Today I visited Philadelphis, MS with my sister. She was gathering notes for an upcoming article on the town for Mississippi Magazine. I'm her critic, editor, and sounding board.
What made this trip worthwhile for me was to see how the town has progressed from the days of the Civil Rights era. There was definitely a vibrancy around the town square. Gone were the hokey stores that once faced the town square. In their places were an up-to-date coffee shop serving just about any kind of coffee we're used to having at a local Starbucks; jewelry stores, antique corners, dress shops. An active theatre group uses the old downtown theatre.
Our job was to talk to local folks, including the shopkeepers, and get a sense of their continued interest in Philadelphis. The first person interviewed was eating at our table at Peggy's, a family-owned luncheonette in an old home two blocks from Main Street. Tony is about 40 years old and when he answered our question about his living there, he embarked on the story of how he moved from larger cities to this small town to raise his daughter. He felt safe, he said, to let his daughter wander around town on any given day without fear, how pleased he was of the school system, how comfortable it was to have withing the town square all the stores one could ask for, without going to any chains.
Next, we visited a store whose main attraction was hand-painted tees. A smiling owner warned us about tripping over the holiday boxes of garland and ornaments currently being used on the interior trees. She told us of her 6 year enjoyment of her store, which arose from the hand-painted signs she had created for years for owners of cabins of the Neshoba County Fair. The tee designs were most unusual, despite being the usual Santa and his reindeer.
We strolled to the coffee shop and was surprised to see how cozy the interior was. As most coffee enterprises, there were bags of flavored coffee beans, individual cookies, and any coffee, tea, cider, or chocolate milk drink available. We remarked on the stage area and were told they were for visiting bands. But the fact that the downtown area closes for the day at five p.m., it was difficult to have bands play to near empty seats.
Finishing our lattes we jumped into the car and made our way outside the area to where the Choctaw Indian compound was. This includes a school, museum, tribal council headquarters, Headstart, and a multiple of Indian businesses were located. The Choctaws today are the descendants of the approximately 1100 Indians who refused to move to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears. From that humble beginning and the leadership of Chief Martin, a multibillion dollar campus was created giving the Indians jobs. Two casinos and an outstanding golf course lures out of staters as well as Mississippians to this area.
Just down the road is the famous Williams store, which sells under one roof clothes, shoes, groceries, bacon and hoop cheese slice as you please. I failed to pick up sweet potatoes at thirty-nine cents a pound. This store has occupied the same spot sine the early 1920's. They like to boast that Archie Manning used to work there summers. Sister and I know that Archie didn't meet Olivia Williams until Ole' Miss days, but we didn't let on to anybody. I taught school with Archie's mother in Drew, a small Delta town. At that time Archie was perhaps elementary school age. Around her any and every one has an Archie story.
By 3:30 Sis and I were content that we had felt the tone of the town and hoped that after our generation had passed on, that the stigma of Philadelphia's past would
have faded and the town grown beyond expectation. We drove to the interstate on a two-lane road, watching beautiful rolling fields pass by, glad to know that this town was getting back on its feet.