Vicksburg and Warren County have seen drastic changes in last 50 years

Published 7:57 pm Saturday, June 9, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series highlighting the year 1968 in Vicksburg and how the town has changed over the last 50 years.

The year 1968 changed America forever.

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In the span of 12 months, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, man made it to the moon for the first time, protests against the Vietnam War ignited throughout the country and more.

Although the strife of that year led to no significant events in Vicksburg, the impact of everything happening nationwide were still felt locally, and 50 years later Alonzo Stevens says he can still remember the crying and the anger that was felt at Rosa A. Temple High School when King was killed in Memphis.

It was a time of segregation in Vicksburg, with separate schools and businesses with separate entrances for blacks and whites.

“I go all the way back to when there were no black elected officials in Vicksburg and remember when we had the old theater here and the blacks had to go through the side and go to the top and the whites were on the bottom,” North Ward Alderman Mike Mayfield said.

In the 50 years since the turbulent times of 1968, America has undergone profound changes, and Vicksburg and Warren County are no different.

Mayfield said he can remember boycotts of businesses downtown during the period of integration and said that he thinks that era, “probably saw the biggest change here in Vicksburg/Warren County that has happened since probably the 1950s.”

The schools were integrated in the early 1970s and much like 1968 when things mostly remained quiet despite the turmoil throughout the country, Stevens and Mayfield both said that for the most part integration went smoothly in Warren County.

“I was surprised even as a young guy in the system that it went quite well. I went through most of your integration here in Warren County,” Mayfield said. “There was a lot of fear, but I don’t remember anything drastic happening. I think the kids got along quite well. I think it went a lot better than most people expected it to.”

Stevens said they thought it would blow up, but the new Vicksburg High School came together and rallied behind the football team, which was chosen as state champions in the first year there was an integrated team.

“When it came together and the winning started, it went smoothly. It radiated through the whole school and student body,” Sevens said.

Another big change came to the schools in the 1980s when they merged the county and city school systems into the Vicksburg Warren School District. Once again it was sports that helped bring the community together, Stevens said, as people lined the street when Vicksburg and Warren Central played football for the first time.

In those same 50 years, downtown went from being the shopping destination for the area into a slow period before picking back up in recent years and starting to boom once again with new restaurants and stores opening. Also in just the last 20 years the casinos came to Vicksburg, permanently changing the area’s economy.

“I graduated high school in the mid 60s and it was great,” Norma Massey, who owns Frederick’s Boutique, said. “We had all types of boutique shops and specialty stores. We had not just one shoes store, but several and great gift shops. I think the main difference is over time, you have seen the stores morph into not just one thing like they used to be. Now, you see that a lot of the stores have a lot of things.”

When asked about how the town has changed in the last five decades, Mayfield and Joe Loviza, who is a former mayor, both mentioned the devastating impact the closing of Letourneau had on the area. That has been followed in recent years with the closing of Armstrong and the recent sale and restructuring at Anderson Tully, all of which have lost large numbers of jobs in town.

“Letourneau was kind of an anchor for Vicksburg and Warren County,” Mayfield said. “They employed a lot of people and were an integral part of this overall community. The first time they went down it was devastating because you had a couple hundred people who were furloughed or laid off. We have gone through some serious recessions in Vicksburg and Mississippi.”

The times have changed, and Vicksburg is looking like it will be transformed again in the coming years. A technology transfer center to capitalize on the Army Engineer Research and Development Center is in the works, there are talks of an international art museum downtown and the school system is working on a facility plan that will see changes at every school in the county.

“This is the only place I have been in my life so I have watched it transform and I have watched people integrate here and be apart of a community,” Stevens said. “We still have some problems and some little things, but overall I have found no place any better than Vicksburg, Mississippi.”