Musician, arborist join fight for Port Gibson’s Church Street|[05/31/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2008

The battle to keep the state highway department off Port Gibson’s cherished Church Street continues for residents — this time through the lyrics of a song penned by a native musician and the dedication of a nationally known arborist.

Melvin McFatter, a Port Gibson attorney and musician, has written a song called “The Second Battle of Port Gibson,” disputing the stated intentions of the Mississippi Department of Transportation to keep Church Street, also known as U.S. 61, as the highway’s main route. His lyrics also make mention of the long-told story that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant refused to torch the city during the Civil War because it was “too beautiful to burn.”

“Here’s to Port Gibson, that pretty little town. It survived an attack by U.S. Grant. And fell to old “Butch” Brown. Yes, Port Gibson, prettiest town in the nation. That saved it from the Yankees, not the Department of Transportation,” the chorus says.

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People gather on Jane Ellis’ Church Street lawn Monday to hear Melvin McFatter sing “The Second Battle of Port Gibson.” (Submitted to The Vicksburg Post)McFatter’s song voices the opinions of most residents, who are against the proposed route and fearful of losing century-old oaks and the culture along the church-lined street. The Highway 61 committee, a sanction of the Port Gibson Heritage Trust, was formed soon after plans to take the highway through the town were realized. The group has since hired an environmental attorney, met with state and federal agencies and created an online petition for people to voice feelings about how the through-route will destroy their town, home to about 2,000 people. The petition, which has exceeded its goal of 2,500 signatures, has caught the attention of people across the country and some in other countries.

McFatter’s song was unveiled Monday on the front lawn of Jane Ellis, chairman of the 61 committee and a Church Street resident. She said about 75 people attended the event and 37 copies of the song were sold, an effort they hope will raise funds to help pay legal fees. The CDs are being sold for $20 and residents are working to get the song played on Vicksburg’s River 101, as well as a radio station in Natchez.

“People sat there and loved the song. It really was so great,” Ellis said about the Monday gathering. “I feel people are still hopeful that this is going to happen.”If you buyTo purchase a copy of Melvin McFatter’s song “The Second Battle of Port Gibson,” call Shirley Daigle at 601-437-4741. The CDs are $20; proceeds will help pay legal fees for the Port Gibson Heritage Trust’s Highway 61 Committee.OnlineArborist Bob Thibodeaux’s 8-minute spot on the trees of Church Street will debut on YouTube in June. Visit song’s lyrics parody MDOT’s plans, formally announced March 25 in a public meeting, and touch on the many issues residents have with the proposal, including the threat of losing parking at the places of worship, the loss of pedestrian areas, increased traffic and the threat to trees.

Larry L. “Butch” Brown, executive director of MDOT, spoke with concerned residents in an April 15 meeting, where he said two sections — one north and one south of town — would be widened to finish a 20-year state initiative to connect all Mississippians to highways within 30 miles or 30 minutes. The section of U.S. 61 between Vicksburg and Natchez at Port Gibson is the last to be completed. In the beginning, Port Gibson residents could not agree on a bypass that would best reroute traffic off Church Street. But, now, most residents are sold on a route that would send traffic east of town, which, some have said could bring more commercial growth to the area. Brown said work will be completed along U.S. 61, but indicated the creation of a bypass was still a possibility. Losing the trees that drape over Church Street as a result of the widening and increased traffic and vibrations residents are sure the through-route will bring have been the most voiced concerns. In fact, it’s a thought that caught the attention of Bob Thibodeaux, a 40-year veteran of arboriculture and founder of Acorns of Hope, a tree-planting educational initiative dedicated to replacing trees destroyed during Hurricane Rita. While biking along the Natchez Trace, Thibodeaux and his crew stopped in Port Gibson last Friday to help the effort.

“They dedicated their whole day,” said Port Gibson resident Shirley Daigle.

Thibodeaux, who had visited before, used a Dallas film crew, Pete’s House Productions, to film an 8-minute spot that delves into the problems MDOT’s work could have on the trees. The short film will be put on YouTube, a video sharing Web site, sometime next month. Daigle said she hopes the video will give more exposure to their fight.

“The more publicity, the more people that are aware and the more who respond, the more it will reach MDOT,” she said. “You can redo, you can relocate businesses, but you cannot relocate 100-year-old trees. When they’re gone, they’re gone. But, we definitely have hope.”

“The Second Battle of Port Gibson”By Melvin McFatterMelvin McFatter sings “The Second Battle of Port Gibson.”They was gonna’ widen this highway.There was controversies which way was best.Some wanted to go to the east, others wanted to go west.Then we got the word, from the czar up at MDOT.He said we’re coming right down through the middle of town.And that’s whether you like it or not.CHORUSHere’s to Port Gibson, that pretty little town.It survived an attack by U.S. Grant.And fell to old Butch Brown.Yes, Port Gibson, prettiest town in the nation.That saved it from the Yankees, not the Department of Transportation.Well it rained for 40 days.And it rained for 40 nights.Bayou Pierre rose over its banks, the flood was an awful sight.Rev. Herrin led the congregation, they built a mighty ark.Would have been easier to gather at the sanctuary.But there wasn’t any place to park.Young girl picked up her picture book.She said “Grandpa, what could this be?”The old man just shook his head he said “Hon, that’s called a tree.”Used to grow on Church Street, all up and down each side.But when they built the new highway,They all shriveled up and died.I went down to the new highway To watch pedestrians try and cross.Crucifixes lined the curb, for those who had tried and lost.Some were taking their chances, others were taking bets.They’ll celebrate if someone gets across.Although, no one’s made it yet.The patrolman turned on his siren so loud.And then his lights so blue.The motorist did not check his speed, all through town he flew.When he finally got him he said, “Did you know I was a cop?”He said “Yes sir, and I would have pulled over.””But there wasn’t any place to stop.”Butch Brown came down to Port GibsonTo try and ease folks fearsHe stepped up to the podium, said “People lend me your ears.”He gave an eloquent speech, why his was the best solution.Nobody on Church Street heard him.They were deaf from the noise pollution.