With old Vicksburg close to his heart, a father’s son wants to come home’

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 27, 2000

Will Reid, a resident of California, shares his fond memories of his hometown, Vicksburg. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

Edmond Reid has never lived in Vicksburg, but he has always felt at home here.

He grew up hearing stories of his father, Will Reid, picking blackberries around town and selling them on street corners, visiting the famous Blue Room and other legendary jazz spots.

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And although the elder Reid, 85, is disappointed that the River City is not the lively, growing port town he remembers from his youth, he has always cherished his time here.

He left for California with his young family in 1942, to take advantage of the booming wartime shipbuilding industry. But Will Reid, who sold copies of The Vicksburg Evening Post and The Vicksburg Herald, two for a nickel, as a boy in the 1920s, said Vicksburg has always been close to his heart.

“At that time, this city was a bustling city,” he said. “You couldn’t walk down the street on a Saturday night, there was so many people.”

Before leaving to start a new life in California, the elder Reid used to work as a chauffeur, a yard boy and do other odd jobs for a family on Chambers Street.

After the boom of the shipbuilders played out, he went to work for Greyhound, then for a billboard company that was later bought out by Gannett, one of the nation’s largest newspaper publishers.

He comes back to visit whenever he can, he said, but each year he has become more saddened by what he feels is a deterioration of his beloved home.

“I love this city, but I don’t like what I see,” Will Reid said. “It’s like a cemetery. It hurts.”

The buses and streetcars that once ran along downtown streets are now barely a memory,” he said. And the restaurants and classy clubs filled with jazz music, big bands and swinging nightlife have disappeared, too.

Still, after all these years, he enjoys every minute he gets to spend in Vicksburg. Friday night, he rode around in the car with his son, pointing out the places that stood out in his memory from years ago, reliving a city five decades in the past, and telling old stories from his childhood.

“I was born and raised here, and I love it,” he said. “He heard so much about it, he came to love it, too.”

Now, near retirement after decades in California law enforcement, the younger Reid plans to complete the circle and move home to the town his father left in the early days of World War II.

“My parents spoke of Vicksburg from the time I was a toddler,” he said. “They told the stories every day. It’s full of cherished memories, really.”

Growing up, he visited aunts and cousins in Vicksburg on family vacations occasionally after age 11, and considered it “a faraway place, like Disneyland,” he said.

In California, he worked his way up to a highway patrol position escorting visiting leaders from other states. Among the governors he protected were Missouri’s John Ashcroft and then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Among law officers and politicians in California, he met quite a few who were also from the South and enjoyed swapping stories from his frequent visits to his parents’ hometown.

Chatting with friends, he noticed something else: many of the people who moved out of the South decades ago for economic opportunity were moving back.

“A lot of people are moving back to the South,” Reid said. “It’s the ties they have to the area, sometimes family members they want to be close to or have to care for.”

But for Edmond Reid, now 48, the lure is to connect with history, and get away from the whirlwind pace of the West Coast.

“It’s a little more serene here, more peaceful,” he said. “And it has so much history. In California, we don’t preserve as much of the history because so many people aren’t from there.”