, the committee needs to hear that point as well. Please don’t sit quietly with your opinions. It will take more than a handful of people to make this a reality. Many hands make light work.
If someone in your family or your circle of friends is one of those “libraries” Bill Ferris referenced, please ask them anything you’d ever want to know. And please record it either verbally or in writing. If the idea of a museum is something you believe George County needs, please email me at [email protected] before March 28. Or better yet, show up at the meeting.