Signs unveiled honoring ’39 disaster
Published 12:32 am Sunday, March 30, 2014
Clear Creek was swollen Saturday morning with swift moving water from heavy rains — almost like it was 75 years ago on the night of March 29, 1939, when high water took out the center of the bridge, setting the scene for Mississippi’s worst highway disaster in which 16 people lost their lives.
Saturday, residents from both sides of the Hinds/Warren County line, the relatives of the victims and the man who risked his life to help get the cars out of the water drove west on U.S. 80 in a motorcade of more than 100 vehicles, to gather at the bridge and remember the tragedy and the efforts of Andrew “Sugarman” Daniel, a black laborer from Edwards, who was among the first people at the scene of the tragedy.
The Town of Edwards also held a festival honoring Daniel in conjunction with the memorial featuring different events and a Sugarman look alike contest.
Because the bridge collapsed at night, drivers approaching the bridge were unable to see the damage and went over the edge of the break and into the water.
Daniel arrived to the scene as soon he heard the bridge had washed out. After several unsuccessful attempts to stop passing vehicles, Daniel, who was well-known in Edwards, headed into the creek to begin hooking cables to vehicles and pulling bodies out of the water. He was later awarded $44.27 by the Warren County Sheriff’s Department. He died in 1969.
In a series of brief ceremonies late Saturday morning, officials from Warren and Hinds counties unveiled highway signs — one in Warren County east of the Clear Creek bridge, and another in Hinds County east of the Big Black River bridge — dedicating the estimated 1-mile stretch of highway the “Andrew ‘Sugarman’ Daniel Memorial Highway,” and later laid a wreath under a sign dedicated to the memory of the 16 people who died in the accident.
Signs marking the section of highway dedicated to Daniel were unveiled in Hinds and Warren County. Sheriff Martin Pace, Supervisor Charles Selmon and Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. unveiled the Warren County sign.
“I think this (honoring Daniel and the victims) is a great thing to do,” said Michael Meek of Canton. Meek’s father, Leroy Meek, of Canton was driving one of the cars that went into the creek. “His brother, Marcus Meek, was a passenger, and they had two ladies in the car with them, Margaret Turner and Ann Guice. My father was the only one who survived.”
Linda Slade and her granddaughter, Kristin Shields, from Florence, joined Slade’s sister, Diane Hayes of Jackson, to remember their grandfather, Fred C. Matthews, who died in the accident.
“I think this is awesome because of the man’s bravery to go in and save people like he did,” she said.
Bill Lee of Ridgeland, who was in Edwards to witness the dedication, said he was glad to see Daniel be recognized for his efforts.
“I first heard about this (the accident) 65 years ago,” Lee. “My daddy was a highway patrolman, and he worked it. The (Mississippi) Highway (Safety) Patrol was just a year old then. I never knew the man’s name. All I know is my daddy telling me he was a big black man who went in and was pulling bodies out and helping get the cars out. It’s great to see this happen.”
J. C. Brown, who was 5 when the accident occurred, said his family lived just west of the Clear Creek bridge. He described the scene as “a mess. I can remember it rained hard that night. There were cars still in the water a year after the accident. I don’t think they ever got all of them out. When the water’s low, you can see the pilings from the temporary bridge they put up.”
Ruby Washington, Daniel’s great-niece, never met her uncle, “but my daddy talked about him all the time. I only wish I had listened more closely.”
Looking at the sign honoring her great-uncle, she said, “I’m so happy today. This is a great joy for this family … all of us.”
“He loved people and would do anything to help them, and he loved his dogs,” said Bessie Walton of Vicksburg, who was 10 and living in Edwards at the time of the bridge accident and knew Daniel. “Every time he came to town, when he was just outside the city limits, he’d holler ‘Sugarman’s here!’ just as loud as he could. This (the dedication) should have come sooner.”