In response to last week’s column comparing the negative publicity McComb was receiving in 1964 and today, someone raised the question:
“How did McComb get past the bad publicity 55 years ago?”
The short answer is the town started getting good publicity based on a series of progressive steps over the next quarter century — the most notable one being the cessation of what was causing the bad image.
News from McComb took a positive turn in the fall of 1964, following a summer in which the town appeared on the brink of having martial law imposed after African-Americans took to the streets following the bombing of a home in Burglund, one of a series of such events.
In October, 11 local men were arrested in connection with the racial violence, nine of whom were indicted by a grand jury. The nine pleaded guilty or no contest and received suspended sentences. But the conditions of their probation — if there was any more such incidents they would go to prison — seemed to put the whole community on probation. The bombings stopped.
Then, in November, following a meeting at City Hall, which resulted from previous smaller meetings of leading citizens, 650 people signed a “statement of principles” calling for an end to violence and adherence to the law, even statutes with which they disagreed. By then the 1964 federal civil rights law had passed and the 1965 Voting Rights Act was soon to follow.
National media reported positively on the statement, and McComb seemed to move out of a dark period.
Restaurants that previously served only whites began to accept black customers without incident.
The public schools were desegregated without violence and for years the McComb School District was recognized as one of high quality. The district boasted of being a model school.
A moderate and progressive city board and mayor were elected by the end of the decade with black voter support.
The board consisted mostly of business owners and bank executives who had vested interests in the overall well-being of the community.
A years-long fight to build a new publicly owned hospital in McComb finally came to fruition in 1969, when what is now Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center was opened.
In conjunction with locating the hospital where it is, what was previously the McComb Airport was moved to Fernwood and became a larger facility, jointly owned by the city and the county.
Moving the airport opened up space for medical facilities near the hospital as well as expanding the airport.
None of this came without controversy and infighting among various factions with different visions. Sometimes tempers flared.
Nor was every idea during what I consider a progressive era for McComb a good one.
Turning Main Street into a walking mall, under an Urban Renewal program, failed to live up to expectations in preserving a vibrant downtown.
But even that, at least temporarily, identified McComb as a progressive town.
To say that McComb was ever Utopia would certainly be a stretch. But it does seem to me that the city had a pretty good image for a quarter century or more after those bad days in the early 1960s.
Businesses began moving in and expanding with the opening of new shopping centers and a mall. That was before the internet began to take its toll on local retailing. Sales tax revenue was increasing instead of decreasing.
The public library was expanded and the Pike County Arts Council was organized and brought in some top-flight cultural events and entertainment.
Certainly some negative news came out of McComb during the latter part of the 20th century. But there were enough positive developments to outweigh the negative.
So, it seems, if the present mayor and board want to stop people from talking negatively about McComb, give them some positive things to talk about.