Observations from an expatriate observer

Published 10:32 am Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My hometown doesn’t exist anymore. Vicksburg was not a particularly exciting place in the ’30s and ’40s, though those of us who grew up here loved it. We were young, had good friends, and were not as aware of our wider nation and world as are present day citizens.

In the ensuing years the residents of the city and state became more prosperous. People began to travel widely. In the days of my youth if anyone suggested that we who were white lived in a decadent society we would have been appalled. With the passing years we became cognizant that there was a lot more out there with which we were not familiar.

Mississippians started to become aware that not only demographic differences existed but also differences in lifestyles and opinions on a wide range of topics. We were a totally segregated society racially in the ’30s and ’40s. Yet those of us in all white schools never had a problem with other peoples’ religions or ethnic backgrounds. It mattered not who was Jewish, Lebanese or Italian. That attitude was of great help in adjusting to the dawning of a new age.

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In the latter part of the twentieth century enormous changes took place in the United States and in our state. The results of the civil rights movement enabled a sea change in how people of the area lived. With desegregation of the public schools, equal access to all public facilities and the guarantee of equality of voting rights society changed dramatically.

Much to the credit of visionaries Vicksburg adjusted to a new order and moved ahead. Later in the century a lot of new prosperity came to Vicksburg. In the eighties and nineties there was a growth spurt which saw the development of many new and beautiful residential subdivisions. New job opportunities arose, bringing a lot of new folks from around the country and the world. Hopefully Vicksburg is now on the cusp of a new burst of economic vitality and growth.

The interstate highway system came through town and progress was evident in the development of shopping malls as well as many other shops, restaurants, and specialized services of great variety. Many new hotels were built as the tourist trade expanded. Long neglected dirt streets in the city were paved. Many community efforts led to a “clean up – fix up” mentality.

Sadly, downtown began to deteriorate as shops closed their doors or moved to the strip malls along the interstate or on the new Mission 66 road. What had been the center of commerce and vitality became practically a dead zone. Professional offices left downtown, moving to modem office parks. As people moved to the suburbs many homes in the older parts of the city became abandoned and neglected.

What a difference a few years and many enlightened souls has made. While different than the formerly essential shopping area of the residents, Washington street and the surrounding area has recently blossomed in a rebirth. Finding a parking place on Washington Street has now become a challenge. Upper levels of what had been a bank, a hotel and a major department store have become lofts and apartments, along with vacant space above local shops.

The results are a booming downtown. In addition, casinos, along with the

Vicksburg National Military Park, are attracting growing numbers of tourists. The attractive and expanded shopping along the interstate is now accompanied by the recent redevelopment of downtown streets and shops, along with the restoration and rehabilitation of many homes, All of this has turned Vicksburg into a most attractive and charming city.

While Vicksburg can easily be located on a map, approximately equidistant between the two great cities of Memphis and New Orleans, it is not the city that I grew up in. Clearly my hometown doesn’t exist anymore. And Thank God for that.

Tom can be reached at tomramsey2@gmail.com