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Wednesday November 12, 2014

Tupelo Tells Its Story One Trail at a Time

Posted on: December 1st, 2013

By: Jennie Bradford Curlee

Tupelo, Mississippi has a rich cultural history and its citizens are ready to tell their story. The Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau is leading the creation of a Heritage Trails Enrichment Program, highlighting significant pieces of the city’s storied past. The trails will identify and interpret Civil Rights and African American heritage, Civil War, and Chickasaw Native American sites. While the program aims to educate citizens and visitors to Tupelo and further develop the city’s tourism product, most importantly, it is giving a voice to many who have not had one before.

“Tupelo has a culturally rich story to tell, and this program will help us preserve this information for generations to come,” said Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Product development is an integral part of our comprehensive plan. Marking these sites will give visitors to Tupelo an even more profound understanding of our community.”

The Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau, working closely with Robinson & Associates, assembled a Heritage Trails Advisory Committee to help drive the direction of the program. By garnering input from local historians, community activists, and longtime citizens of Tupelo, the committee is weaving Tupelo’s tale, bringing to light crucial events in the community’s past that not only shaped its citizens, but made it the place that it is today.

The first story the committee chose to tell began at what is now Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore in Downtown Tupelo. The name Woolworth is synonymous with contentions during the Civil Rights struggle, and its lunch counter in Tupelo, as many others throughout the country, was the site of protests. While events in Tupelo were considered peaceful, it was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement that brought African Americans throughout the country together.

Councilwoman Nettie Davis, a four-term member of the Tupelo City Council and its first female and African American president, shared the moving account of her participation in a sit-in at Woolworth’s in Nashville, TN, as part of the unveiling of the first Heritage Trails Enrichment Program marker. Her poignant words painted a picture of a young girl who stood up for what she believed and faced arrest as a result. Councilwoman Davis shared the myriad emotions she experienced, and how this single incident molded her as a female, daughter, wife, teacher, and public servant.

The story of Tupelo’s place in Civil Rights and African American heritage continues at Springhill Missionary Baptist Church. This place of worship is the oldest African American church in Tupelo and during the Civil Rights era, the congregation opened its doors to groups like the United League, Freedom Marchers, NAACP, Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and area citizens. Several historic marches began at Springhill M. B. Church. When the marker was unveiled in July, the sentiment among those who participated in events held at the church was one of inclusion.

“This church brought people together so no one would be left behind,” said Tommie Lee Ivy, Lee County Supervisor and participant in Civil Rights events at Springhill M.B. Church.

As the Heritage Trails Enrichment Program continues to impart the narratives of Tupelo, it gives credence to a community that has faced its struggles and became a better place for what it has been through. Rather than reading a story in a book, the trails bring those stories to life. If you take a walk with the Chickasaw natives who once inhabited the North Mississippi hill country, the Civil War soldiers who fought and defended this bastion in the state, and the Civil Rights beacons whose courage changed the world in which we live, then you will know Tupelo’s people, one trail at a time.