I was wandering around the Mississippi State Fairgrounds on a beautiful Sunday afternoon recently and saw that one of the twin buildings standing at the Jefferson Street front of the fairgrounds is named “Agriculture” and the other one is named “Industry.” Now, maybe I’m just the slowest bulb in the box, but this was the first time I realized that these two buildings stand as a symbolic representation of Gov. Hugh White’s Balance Agriculture With Industry program.
The Mississippi historians amongst us know about this long-lived program (some might argue it’s still the guiding philosophy of our state), begun on a small scale while White was mayor of Columbia in the early 1930s with the luring of the Reliance Manufacturing Company (a building that was listed on the National Register and possessed statewide significance, but was torn down with barely a whimper a few years ago for the salvaged brick). White later served two separate terms as governor (1936-1940 and 1952-1956), during which he continued to preach the gospel of industrialization and diversification to break the rule of King Cotton over the state’s economy.
I can’t find much information about these buildings, but it seems they were begun in the last year of White’s second term, 1956, and possibly not completed until he was out of office in 1957. There’s no article about them in the Fairgrounds subject file at the state archives, and I admit I haven’t looked farther than that. My primary interaction with them over the years has been through buying a Christmas tree in the Industry building (on the right as you face the front of the buildings), and other than that, they have mostly seemed underutilized. I always assumed the trusses were steel, but upon closer inspection, they are in fact wood, with a metal flashing on the top to protect from excess moisture.
As I’ve asked around, I’ve also heard that the buildings have Civil Rights significance, as the area between the buildings was fenced off and the buildings used to house the people arrested during protests in the summer of 1963, after Medgar Evers assassination. According to one source, one building was used for women, the other for men, and they were called the “Fairgrounds Motel” in the press. If this is true, then these must be the buildings referred to in Charles E. Cobb, Jr.’s On the Road to Freedom:
As civil rights demonstrations in Jackson grew during the spring of 1963, hundreds were imprisoned in two converted livestock exhibition pavilions, surrounded with a barbed-wire fence.
There’s a discrepancy here since these were never livestock pavilions, at least to my knowledge, but on the other hand, none of the livestock pavilions really fit this description either. If I’m wrong, I hope someone will set me straight, or if the A&I buildings were the site of this holding pen, maybe we can verify that here.
Unfortunately, I’ve also heard that the Fairgrounds intends to demolish these buildings, presumably because they would like more parking. Because, really, when I look around our fairgrounds, the main thing I think is that more asphalt is what is needed.
This demolition and paving will just perpetuate the Fairgrounds’ oddly non-agrarian, non-fairish feel, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect, with the 50th anniversary commemorations of various Civil Rights events starting this May with the Freedom Riders, and the Civil Rights museum finally (hopefully) getting built just a stone’s throw away.