How Vicksburg celebrated the Fourth of July 1945

Published 6:36 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2019

In the summer of 1945 members of the Vicksburg Elk’s Lodge No. 95 came to my great uncle, Robert E. Selby, mayor of Vicksburg, and suggested it was time to celebrate the Fourth of July. According to my aunt, Mildred Parker Arias, the city had not celebrated the Fourth since 1907.

My great uncle reportedly said, “Why not?”

According to The Philadelphia Record, July 5, 1945, “Vicksburg cast aside its prejudices dating back to the Civil War and staged about the biggest show this historic old city ever saw.” The newspaper described Northern and Southern soldiers marching side by side.

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There was “Abe Lincoln” depicted by Norm Thayer, riding a white horse. There were men in Confederate uniforms, and there were girls in the consume of the old South. And there was the mayor, who told the Vicksburg citizens, “From today on there are no more die-hards in the South. We’re all one with the Union.”

Citizens of Vicksburg realized that their sons were fighting and dying with soldiers from the North on the battlefields of Europe and the islands of the Pacific. They realized theirs sons were being called “Yanks,” too. So Selby and the Chamber of Commerce got together and decided to celebrate the 4th of July.

And the only person who mentioned “damn Yankee” was the speaker of the day, Maj. Gen. Edward H. Brooks, commanding officer of the Fourth Service Command, who proudly boasted he was one. There was dancing in the streets, with Southern girls whirled around by Yankee soldiers. 

The U.S. Army sent a large detachment of soldiers from Camp Shelby and from Jackson. More than 15,000 of Vicksburg’s 25,000 residents lined the streets beneath magnolias and crepe myrtle trees.

The show was closed when B-29 bombers from Gulfport and B-17’s from Jackson Army Base flew over the city, some as low as 55 feet.

They flew over the old Civil War battlefield dropping flares. The planes dipped in silent tribute to the dead in the Confederate battlefield, dropping flares to honor the 13,000 unknown Union dead buried at Vicksburg.

And all of Vicksburg bowed in silent tribute to the dead of both the North and South.

“That proves,” said Selby, “that we’re all Yankees, I guess.”

“Gosh,” he said, “We’ve just got to do this every year. We like it.”

Unfortunately for my uncle, he died in office, Sept. 29, 1945.

He was the former Warren County superintendent of education in Warren County from 1935 to 1944 when he was elected mayor of Vicksburg. He graduated from Millsaps College and George Peabody with a Master’s Degree. As mayor, he and his wife, Lelia Bell, lived across the street the from city hall in the old Carroll Hotel.

On graduating from Millsaps College, it was said of him: “We know not what his greatness is. For that, for all, we love him more.”

Selby Parker Sr., Ed. D, is an author and lives in Clinton.