Local People, this is what we think of your sacrifice

Yesterday, I passed by the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in downtown Jackson and saw that demolition of the Agriculture Building, one of the pair of barrel-vaulted buildings at the west side of the fairgrounds, was well underway. As you might recall from a couple of posts last month (“Balancing Industry With Agriculture” and “A Mystery: Which Building(s) Were the ‘Fairgrounds Motel’“?, there was some debate about whether these were the buildings used to house the many civil rights protesters arrested after Medgar Evers’ assassination and funeral in 1963. This debate was mostly put to rest when new MissPres reader Catherine took it upon herself to call the State Fair Commission and ask. They themselves verified that in fact it was the A&I Buildings that had been used as a jail during that long summer of discontent.

It’s odd to me that at the same time that the state is officially going out of its way to remember and even celebrate the Civil Rights Movement–especially the Freedom Riders who began coming into town 50 years ago this month–one of its entities is at the same time demolishing one of the few sites that tangibly shows the struggles of the mostly local people who brought down the system of Jim Crow. And ironically, this demolition occurs in plain view of the site of the future Civil Rights Museum, up on the bluff north of the Archives and History Building.

As John Dittmer argued in his ground-breaking history of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, Local People, more than in any other state, Mississippi’s civil rights struggle was primarily waged by local people, rather than the more famous national figures such as Martin Luther King. Local people were the ones who had the extreme courage to stand up and be counted, knowing that they might be killed in their driveways like Medgar Evers, firebombed in their houses like Vernon Dahmer, beaten, or fired from their jobs by their white employers. Without these acts of courage, the kind of courage that got many of them thrown into the “Fairgrounds Motel” in the A&I Buildings, Jim Crow would not have been overthrown in this state. But while we celebrate the courage of the mostly outsider Freedom Riders, somehow all we can tell the local folks is, “Sorry, your history is so uninteresting to us that we’ll just tear it down without any public notice or debate.”

Shame on the State Fair Commission for this abrogation of their public responsibility. And I’ll throw a shame toward the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for not at least raising a stink about this demolition happening in its own backyard.

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While on the topic of demolition, shame and the lack thereof, shame or something stronger on Columbus’ First Baptist Church for their demolition of the Friendship House in the early morning hours yesterday, for their smug bait-and-switch game in the months leading up to it, and for putting business decisions ahead of Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I don’t have the energy to go into the whole nefarious story–if you don’t know about it, you can read a good article in the Columbus Dispatch). I assume that Baptists will be segregated into their own suburb in heaven, where the mansions will be clad in Dryvet with hollow, metal white columned porticos and they can demolish it all on a whim or as a “good business move” if they want to. But if on the off chance I meet First Baptist’s business administrator Thomas Southerland, I hope God will give me leave to punch his lights out.



Categories: Architectural Research, Civil Rights, Columbus, Demolition/Abandonment, Jackson

14 replies

  1. That is awful. In addition to the loss of a site historic for it’s significance to the Civil Rights Movement, we seem to turn our back to the agricultural history of our state. Unless I’m mistaken, agriculture is still the #1 industry in our state. We have rich soil and a rich history when it comes to growing things, but no one seems to care that many of the places associated with this agricultural past are being lost. Mississippi State, too, seems to have made it’s mission lately the complete destruction of any historic buildings remotely related to the agricultural past of that Land Grant institution. It’s really shameful.

    In addition, the A & I buildings at the fairground were surrounded by a little patch of grass. It was the only place in the vast desert to catch a little shade (from the building–cause there sure ain’t any trees around there) and enjoy the only 2 feet of grass available. Now we’ll all drown in the vast sea of asphalt. Great. Just great.

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  2. The demolition of the Friendship House is especially sickening, as was their duplicity in the events which led to its ultimate destruction.

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  3. Brought to us by the same people responsible for the ongoing neglect of the National Guard Armory.

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  4. If the Colombus Baptists were really motivated by economics, why didn’t they attempt to salvage some of the architectural details from the house? Doors, windows, mantel, railings all have some salvage value.

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  5. And don’t get me started on those fairgrounds people…what a total lack of vision.

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  6. I had hoped that the negative attention the church was receiving from the community would have convinced them to change their minds, but obviously not.

    In the “trying to find a silver lining” department – at least this post means that I’m not the one to break the bad news on either of these stories when Monday’s News Round-Up rolls around . . .

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  7. The Fairgrounds Commision is way out of line doing this THIS month. The buildings were still being used, though infrequently. I’m so upset, but I sure hope there are plans to build something else there – the fairgrounds don’t need a few more square feet of asphalt.

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  8. The timing is certainly . . . interesting, especially given how there wasn’t any coverage of it in the papers and it’s moved along at a rapid rate. I believe that asphalt is indeed the plan.

    More asphalt, fewer trees, less grass. This is the mantra of the Fair Commission!

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    • No need for asphalt. There’s what looks like (from the Pearl St. bridge) some perfectly good concrete slabs there. And they don’t even looked cracked which is a rarity in Jackson area.

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  9. Just what is the Archives responsible for besides sponsoring monthly lectures (very good ones, too) and being a source of history and genealogy? Who is responsible for the oversight of these wonderful buildings disappearing? Is there an advisory board wearing sunglasses and missing the bright historical spots in our state?

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  10. MDAH has a Division of Historic Preservation that has some amount of review authority, under both federal and state law, over publicly owned buildings such as the Fairgrounds buildings. There is a permit committee that meets monthly to review changes to designated buildings and demolition permit applications, and MDAH is governed by a Board of Trustees that meets quarterly to make the ultimate decision on all these matters. Unfortunately, MDAH does not seem very strong politically, and in recent years at least in my mind, has seemed to be reticent to defend even major buildings from demolition when it involves any sort of confrontation (see for instance, Theodore Link’s Lakefront Cottage at Sanitorium, demolished in 2009).

    Another organization that would seem to be responsible for preservation advocacy is the Mississippi Heritage Trust, but again, they don’t seem to have a strong voice in recent years. As far as I know, neither group raised even a minor protest over the A&I buildings.

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Trackbacks

  1. MissPres News Roundup 6-13-2011 | Preservation in Mississippi

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