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Being Irish in Vicksburg

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A St. Patrick's Day souvenir postcard from 1921.

Wearing green on March 17 doesn’t make you Irish, but Vicksburg does have a close connection with the Emerald Isle.

There’s even a special place in Cedar Hill Cemetery for the Irish to be buried and it was appropriately called “Little Ireland” by the late Blaine Russell, the city’s beloved historian. There was once a sign on the site proclaiming it the “Irish Burying Ground,” and the metal posts that designate the boundaries were once painted green.

In the early days of the city, there were two classes of Irish, those who loved to fight and drink, and the more affluent who were referred to as “Lace Curtain Irish.” In times of trouble, the differences were forgotten as evidenced by the burying ground.

On June 22, 1858, a committee consisting of Charles Cox, Michael Brady and Tom Connors bought the burial plot, a tract 80-by-100 feet. All probably went well until the early 1920s when the righteous indignation of several citizens was aroused when it was discovered that the city had sold two lots that were part of the Irish tract to private citizens.

A lawsuit was brought by T.M. Morrissey, Edward B. Cummings and Frank M. Garvey “in their own right as individuals of Irish descent and as representatives and next friends to all other citizens and residents of said City of Irish descent…”

The suit was filed in 1923, and the legal document notes that the deed was delivered to the Irish citizens who “at once, or shortly thereafter, commenced to bury their dead in said lot so dedicated and have since continuously buried their dead therein up to a few years past, so that the remains of divers and sundry Irish citizens now rest in the said burial ground…”

Even before the suit was heard, just to make sure the boundaries were known, Frank, Arnold and Bernard Fisher along with J.B. Farrell and Robert Smith erected the posts at the corners on April 17, 1922. They are said to be the ones who painted them green.

Headstones mark many of the graves—Garvey, Whelan, Sheehan, Healey, Griffin, Murphy, and Hogan—but many more were never marked except possibly by wooden slabs.

The Irish have long figured prominently here in other ways than just being buried.

In 1861—Mississippi had just left the Union—St. Patrick’s Day was on a Sunday, but few thought about it as the formation of the new republic was on their minds. J.M. Swords, editor of the Daily Evening Citizen, wrote about a man named Morris who “thought he would take a spree to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.” He fell out of his skiff in the river. Rescued by two boys, he was alive but “very wet.”

The only attempt to celebrate the day, Swords wrote, was when one individual “adorned himself with a number of green turnip leaves, which he had tastefully arranged in his hat.” They were the closest he could find to represent the shamrock.

There was neither time and rarely a reason to celebrate the Irish holiday during the War Between the States, but both sides had Irish brigades. The South had a patriotic song celebrating such, and they also had an outstanding general of Irish birth, Gen. Patrick Cleburne, who lived in Arkansas.

Of the many stories about the war, and about what happened in Vicksburg, one especially sad tale comes to mind. There was an Irish lad who joined the Confederate Army, but after a while for reasons unknown, he decided to change sides. He was captured wearing the blue at Haynes Bluff north of Redwood, taken to prison in Vicksburg, and was recognized by a Confederate guard. The soldier was condemned to death for desertion and treason. The execution by firing squad took place near the entrance to Cedar Hill Cemetery, and he was buried in a grave, the exact location of which is unknown and unmarked.

Saint Patrick in stained glass from Saint Patrick Catholic Church, Junction City, Ohio. (Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39732088)

Over the decades many of the Catholic priests in Vicksburg have come from Ireland, and in 1920, Eamon de Valera visited here, made a speech at St. Francis, and collected funds to take home to use in fighting the British. A year later, de Valera became the first president of the Irish Republic after they threw off British rule and president of Ireland in 1959.

Many stories, and often jokes, have been told about the Irish who love to laugh, even at themselves. Blaine Russell told me this one:

A classified ad in an Irish newspaper read: “To Michael Duffy Sr., who left me and my infant son, Mike Jr., to Shift for Ourselves Twenty years ago—Dear Mike, if you will only come home my son Mike will take pleasure in knocking the Hell out of you.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

 

 

 

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Final day for comments on Corps’ Yazoo Backwater Pumps statement

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U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith spoke with flood victims at Valley Park, Miss., in 2019. (Photo by David Day)

Monday, Nov. 30 is the final day to submit comments on the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement in support of finishing the Yazoo Backwater Pumps. State officials are urging Mississippians to weigh in.

“We’ve seen the devastation that the backwater flooding has caused to Mississippi agriculture, farmers, ranchers and wildlife for years now, unnecessarily. The solution is simple, we need to finish the Yazoo Pump Project, which would prevent flood damage to urban and agricultural areas throughout the state for years to come,” said Andy Gipson, commissioner of agriculture and commerce, in a statement.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently accepting comments from citizens through Monday, Nov. 30, on the Yazoo Area Pump Project, and I encourage all Mississippians to take a moment and submit a comment of support. We need to stand up for our friends in the Mississippi South Delta and help them in their time of need. It’s time to finish the pumps.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann tweeted a brief video Monday in support of the finishing the pumps.

Comments must be submitted by Monday, Nov. 30. Submit comments using one of the following methods:

  • Text PUMPS to 50457.
  • Send a voicemail or text message to 601-392-2237.
  • Go to https://www.forgottenbackwaterflood.com/ or https://finishthepumps.com/ to fill out an online form to send to the Corps.
  • Fill out a postcard available at sites around the state including Valley Park Elevator in Valley Park, Lo-Sto and Yore Convenience Store in Eagle Lake, Mississippi Ag Company and Chuck’s Dairy Bar in Rolling Fork, Mississippi Levee Board and Sherman’s Restaurant in Greenville, Toney’s Grill in Vicksburg and the Mississippi Delta Council in Stoneville.
  • Send an email to [email protected]
  • Write to the Corps at the following address:
    District Engineer
    S. Army Corps of Engineers
    Vicksburg District
    4155 Clay Street
    Vicksburg, MS 39183-3435
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The old state flag with the Confederate battle emblem isn’t dead just yet

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The old flag of the State of Mississippi once flew along High Street between the Mississippi State Capitol, Supreme Court and Walter Sillers State Office Building in Jackson, Mississippi. (Photo by Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68498465)

Despite a massive vote on Nov. 3 in favor of a new Mississippi state flag that proclaims “In God We Trust,” additional official actions are needed to ensure the death knell for the 126-year-old state flag that features the Confederate battle emblem as part of its design.

During the 2021 legislative session that begins in January, lawmakers must ratify the new state flag approved by voters on Nov. 3. The bill passed this summer — which retired the old flag and formed a commission to recommend a new design (the “In God We Trust” flag) to be approved or rejected by voters on Nov. 3 — included a little-noticed provision that requires legislators to ratify the action of the voters.

That means lawmakers must take at least one more vote on the flag in the rapidly approaching legislative session.

In 2001, during an earlier failed attempt to change the state flag, legislators voted to hold a referendum where the choice would be between the old flag and a new design recommended by a commission. The bill passed by the Legislature that year stated that whatever flag voters approved would be the official flag of the state without any additional action by the Legislature. In 2001, voters overwhelmingly voted to retain the old flag.

But the bill approved this year states that once voters approved the new design, “the Legislature shall enact into law the new design as the official Mississippi state flag.” Of course, the courts have ruled that the word “shall” does not force legislators to do anything they do not want to do.

The vote to change the flag this past summer was a difficult one for many legislators to take, and several lawmakers have taken heat for it in their home districts. That begs the question of why language was put into the bill essentially forcing legislators to take yet another vote on the contentious issue. It seems the easier option would have been to mandate that the vote of the people for a new flag would ratify that banner as official.

As the bill was being crafted in June, concerns were raised about an 1860 Supreme Court case, Alcorn v. Hamer. Some said the ruling in that case could be interpreted to say it was unconstitutional for the Legislature to leave it to a vote of the people to enact general law.

Despite the controversy surrounding replacing the old flag, there is good reason to believe the ratification of the new flag by the Legislature during the 2021 session will be nothing more than a formality and will perhaps happen early in the session.

After all, more Mississippians voted for the new state flag on Nov. 3 than voted for President Donald Trump or U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. Heck, more people voted for the new flag than voted for medical marijuana, which also got more votes than Trump and Hyde-Smith.

The only ballot item receiving more votes than the new flag this year was the proposal to change the Constitution to remove the language requiring candidates for statewide office to garner both a majority of the popular votes and to win the most votes in a majority of House districts in order to win the election.

That proposal received 957,420 votes, or 79.2%, in still unofficial returns, while the flag garnered 939,585 vote, or 73.3%. Trump received 756,731 votes, or 57.5%.

Both the electoral provision that was repealed by voters and the old state flag were remnants of the 1890s, when Mississippi’s white power structure took extraordinary steps to deny basic rights to African Americans. The electoral provision was enacted as a method of preventing Black Mississippians, then a majority in the state, from being elected to statewide office.

Placing the Confederate battle emblem on the state’s official flag during the same time period, no doubt, was a way for white lawmakers to pay homage to the Civil War in which Southerners fought to preserve slavery.

Even if the Legislature, as expected, does ratify the new flag in 2021, the controversy may not be quite over. The Let Mississippi Vote political committee plans to try to garner the roughly 100,000 signatures of registered voters needed to place a proposal back on the ballot to allow people to choose between four flags — one being that 126-year-old banner.

Most likely later this month or early next month, the clock will start ticking on the one-year time frame supporters of that ballot initiative will have to gather the signatures to place the flag proposal on the ballot.

Whether Mississippians, who voted overwhelmingly for a new flag on Nov. 3, will want to vote again on the contentious issue remains to be seen.


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Vehicle takes out hydrant and utility pole

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Photo by David Day

A single vehicle collision has taken out a fire hydrant and a utility pole on Cherry at Baum.

Photo by David Day

At 10:40 p.m. E-911 Dispatch received a call that a dark blue Kia SUV had impacted a utility pole on Cherry Street near East. The first officer on scene called in that a fire hydrant had also been impacted and that water was gushing into the roadway.

Photo by David Day

Neither the driver or the passenger of the Kia was injured however a man was taken into custody at the scene.

No disruption of utility services in the area was noted and that traffic was flowing smoothly.

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