Page 1

Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Fox Conner MAJOR GENERAL Born in Slate Spring, and raised in Calhoun County, Mississippi, Fox Conner entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1894. He was bestowed many honors during his military career, the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Croixde-Guerre among them. He served in both world wars and was commended for his work as chief plans and operations staff officer for the American Expeditionary Forces. What is arguably most remarkable about his service years is the mentorship he gave to a group of younger Army officers during World War II who later went on to greatness – John J. Pershing, George C. Marshall, George S. Patton, and, most notably, Dwight D. Eisenhower. In his autobiography, At Ease, Eisenhower describes his tour of duty as being one of the most constructive of his life and gives credit to his brigade commander. “General Fox Conner – a tall easygoing Mississippian – practical, down-to-earth, and as open and honest as any man I have ever known,” Eisenhower wrote. The former president referred to his time with Conner as a “Graduate school in military affairs.” After serving his country for 44 years, Conner retired from active duty in 1938. He died in 1951, at the age of 77, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Mississippi and the entire country are proud to call Major General Fox Conner one of their own. ■ Above right: General Fox Conner in Panama, 1924–signed for John Eisenhower. Photo courtesy of the Calhoun County Journal (file photo). Original photo is from the Eisenhower Library.

1874 -1951 M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 73


74 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Charlie Conerly LEGENDARY QUARTERBACK Ole Miss’ run of star quarterbacks over six decades— from Jake Gibbs to Eli Manning — all started with Charlie Conerly.

we were out on a seven-man patrol. Roach was the point man. He had two rifles shot out of his hand that day and

He was the original Marlboro man and the toast of New

just kept going. He knew what his job was, and he

York in the 1950s when the Giants were the only

went out and did it. That was just typical Roach.”

National Football League team in America’s largest city. “He was the Mickey Mantle of football in New York,”

Conerly returned to Ole Miss for the ‘46 and ‘47 seasons. His senior year was Coach Johnny Vaught’s

says Gibbs, who played baseball for the New York

first with the Rebels. Together, they led the team to a 9-2

Yankees during the 1960s. “And for kids like me, who

record and the SEC championship. Conerly finished fourth

grew up in Grenada and dreamed of becoming a

in the Heisman Trophy voting.

quarterback one day ... well, you idolized guys like Charlie Conerly.”

In a subtle way, his outstanding play helped the Rebels sign another legendary quarterback two decades later –

Conerly’s only fault was that he played

Archie Manning of Drew. His dad, Buddy Manning, was

at a time when the NFL was just starting

a huge Conerly fan. Archie’s first memories of profes-

to get its legs. The players and fans of

sional football were of watching Conerly on TV.

New York knew how great he was.

Conerly was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 1948

So did his opponents. But this was

and was named All-Pro four times. In 14 seasons with

before games were televised in prime time, before ESPN and the NFL Network. His amazing accomplishments are relegated to record books and black-and-white footage. “But Charlie Conerly was great, and I hope people remember just how great he was,” said Gibbs, who also was a star quar-

the Giants, he completed 1,418 of 2,833 passes for 19,488 yards and 173 touchdowns. On December 28, 1958, Conerly participated in what many call the NFL’s greatest game. The Baltimore Colts defeated the Giants 23-17 in overtime at Yankee Stadium for the league title,

terback at Ole Miss, from 1958 through 1960. “I was always

but the game’s drama, and the fact that it was televised nation-

amazed at how fast he got back to set up in the pocket. He

ally by NBC, helped the NFL gain much-needed momentum.

had a really strong arm. And he was a winner. He won the

Conerly was brilliant that day. He led the Giants from a 14-3

[Southeastern Conference] championship [in 1947]. He won

halftime deficit to a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter. He drove the

a bowl game [13-9 over Texas Christian University]. And he

Giants 95 yards for a score in the third quarter, then passed 15

won with the Giants.

yards to Frank Gifford to put the Giants ahead. The Colts’ Steve

“He was a great baseball player, too,” Gibbs adds, opening an Ole Miss baseball media guide and thumbing through the

Myhra kicked a 20-yard field goal to tie the score with 7 seconds left in regulation. Alan Ameche’s 1-yard run won it for Baltimore.

“records” section. “Just look at what he did in ‘48.” Conerly bat-

Conerly, who returned to Clarksdale following his career with

ted an amazing .451, getting 32 hits in 71 at-bats in 22 games.

the Giants, died February 13, 1996 due to complications following

But Conerly, who carried the nickname “Roach,” was much

heart surgery. His widow (and a former sports reporter whom

more than an outstanding athlete. After playing the 1942 season

he met while at Ole Miss), Perian, wrote a book, Backseat

at Ole Miss, he joined the Marines and was sent to the World

Quarterback (University Press of Mississippi, 2003), detailing

War II battlefront. Paul Fugate, who was in the same Marine

what it was like to be married to one of New York’s biggest stars.

unit as Conerly, told Rick Cleveland of The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson: “We were in a mortar platoon. One day

Each year, Mississippi’s top collegiate football player is presented a trophy bearing Conerly’s name. ■

The Cellular South Conerly Trophy has been awarded annually to the best college football player in Mississippi since 1996. Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum.

1921-1996 M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 75


76 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Cat Cora AMERICA’S FIRST FEMALE IRON CHEF America’s first female Iron Chef knew cooking was her passion

on her second book, Cooking From The Hip, which will also be

from an early age. Raised in Jackson by a family of great cooks,

developed into a show. She has hosted and co-hosted numerous

Cat’s childhood was filled with traditions and celebrations reflect-

shows on the Food Network, including Kitchen Accomplished,

ing her Greek and Southern heritage that centered around lovingly

Melting Pot and My County, My Kitchen: Greece and now Iron

prepared meals. Both her grandfather and godfather were

Chef America. Cat launched her talk show September 2005

restaurateurs, and by the time she was fifteen she had already

called The Cat Cora Show with Viacom and KPIX in San

presented a business plan to them for her very own restaurant.

Francisco. A regular on morning television, Cat has appeared

Her godfather owned The Continental, Shamrock, and then

on The Today Show, The Wayne Brady Show, Living It Up With

Peter J’s. Her mother, Virginia, father, Spiro, and

Jack and Ali, Tony Danza, CBS Early Show, and

beloved late grandmother, Alma, introduced her

several times on Regis and Kelly. She was one of

to a variety of cooking styles and techniques

the featured hosts for the Fine Living Channel’s

that would prove helpful in later life.

Simplify Your Life and her first participation in

Cat graduated from Wingfield High School

the prestigious James Beard Dinner in 2002

and then the University of Southern Mississippi

was captured on film in a documentary, Cat’s

with a degree in exercise physiology and biolo-

In the Kitchen.

gy. During college, she cooked at an Italian

Cat has been featured in Vanity Fair, Glamour,

bistro and a private dining club preparing clas-

Women’s Day Magazine, Bon Appetit, and Good

sical French cuisine. She credits Julia Child,

Housekeeping.

whom she met at a book signing in Natchez, for guiding her to the The Culinary Institute of

In January 2005, Cat became president and founder of Chefs for Humanity (CFH), a grassroots

America in Hyde Park where she graduated

coalition of chefs and culinary professionals who

with honors. While in New York, she appren-

came together initially in response to the tsunami

ticed with and then worked for Chef Anne

tragedy. Ironically, just eight months later CHF

Rozenweig at Arcadia and at the Beekman tav-

would respond to a tragedy in Cat’s home state.

ern under Chef Larry Forgione of An American Place. Her culinary education continued in Europe with apprentice-

Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, Cat rallied her fellow chefs and headed for the Gulf Coast where they prepared hot

ships with two of France’s three-star Michelin chefs: George

meals for victims three times a day. CHF partnered with

Blanc and Roger Verge. After returning to New York, she

America’s Second Harvest to ramp up depleted supplies of

worked as a sous chef at The Old Chatham Shepherding

food and with ONTHERAIL and CIRA to connect displaced

Company before heading west to accept the position of Chef

food industry workers with job offers and a place to stay. Cat

de Cuisine in Napa Valley’s Bistro Don Giovanni. She served as

also participated in Mississippi Rising, a national benefit concert

executive chef of Postino for five years. During that time,

and in a fall fundraiser for the Governors’ Relief Fund.

JONATHAN POSTAL

Postino received three star reviews, and Cat was voted Best Chef of the Region for 2002. Cat has cooked for such luminaries as Jacques Pepin,

This drive to help others is something Cat learned from her parents who told her that true success had more to do with being a positive light in the world than skills and talent. Cat

Robert Mondavi, Wolfgang Puck, and Bill Gates. She published

and her family live in Northern California, but she visits family

her first cookbook, Cat Cora’s Kitchen in 2004 and is working

and friends in Mississippi often. ■

Above: Cat with her mother in Mississippi preparing. The gracious hostess serves her grandmother.

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 77


Eddie Cotton HOME-GROWN BLUESMAN Jumping from a seat at his friend’s local bakery, an

eyes literally gleam. He completely inhabited the tortured musi-

animated Eddie Cotton – Real Blues 2004 Entertainer of the

cian, doing all of the guitar and vocal work himself. He stops

Year – asserts with equal parts disillusionment and frustration

just short of calling it a spiritual experience.

that music that passes as “the blues” today is usually generated far from the Mississippi Delta and generally played by

A classic Cotton performance is spotlighted in Last of the Mississippi Jukes, a documentary about the final days of

musicians who – however talented – are unaware of the

Farish Street’s fabled Subway Lounge; additionally, his music

music’s history.

has been heard in the feature films John John in the Sky

Pausing for emphasis, he wonders aloud how to reverse this trend. And, who better to ponder this inequity than a true

(2000) and The Rising Place (2001). In addition to distinguishing himself as a master of a genre

Mississippi prodigy – educated in music theory – who has

erroneously perceived as dead or dying, Cotton admits to

played for years in Jackson’s clubs and headlined countless

being on a “mission” of sorts. He is not shy about asserting

festivals nationwide.

that listeners and fans – particularly “young black America” –

A pastor’s son and guitar virtuoso from age four, he grew up listening to the Delta masters and spent several years as music minister at his father’s Clinton church. Today, his record-

need to learn that the blues represent a vital art form as relevant today as several generations ago. “The blues have totally lost the young audience,” he says,

ings obliterate the lines that record labels typically use to peg

noting that the situation would improve mightily if more musi-

artists into “one” specific musical style. And anyway, Cotton

cians were industry entrepreneurs. Indeed, he plans to open a

maintains, it all – soul, gospel, dance, funk, rock, and

Jackson club in the future in an effort to reinvigorate the nascent

country – comes back to the blues.

Mississippi blues scene.

He is equally comfortable, “Wading in the slow, down and

He visualizes an America of all ages and colors that discov-

dirty blues or swimming top-speed through faster jams,”

ers and embraces the sheer emotional power of the music, but

according to one reviewer. His live performances are becoming

acknowledges that he can’t really count on a true break, or on

word-of-mouth “events” across America.

anybody but himself. But, ultimately, historically, that’s how the

Heralded by many as the most exciting blues musician to appear in decades, Cotton’s reverence for his craft is appar-

best have gotten themselves heard. Much of the country hasn’t heard the first of this passionate

ent. Ask him, for example, about playing Robert Johnson in an

musician, and Eddie Cotton’s here to make sure that no one’s

award-winning short film, Stop Breakin’ Down (1999) and his

heard the last of him. ■

A pastor’s son and guitar virtuoso from age four.

78 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Š SUZI ALTMAN

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 79


© MLB PHOTOS VIA GETTY IMAGES

80 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Dizzy Dean B A S E B A L L P L AY E R He sometimes went by the names Jay Hanna and Jerome Herman,

effervescent personality spilled over into his playing and created

claimed to have been born in an array of states, and was consid-

an amiable baseball character to which people truly responded.

ered to be one of the most boastful sports figures ever to don a

Dean’s over-the-top personality that, at first, seemed to shock the

baseball uniform. But as Dizzy Dean once said in response to a

nation actually managed to lighten the spirits of war-torn, depres-

reporter’s insinuation that he bragged too much, “It ain’t braggin if

sion era America. And Dizzy’s continued success on the field

you can back it up.” And back it up is exactly what baseball leg-

certainly did not hurt his image or popularity.

end Dizzy Dean always seemed able to do with ease. Dizzy Dean was born in Lucas, Arkansas, January 16, 1910,

Dean made the All Star team for four consecutive years (19341937), but it was an injury he suffered in the 1937 All-Star game

the son of Albert and Alma Dean, but made his home in a num-

that, many say, began the decline of his celebrated pitching career.

ber of states throughout his lifetime, including Arkansas, Texas,

During that game, Dizzy was hit by a line drive, and the ball broke

and Mississippi. Dean finally settled in Bond, Mississippi, his wife

a toe on Dean’s left foot. Sources say he tried to pitch before the

Patricia’s hometown, in the early sixties.

bone was healed, which changed his pitching stance, and ulti-

Dizzy lost his mother at the age of 8 and began working with

mately, caused him to develop bursitis in his right shoulder. He was

his father and brother, Paul, as an itinerant cotton picker. Although

not the same pitcher after that, and his dominant pitching days

his father was a former semiprofessional baseball player, and

seemed to be waning. He continued to play for several years with

probably taught both boys something about the game, Dizzy

some success, but it was obvious that Dean’s days as the

liked to say that he and his brother developed their pitching

record-breaking, larger-than-life pitcher were over.

skills by throwing hickory nuts at squirrels.

Little could stop Dizzy from continuing to make a name for himself,

Dizzy Dean, considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time, literally burst upon the big league scene in 1932 when he was called

however. After retiring from baseball, he hit the airwaves as a successful and lovable sports announcer. He managed to gather a devoted

up to the majors from the Cardinals farm team after his remarkable

following although he had his share of detractors as well. His broad-

performance in the semiprofessional league gained much notice. Until

casting style, full of the same types of oddities as his baseball per-

1974, Dean was the last National League pitcher to record 30 wins

sona, both endeared him to the public and caused a few rumblings.

in a single season when he and the Cardinals famed “Gas House

He was famous for coining his own words and using down home

Gang” named for their fiery attitude toward the game and their fun-

phrases like, “He slud into third.” Despite his obvious grammatical

loving style of play led the team to the World Championship in 1934.

woes, in 1953, Dean became baseball’s first national television

He continued to set records and astound fans as he became the

broadcaster as host of the nationally televised “Game of the Week”

premier pitcher during the 1930s. He once set a National League

show until 1965. During that time, he and his wife returned to her

record for striking out 17 Chicago Cubs in a single game. Then, in

hometown, Bond, where they finally settled.

1934, the Cardinals added Dean’s brother Paul to their lineup and with

Dizzy Dean’s major league baseball career was short in compari-

the Dean brothers at the helm, St. Louis dominated the league and

son to others, but it was also one of the most successful of all time.

took home a National League Pennant that year. Dean always man-

Because of his winning record, he was inducted into the National

aged to come through on whatever prediction he made, and after

Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953. At the ceremony, in characteristic

brother Paul (Daffy) Dean joined the Cardinals, Dean boasted that the

Dizzy style Dean said, “This is the greatest honor I have ever received,

family pitching team would win 45 games, a crazy prediction consid-

and I wanna thank the Lord for givin’ me a good right arm, a strong

ering that Paul had yet to pitch a game in the majors. The Dean broth-

back, and a weak mind.” Dizzie Dean died on July 17, 1974, in Las

ers made good on that promise, actually topping that with 49 wins. Dizzy Dean’s playing did more than garner attention, however. His

Vegas, and was buried in Bond, Mississippi. His number (17) was retired by the St. Louis Cardinals that same year. ■

Dizzy Dean #17 of the St. Louis Cardinals. Dean played for the Cardinals in 1930 and from 1932-37.

1910 -1974 M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 81


82 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Bo Diddley R O C K N R O L L O R I G I N AT O R Bo Diddley is one of the most distinct guitar players of all time

Blues Award. Diddley also appeared on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of

who, it has been argued, invented rock and roll, as we know it

The Town CBS-TV show in 1955.

today. Diddley created a one-of-a-kind sound, as unique as his

From this point on Bo Diddley, known as The Originator,

trademark custom-built rectangular Gretsch electric guitar. The

began to shape and define the American music landscape

Bo Diddley sound of driving rhythms, often referred to as the

going on to record the songs: “You Don’t Love Me” (1955),

Bo Diddley beat, and hard-edged guitar riffs influenced genera-

“Diddley Daddy” (1955), “Pretty

tions of artists for more than 50 years. Bo Diddley was born Ellas Bates in rural Pike County, Mississippi,

Thing” (1955), “Diddy Wah Diddy” (1956), “Who Do You Love?”

on December 30, 1928. In the mid 1930s he was adopted by his

(1956), “Mona” (1957), “Road

mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel, and moved to the south side

Runner” (1960), and “You Can’t

of Chicago changing his name to Ellas McDaniel. After moving

Judge a Book by Its Cover”

to Chicago he began taking violin lessons from Professor O.W.

(1962). Bo Diddley was one of, if

Frederick at the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. A student

not, the first individual responsible

of the violin for years, Diddley yearned to play the guitar. His sis-

for the new sound that would be

ter, Lucille, is credited with giving him his first guitar for Christmas

called rock and roll. Diddley’s con-

in 1940. Around this same time he picked up the nickname, Bo

tributions to American music are

Diddley. There are numerous versions of where the name origi-

tremendous. Artists such as Elvis Presley, George Thorogood, The

nated, but Diddley is quoted by Barbara Beebe in the article,

Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, The Doors, The Clash, Buddy Holly,

The Father Who Knows Best: Bo Diddley Gets Strict, “Bo Diddley

Prince, The Everly Brothers, Eric Clapton, and Run DMC have

is me. To tell ya the truth, I don’t know what it really is, but the

all acknowledged the unique influences of Bo Diddley upon

kids in grammar school started calling me Bo Diddley when I

their styles of music.

was around 11 or 12 years old in Chicago.”

Bo Diddley continued to tour and perform enjoying as

Fascinated by the rhythms he heard coming from sanctified

much or more success in England as he did in racially turbulent

churches, he played the guitar as if he were playing the drums.

America. Many different artists have covered his songs with

He continued to practice through his early teens, and before

great success over the years. At 77 years old, Bo Diddley is still

leaving school, he formed his first group, a trio named The Hipsters,

performing and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of

who later became known as the Langley Avenue Jive Cats after

Fame, the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, The North Florida

the Chicago street where he lived. Diddley pursued a variety of

Music Hall of Fame, the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame, and

low paying occupations, including boxing, all the while supple-

the Hollywood Rock Walk. Diddley has received a lifetime

menting his income by playing guitar on the streets of Chicago

achievement award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, the

working up to eventually playing inside clubs. After more than a decade of playing around Chicago, Diddley

Governor’s award by the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) in honor of

PHOTOS: © F. SCOTT SCHAFER

recorded two songs he had written. Record companies rejected

his support for the homeless, a lifetime achievement award

him numerous times until he took the recording to Chess Records.

from The Recording Academy, a Pioneer in Entertainment

Diddley rerecorded the two songs, making changes suggested

Award from the National Association of Black Owned Broad-

by Chess, and released a double-sided record entitled Bo

casters, and the BMI Icon Award in recognition of his many

Diddley / I’m A Man in 1955 on the Chess subsidiary label

contributions to contemporary music.

Checker Records. The release went straight to the top of the

Bo Diddley, a man born in rural Mississippi under unfavorable

Rhythm and Blues charts and has been hailed as one of the

conditions, changed the American music industry and possibly

most influential debut singles in history. “I’m A Man” earned

the world with nothing more than determination, a guitar, and

Diddley his first Broadcast Music, Inc., or BMI, Rhythm and

a desire to be different from anybody else. ■

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 83


© HENRY DILTZ/CORBIS

84 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Willie Dixon I N N O VAT O R , I M P R E S A R I O , A N D C R U S A D E R ▼

“instant immortality” when

a top recording artist. One of the originators of the electric

Muddy Waters recorded his

blues sound, he could read, write, compose, and arrange

“Hoochie Coochie Man.”

music – attributes that both destined him for pioneer status,

But he made little actual

and set him up for the poverty that usually accompanied

money, despite having written

such renown. But, he fought hard to benefit materially, suc-

a litany of blues standards:

cessfully suing mega-band Led Zeppelin for its unauthorized

“Back Door Man,” “I Can’t

use of two songs. Growing up in Vicksburg, he began rhyming practically

VICKSBURG POST

Willie Dixon’s legacy was assured even if he hadn’t been

Quit You Baby,” “You Shook Me,” “The Seventh Son,”

everything he said, a habit he picked up from his mother, a

and “Wang Dang Doodle,”

writer of religious poetry. Like so many of his generation, he

among others. In 1964, the

moved to Chicago to try his luck as a singer – and as a boxer.

Rolling Stones hit number

After sparring with Joe Louis, he won the 1937 Illinois Golden

one in Britain with “Little Red Rooster,” the first time a

Gloves championship before signing with Chess Records as a

blues record had topped anything but the American R&B charts.

bassist, songwriter, producer, scout, and arranger, gaining

At the same time, a European promoter initiated the American Folk-Blues Festival, inviting top musicians to tour the continent. Dixon organized these shows for over a decade, recording on his own as well and earning much more than he ever saw from Chess. In the early 1980s, after finally and satisfactorily resolving those issues, he founded the Blues Heaven Foundation to aid musicians who, like himself, had been deprived of revenue during previous decades. When he died in 1992, the multidimensional Willie Dixon was eulogized as an innovator, impresario, and crusader. ■ Blues musician Willie Dixon attends the filming of a Rob Wasserman music video.

1915-1992

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 85


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

ACTOR, PRODUCER, DIRECTOR, AND AUTHOR Stella Stevens was born Estelle Caro Eggleston in 1938; she is a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi. Her family moved to Memphis when she was four. While attending the University of Memphis, she was given a positive review by the Press Scimitar for her role in Bus Stop. She credits the review with sparking her career. The true boost came while she was modeling in the Goldsmith’s department stores tearoom in downtown Memphis. A press agent for United Artists said if she could get herself to New York he would introduce her to executives at Twentieth Century Fox. She made it to New York and was signed with Fox, and later to Columbia and Paramount. Stevens has made hundreds of appearances in film, television, and the stage. She has also produced and directed films and television shows. In January of 1960, she was Playboy magazine’s “Playmate of the Month.” She won a Golden Globe Award for ‘Most Promising Newcomer-Female,” the same year. Her first novel, Razzle Dazzle, was published in 1999. In 2005, she was voted number 27 in the 100 Sexiest Women of the 19th Century, an honor for which she is most proud. She credits her Mississippi roots to making her a “country girl at heart,” preferring to grow and prepare her own food. She credits healthy eating and exercise for maintaining her hourglass figure, which she says, “Has been the same forever.” Currently living in California, the mother of actor Andrew Stevens and grandmother of Sam, enjoys riding her three American Quarter Horses and staying busy with her entertainment projects and duties with the Hollywood Arts Council, for which she serves on the Board of Directors. ■ Actress Stella Stevens poses prior to the opening night performance of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” at the Pantages Theatre on November 28, 2005 in Hollywood, California.

86 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E

© DAVID LIVINGSTON/GETTY IMAGES

Stella Stevens


Proud toCall Mississippi Home ▲

© DAVID G. SPIELMAN ‘97

Ellen Douglas WRITER Critically acclaimed author, Ellen Douglas, is best known

within her a deep-seated sense of place which she has

for her essay collections, novels, and short stories that

explored throughout her ten published works including

for over forty years have detailed frankly and unabashedly

Black Cloud, White Cloud, The Rock Cried Out, and

many political and relational struggles of the Deep South.

Witnessing. Douglas has earned the Houghton Mifflin

Ellen Douglas is the nom de plume of Josephine Ayres

Literary Fellowship Award and an American Academy of

Haxton. Describing herself as, “An American writer,”

Arts and Letters Award in Literature. A 2005 recipient of

Douglas claims her favorite of her own books is, “The one I

a Mississippi Ageless Hero award, Douglas makes her

have just finished.” Douglas believes Mississippi developed

home in Jackson. ■

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 87


3 Doors Down WORLD FAMOUS ROCK BAND

3 Doors Down (l-r): Chris Henderson, Todd Harrell, Matt Roberts, and Brad Arnold. Photo ©Universal Record Group.

“I’m just a Mississippi boy who likes to play rock ‘n’ roll.”

88 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

They got together with simple motives: Play some rock music,

day music. It is known for amazing live performances, but also

have a good time, maybe even get a few local gigs and make a

has attained commercial success. The music is tight and hard-

little extra cash.

edged. But the key, perhaps, is Arnold’s soulful voice and his

It has gone way beyond that now.

down-to-earth lyrics, which can appeal to fans of almost any

3 Doors Down — formed by four Mississippi boys who

genre. He writes about love, life, heartache, missing home, and

grew up in Escatawpa (population 3,902), near the Missis-

realizing dreams. And his method is unique: “Because I was

sippi Gulf Coast — is one of the top rock bands in the

always a drummer, that’s what I play when I’m writing lyrics,”

world. Their three CDs have sold more than 12 million copies

Arnold says. “To me, it gives me a certain rhythm in the lyrics

and produced six Top 10 hits: “Kryptonite” (2000), “Duck and

that is really valuable. The words are something I have to sit

Run” (2000), “Loser” (2000), “Be Like That” (2000), “When

down and think about a lot. I usually don’t write them down

I’m Gone” (2002), and “Here Without You” (2002).

immediately. Sometimes I’ll walk around a couple of weeks

They have been nominated for multiple Grammy Awards, played every television show from Leno to Letterman to Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve. Their fan base spans from Biloxi to Holland. But they’re uncomfortable when others try to peg them as stars. “People are always asking me when I’m going to move

before I actually put them on paper — the thought process being, if it’s good, I’ll remember them.” When Arnold used to go to tractor pulls at the Coast Coliseum in Biloxi with his father, Ralph, he used to visualize a stage and standing up front singing lead to a sold-out audience. “But the thing I could never figure out was, how could I be

to Los Angeles or New York,” says lead singer Brad Arnold.

standing there when I was a drummer?” It worked out, just as

“I tell them real quick that I’ll never do that. That’s not my

he had pictured it. As soon as the band signed with Universal,

home. That’s not my life. I’m not saying we don’t enjoy those

a new drummer was hired and Arnold moved out front.

places, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I’m just a Mississippi boy who likes to play rock ‘n’ roll. Nothing more.” The four original members were friends long before they

And, just as he envisioned, 3 Doors Down eventually played that coliseum to a packed house. Arnold, raised in a Christian household with six siblings, finds

made music. Arnold and guitarist Matt Roberts played

a quiet place before every show and gives thanks for the band’s

T-ball together; bassist Todd Harrell and guitarist Chris

success. “It just relaxes me,” he says. “I don’t mean to sound

Henderson were football teammates at Moss Point High

like I’m giving a sermon, but God has given me all this, and it’s

School. Harrell used to date one of Arnold’s older sisters.

up to me to be responsible with it now.”

Their rise to stardom is filled with intriguing, headshaking stories. Arnold wrote the lyrics to “Kryptonite”

3 Doors Down made headlines for their support of U.S. troops during the war in Iraq. Just a few months before fighting began,

during math class at East Central High School, near

the Mississippi boys played a two-week tour for American sol-

Moss Point. The song went to number one on Radio

diers in the Persian Gulf area. Rolling Stone magazine’s April 17,

and Records’ rock chart and was the most-played song

2003 issue ran a picture of Harrell and Henderson in front of a

on American radio in 2000.

U.S. Army helicopter with a caption “Pro-Troops.”

“Kryptonite” empowered them in ways they never dreamed. They self-recorded the song and gave a copy to Biloxi radio

Henderson, who was in the Navy during the first Gulf War in 1991, says: “All I know is, if it wasn’t for the military I wouldn’t

station WCPR. Listeners loved it, and its popularity spread.

have the freedom to wake up, put the key in my car, and drive

“The record company [Republic/Universal Records] heard it,

to Wal-Mart with my daughter and buy whatever I want to. If it

and they’ve been keeping us busy ever since,” says Arnold,

wasn’t for the military, [Americans] wouldn’t have a choice of

who won BMI Songwriter of the Year in 2000.

being pro-troops, anti-war, or anything else. They would do

The band has pulled off one of the toughest tricks in current

whatever they were told, and they’d learn to like it.” ■

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 89


Medgar & Charles Evers CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEERS Across Jackson from one another, two gentlemen who knew

resistance and being told, “We couldn’t be real Americans until

him intimately recalled Medgar Evers, whose martyrdom in the

we gave up the notion that all men were created equal.”

name of basic human rights ensured him a place in American history, and iconic status for those he touched most. Rev. Ed King recalls meeting Evers during interracial seminars

While attending Alcorn A&M, their philosophies began to diverge. Medgar felt that registration, lawsuits and a political approach were called for. Charles believed business and eco-

sponsored by Millsaps College, where King – a white student –

nomic success was the answer. It was a moot argument as

was studying to be a minister, and Tougaloo College, an historical-

long as blacks could neither vote nor set up shop.

ly black school and locus of civil rights activity. He remembers

After graduating, Medgar and his wife, Myrlie, moved to the

“falling under the spell” of the intense, dedicated Evers who,

Delta, where he began organizing new NAACP chapters. In

recognizing a valuable ally and potential friend, “Nourished me

1954, he was appointed the association’s first Mississippi

very carefully, so as not to overwhelm me.”

field secretary and moved to Jackson.

At his gospel/blues radio

“I love the South,” he wrote. “I don’t choose to live anywhere

station, Charles Evers sits

else. There’s land here, where a man can raise cattle. There are

surrounded by pictures of

lakes where he can sink a hook. There’s room for my children to

nearly every notable politician

play, grow, and become good citi-

and civil rights leader of the

zens – if the white man will

last forty years ... many of

let them. Mississippi is part

whom were personal friends.

of us. The things I don’t like,

A youthful 83 years old, he

I will try to change. For a

recalls his relationship with

long time, the white man liter-

Medgar, his own very different

ally got away with murder.

life, and his unshakeable

Now when a Negro is mis-

belief in integration.

treated, we tell the world about

Born near Decatur, Medgar

it. Violence certainly is not the

and Charles Evers were raised

way. Returning physical harm

by a devout mother who believed change was coming and a

will

strong-willed father who refused to play a passive, deferential role. He was convinced that racists were cowards, incapable of acting on threats when met with silent resistance. When the brothers were young, Senator Theodore Bilbo, at

not solve the problem.” Medgar drove himself mercilessly, but took no unnecessary chances and used every precaution. He often told Myrlie that he, “May go to heaven or

the local courthouse, spotted them and warned the crowd:

to hell, but I’m going from Jackson.” Unfortunately, teachers

“You see them two little niggers? If you don’t stop ‘em, one of

and clergymen – seemingly natural allies – largely avoided him,

‘em will be trying to go to Congress.” Medgar looked at Charles

afraid that he was moving too quickly.

and said, “That’s not a bad idea.” Indeed, Charles served as sounding board for many of Medgar’s early insights. After serving in Europe in the early 1940s, they realized that

In 1956, Charles Evers was literally escorted out of Neshoba County for being – he says – “More successful financially than any Negro should be,” and moved to Chicago.

World War II veteran status made no difference whatsoever in their

In early 1963, Medgar led a grassroots challenge to the sys-

hometown. If anything, they were singled out for their “uppitiness.”

tem – the Jackson Movement – that met with unrelenting opposi-

They began voter registration drives, frequently meeting violent

tion, mass arrests, and unchecked brutality. He outlined his mis-

90 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

sion in a televised speech: “I speak as a Mississippian … I fought

nized the struggle: raw anger replaced passive fear, and hundreds

overseas against Hitler and fascism … It is an American tradition

marched in protest. Many, including King (who still carries

to assemble peacefully and petition government for redress of

dramatic scars on his face), were beaten in response. But his

grievances. Here, though, we are arrested when we exercise

death prompted Kennedy to petition Congress for a comprehen-

this right. Today’s Negro is aware of free nations in Africa … he

sive civil rights bill. Medgar, posthumously, had made an

knows that in the Congo, he can be a locomotive engineer, but

immeasurable contribution to the struggle.

in Jackson he cannot drive a garbage truck.

Charles assumed the field secretary position, though his reputa-

“He sees a city where his children can’t watch movies in a

tion as a Chicago rogue preceded him. But his commitment was

theater, where students are denied access to libraries, parks, and

genuine, and he successfully filed lawsuits to integrate schools,

other tax-supported facilities … where doctors, lawyers, and

hotels, restaurants, pools, parks, and even the draft board. He

teachers cannot attend meetings of professional organizations.

also, “Registered every Negro I could get my hands on.”

“What does the Negro

In 1969, Charles became

want? He wants to vote. He

mayor of Fayette – the first

wants jobs above menial level

black man elected to office in

in stores where he spends his

Mississippi since

money. He wants schools

Reconstruction – and served

desegregated. The time has

a total of fourteen years in

come for change. Let me

that capacity. That same year

appeal to silent, responsible,

the NAACP named him “Man

white citizens who know that

of the Year.”

a victory for democracy here

A registered Republican,

will be a victory for democracy

he says most Democrats are

everywhere.”

out of touch … still believing

As an NAACP employee,

African-Americans need enti-

he had to remain office-

tlement programs, which pro-

bound during the June 1

long dependency. “We don't

Woolworth sit-ins, fielding reports from Ed King about injuries protesters suffered

1925 -1963

have the same needs today. Before, we faced state-sponsored terrorism … white folks

at the hands of police. He made the soul-wrenching decision to

got into more trouble for killing rabbits out of season than they

send in “reinforcements” to replace the “casualties.”

did for killing niggers.

And then, less than two weeks later, he was dead, shot in

“The worst problem we face today is black-on-black crime.

the back – in his own driveway – hours after President Kennedy

If you’re an angry black man, go to school, get an education, get

had given his first civil rights address.

registered, and vote. Form coalitions and change things. Get smart.”

Charles returned from Chicago, “Wanting to kill white people.” But he was dissuaded by memories of his mother’s deep faith,

He marvels at the changes he has seen; a self-professed “total integrationist,” he believes that all must work together

as well as by a friend telling him, “Once you hate, you can never

to achieve educational and economic equality. Once the nation’s

see God’s face.” He also recalled Medgar’s simple admonition

leader in lynchings, Mississippi today leads the U.S. in the

when they were angry and frustrated: “Don’t hate, Charlie.”

number of elected black officials. “We said years ago,” Charles

Medgar Evers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery,

reminisces, “that if we end the violent racism, this’ll be the

befitting his military service, but also because his family feared

greatest state in the world. And now, Medgar, I'm telling you,

that a Mississippi grave would invite desecration. His death galva-

it’s come to pass.”

Photos opposite page: Medgar Evers and Family, photos courtesy of Smith Robertson Museum in Jackson. Above: Evers funeral, Jackson Mississippi, 1963.

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 91


Three years ahead of the twentieth century, William Faulkner

tional mirror of his own hometown was liberating for Faulkner

was born in New Albany – the namesake of his late great-

who explained, “I discovered that my own little postage

grandfather, a Confederate veteran who died in a duel with his

stamp of native soil was worth writing about, and that I

business partner in the streets of Ripley, Mississippi. A lawyer,

would never live long enough to exhaust it.” And since he

politician, planter, and writer, the “Old Colonel” loomed as a

was uncertain that he’d ever make it a living, he wrote strictly

model of success for his descendants. And young Bill was

for pleasure, with no regard for eventual publication.

raised in the genteel manner befitting a fine southern gentle-

The Sound and the Fury – the 1929 novel that resulted from

William Faulkner I N N O VAT O R A N D A U T H O R man. He rode ponies and inhab-

this epiphany – was not only publish-

ited hunting camps, where he

able, but revolutionary. Like certain

absorbed reminiscences of old

novels to follow, it was divided into

men about the war; indeed, story-

sections, often first-person narra-

telling was a revered pastime for

tives that slipped between time and

all in Faulkner’s South.

place with little warning. Individually,

His boyhood straddled two eras;

each section is revealing, both sty-

as his family moved to Oxford, he

listically and as character explo-

witnessed its first telephones, water

ration; together, the parts reveal

tower, and electric lines. This juxta-

complex truths as a “bigger pic-

position of clashing cultures – from

ture” emerges.

“backward-looking” post-Recon-

In the upcoming decade, As

struction to an increasingly “modern”

I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary

South – underscores his entire volume

(1931), Absalom, Absalom!

of work. Few literary giants have been

(1936), and Light in August

as conflicted.

(1932) were widely praised

As he grew, Faulkner was, “A shy, troubled boy who became a shy, troubled man,” according to biographer Jay Parini. He

but sporadically read, due in equal parts to his impenetrable, dense style and to antagonistic Southerners resentful of

was an erratic personality who refused to apply himself to any-

“excessive” focus on sexual violence, racial identity, and the

thing that did not hold his interest. He dropped out of high

lives of “outcasts.” He was now supplementing his income

school and entered the Canadian Royal Air Force, as he was

by writing fiction for periodicals and by flying to Hollywood to

too short to join the U.S. armed services, but the Great War

write or revise movie scripts, making many such trips over a

ended before he completed training. He then entered the

twenty-year period.

University of Mississippi, but left after two years as an unexceptional student. He became known locally as “Count No’ Count,” for his literary

After subsequent works still portrayed his fictional county in an unflattering light, his reputation declined rapidly. Fortunately, critic Malcolm Cowley – calling Faulkner, “A writer of great

pretensions and apparent lack of ambition. In 1924, however, he

truths” – published The Portable Faulkner in 1946, bringing him

moved to New Orleans and befriended Sherwood Anderson, an

back into the public consciousness. And his standing as a pre-

acclaimed contemporary writer. Soon, he was contributing

miere American writer was sealed when he won the 1949

poems and reviews to several magazines, and – with Anderson’s

Nobel Prize. His speech in Stockholm – invoking the inner

help – had published a poetry collection and his first novel. Recognizing tremendous talent, Anderson encouraged

strength, sacrifice, and endurance of man – is regarded as one of the greatest Nobel acceptances ever.

Faulkner to write about Oxford. So, he drew upon geography

Faulkner soon brought criticism that had lain between the

and history to create Yoknapatawpha County. Conjuring a fic-

lines of his greatest novels into the public forum. He tried, as a

92 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Nobel laureate, to persuade his fellow Southerners to practice a basic American tenet: liberty and justice for all. He opposed much that they revered, and his work represented unfettered assaults on its middle-class preten-

virtues, but despite the faults.” ■

1897-1962

sions, cultural backwardness, and racist politics. But he could not escape Mississippi; it was home, and it provided the impetus for his fiction. This dichotomy was now expressed more frequently, in speeches, essays, and public letters that addressed socio-political issues. In Mississippi (1954), he energetically attacks certain institutions, while simultaneously declaring deep love for his home state. He deplores the lumbermen and speculators who cut back trees, moving the woods of his childhood further away from him. And he hates injustice: the lynching of citizens simply because they were black, the painfully obvious disparity between black and white schools, and the fact that blacks could worship God and pay taxes, but not enter a white church or vote. Mississippi reflected a lifetime of accumulated wisdom and agony; he emphasized that the state and its people were, with all their shortcomings, his own. He didn’t feign righteousness, insisting that he too felt, “The old inherited prejudices. But when the white man is driven by inherited prejudices – the whole black race is laughing at him.” Frank as always, he was willing to confront his own limitations. He died just before Ole Miss was integrated; as had his birth, his death preceded a transformative period in Mississippi’s history. William Faulkner was an innovator who approached his art with intensity, integrity, and courage, despite near universal discouragement. It displayed a remarkable sense of place and flawless observation of the culture that surrounded him. One biographer noted that he came from, “A spiritual location from which he examined a truth deeper than … mere locality.” Whether they knew it or not, he spoke for many Mississippians faced with upheaval beyond their understanding when he wrote: “Home again, his native land; he was born of it and his bones will sleep in it – Loving all of it even while he had to hate some of it. He knows now that you don’t love because; you love despite; not for the

Opposite page: Faulkner at Delta Council, Delta State’s President, Dr. William M. Kethley, served as Delta Council’s first president and thus began the tradition of holding the annual meetings here on campus on the Quad each spring. The first menu consisted of barbecue chicken and such. Now that catfish has replaced cotton as king, we dine on fried catfish, french fries, ice cream and iced tea. Delta Council has its annual meeting while the community enjoys the lunch! Photo is property of Delta State University. Photot above: © Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 93


© DAVID STLUKA/GETTY IMAGES

94 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Brett Favre HOMETOWN HERO In January 2006, Brett Favre – Super Bowl hero and certain

him at or near the top of the record book. But, while posting

Hall of Famer – returned home to join Laura Bush in a play-

winning seasons annually until 2005, his most dominating years

ground dedication. “This was devastated by Katrina,” he told

are behind him.

volunteers. “It’s a tough time. Everyone is searching for direction. You’re making things a little brighter.” The crowd absorbed his words with appreciation. Favre has been quarterback for the Green Bay Packers since

In 2003, not long after signing a lifetime contract, he endured a series of nearly unimaginable tragedies. In 2003, his father suffered a fatal heart attack. The next day, he passed for four touchdowns and a 41-7 victory, explaining “It’s meant a

1992. He grew up in Kiln, ten miles north of the Gulf. He and

great deal to my family, and I didn’t expect this kind of per-

his brothers – isolated by bayous and woods in a town without

formance. But I know he was watching tonight.”

paved roads – played football and baseball on makeshift fields.

His brother-in-law died in an ATV accident the following

In high school, he played for his father, Irvin, who ran an old-

October. Shortly after, Deanna – still mourning her brother –

fashioned offense that passed rarely, making it difficult for Brett

was diagnosed with breast cancer, enduring months of

to display his phenomenal arm, which he kept in shape by

chemotherapy before receiving an excellent prognosis; she

throwing long passes – retrieved by his future wife, Deanna, on

then founded the Deanna Favre Hope Foundation for women

the field after practices. He received just one scholarship offer,

unable to afford similar treatment.

from the University of Southern Mississippi, and worked his

In December 2004, close friend and former teammate,

way from seventh-string to starting quarterback just three

Reggie White, died suddenly. And, just before the 2005 football

games into his freshman year.

season, Hurricane Katrina decimated the family homes in Kiln

The legend of Brett Favre was cemented two months after a near-fatal car accident, which resulted in the removal of 30 inches of intestine. After spearheading a comeback over heavily-

and severely damaged his house in Hattiesburg. The Brett Favre Fourward Foundation, established in 1996 for disadvantaged children in Mississippi and Wisconsin, leapt

favored Alabama, Crimson Tide coach Gene Stallings said, “Call

into action, sending thirty tractor-trailers and five planeloads of

it a miracle, or whatever. On that day, Brett was larger than life.”

food and other necessities to Hancock County.

The Atlanta Falcons drafted him, but he was traded to Green Bay a year later; there, he failed a physical because of a chronic

The Favres dispersed money to Habitat for Humanity for the construction of 15,000 homes, and to the Centers for

circulatory condition, but general manager Ron Wolf overruled

Prevention of Child Abuse and to the Boys and Girls Clubs of

the doctors. Favre has started every game since September

the Gulf Coast to keep them operating. In all, the Foundation

1992, when – as a fourth-quarter replacement – he threw a

committed over $2 million in supplies and funds.

game-winning pass with thirteen seconds left. The Packers, the

This tenacity and unselfishness, in the wake of so personal a

toast of the NFL 25 years earlier, were headed for glory again.

disaster surprises no one who knows the tireless Favre. He

In 1995, Favre received the first of an unprecedented three

maintains the NFL record for consecutive starts – now over

consecutive league MVP awards after leading Green Bay to the

thirteen years – which fellow passing legend Dan Marino, calls

NFC Championship game for the first time since that era. The

“mind-boggling.”

following season, they reached the Super Bowl, where he engineered a 35-21 victory. The Packers again dominated the NFC the following season, but lost the Super Bowl. The years since have been characterized by consistent play, punctuated by extreme adversity. He continually ranks among the top quarterbacks, accumulating numbers that will place

Favre reflects, “People view the quarterback as the primadonna and I’ve always wanted to play like a lineman … tough, accountable and durable The quintessential “team player,” he is one of 22 Packers selected to the Pro Bowl since 1992. Though humble, he’s proud of what he’s accomplished. “To me, my legacy is bigger than any record. What I achieved

Quarterback Brett Favre #4 of the Green Bay Packers scrambles against the Chicago Bears on December 4, 2005 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 95


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Dave “Boo” Ferriss RECORD-BREAKING PITCHER — LEGENDARY COACH Mississippi baseball standout and legendary Delta State base-

he was drafted to serve in the Army Air Corps. Ferriss served

ball coach Dave “Boo” Ferriss was born in Shaw, Mississippi,

his country for over two years, and after an early discharge in

on December 5, 1921. “I’ve lived in Mississippi my whole life.

1945, his major league dream was finally realized. Ferriss was

I love Mississippi and most importantly the people of Mississippi,”

called up to play for the Boston Red Sox where he pitched for

said Ferriss. “People in Mississippi consider each other family

six years. In his first two games with the Red Sox he pitched

and show great support and care for their neighbors.” Ferriss

shutouts, which only six other pitchers have ever done. Ferriss

himself embodies this philosophy and has spent many years

won his first eight major league starts defeating every team in

teaching, supporting, and influencing younger generations in

the American League the first time he faced them, a record he

his home state.

shares today with Fernando Valenzuela. He was also named

After an astonishing baseball career in the major leagues Ferriss took over the Delta State University baseball program and built it from the ground up. In 26 outstanding seasons

the American League Rookie of the Year in 1945. In 1946 Ferriss led the Red Sox to win the American League Pennant and pitched a shutout in the third game of the World

Ferriss coached the Delta State University Statesmen to nine

Series. Although the Red Sox lost the 1946 World Series in a

NCAA Division II playoffs, four Gulf South Conference champi-

heartbreaking defeat to the Saint Louis Cardinals in game

onships, and three Division II World Series appearances. Ferriss

seven, Ferriss led the American league with a record of 25-6

earned many honors while coaching at Delta State including a

and won 13 consecutive games in his home park, Fenway, a

United States Baseball Federation Service Award for his contri-

record that is still on the books.

butions to the game and was named three-time NCAA Regional

Dave “Boo” Ferriss’ major league career was interrupted by

Coach of the Year. Perhaps his most valuable accomplishments

an arm injury in 1947. Ferriss kept playing, but was never able

concern the young players he mentored during his coaching

to fully recover. He continued working for the Red Sox serving

tenure. Forty-nine Delta State Statesmen earned All-Gulf South

as pitching coach from 1955-1959. In 1960 he took over the

Conference honors, 20 earned All-American honors, 23 contin-

Delta State University athletic director and head baseball coach

ued their baseball careers on the professional level, and 20

positions where he would coach for 26 years before retiring in

received academic All-American honors. Ferriss enjoyed most

1988. Ferriss was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in

seeing 90 former players enter the high school and college

2002, and in 2003 Mississippi State retired his number three

coaching ranks.

jersey. Ferriss is proud to have the Mississippi Sports Hall of

Ferriss earned the first full baseball scholarship awarded at

Fame and Museum Cellular South Ferriss trophy named after

Mississippi State University in 1939, where he pitched right

him. The yearly award honors the state’s top collegiate

handed and played first base left handed. He was elated to

baseball player.

have the good fortune of playing baseball under the legendary

“I was blessed to grow up in Mississippi where I had the

coach Dudy Noble and was named All-SEC in 1941 and 1942.

guidance and support of Mississippians to contribute to my life

Ferriss dreamed of playing baseball in the major leagues all his

and accomplishments,” Ferriss reflected. Ferriss has, in turn,

life and was signed by the Boston Red Sox after his junior year

offered the same guidance and support to young Mississippians

at Mississippi State.

that he received growing up. Baseball players throughout the

Ferriss played for the Boston Red Sox farm club, the

state of Mississippi who play on the numerous fields that bear

Greensboro North Carolina Red Sox, where he led the team

his name certainly have an outstanding figure to emulate in

to the Class B Piedmont League championship. Soon after,

Mr. Dave “Boo” Ferriss. ■

Pitching for the Boston Red Sox, Dave “Boo” Ferriss defeated every American League team the first time he faced them.

96 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 97


With novels that simultaneously praised and criticized his Southern homeland, Shelby Foote was a mid-century leader

Shelby Foote C I V I L WA R W R I T E R A N D C O M M E N TAT O R

in the eyes of literary figures. When asked about “superior writing” among contemporaries, William Faulkner singled Foote out for praise. But he soon took a different path: over twenty years, he composed The Civil War: A Narrative, three volumes and 1.6 million words long. Despite this prodigious, acclaimed work, he was relatively unknown until he appeared in the PBS documentary series The Civil War, which riveted viewers in 1990. A reviewer said – not disparagingly – that he made it fascinating because, “He looked and sounded like he’d been there.” Born in Greenville to parents from once-prominent families, Foote described his grandfathers as, “Extremely rich in their lifetimes, but with barely enough left for the shovels that buried them.” His father was determined to succeed in the emerging Southern middle class, but died suddenly when Shelby was five. An only child, he was a prolific reader, fortunate to attend one of the state’s best high schools and editing the nation’s top high school newspaper. He became a protégé of Will Percy – attorney, poet, philosopher, and civic leader, whose cousin, future author Walker Percy, became Shelby’s best friend. Eventually, he began writing for the local newspaper, Delta Star, as he worked on Tournament, a thinly-veiled account of his grandfather’s life. Publishers were impressed, but balked, urging revision. Foote spent countless hours on other stories, two of which were published by The Saturday Evening Post. During this time, he established a library at a Greenville store

Photo courtesy of the Allison Family Archives.

1916 -2005

run by his friend, musician/writer Kenneth Haxton. It was here that Foote, Percy, Haxton, and their wives (Haxton’s was novelist Ellen Douglas) would gather socially, often reading plays with each taking parts. He began Shiloh, which – through monologues of Union and Confederate soldiers – presented a vivid account of that key battle. Though its editors considered it too experimental,

98 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Dial Press published Foote’s revision of Tournament in 1949, as

tem. They should have come into society without these handi-

well as a Foote novel annually until Shiloh was ready in 1952.

caps.” He continued, “One of four southern soldiers was a

Random House then approached him to write a short Civil War history, and Foote realized immediately that it required

casualty. In 1866, Mississippi spent one-fifth of its income on artificial [limbs]. Few today realize how devastating the war was.

considerably more time than anticipated. Using money from

It’s become attractive to put a shine on it and forget there were

1955 and 1956 Guggenheim Fellowships, Foote finished the

over a million casualties.”

trilogy’s first volume, Fort Sumter to Perryville, in 1958. Five years later, after winning a third Guggenheim, he finished the second, Fredericksburg to Meridian. As he began Red River to Appomattox, he was growing pro-

Foote appreciated paradox. “I love the Confederate flag, which my great-grandfather believed in,” he professed. “It’s sad, because – to my black friends – it represents painful, horrible things. These racist yahoos who wave the flag today know

foundly angry at current events. In 1963, he wrote Percy: “I’m

nothing about the Confederacy. I still won’t take it down because

beginning to hate the one thing I…ever loved – the South. I

I know what they fought for. It was right, and yet it was wrong.”

despise the pussy-faced politicians…soft-talking instruments of real evil.” Foote struggled throughout the trilogy’s conclusion,

He challenged revisionist perceptions: “People have a hard time understanding how anybody could claim to own another

I’m pleased to know that I might have something to do with people beginning to understand the American Civil War, which is enormously important for every citizen. finally published in 1974. While respected, Foote would have remained relatively anonymous. But his appearance on the documentary – his mel-

man. It’s unthinkable today, but you have to go back to the time in question.” He added, “Racism is a horrible disease. As long as there are at least two races, we’re going to have someone

lifluous voice and ease of manner – ensured national celebrity.

to blame our defeats on. I don’t see any solution except the dis-

Ellen Douglas remembers being thrilled by her friend’s appear-

appearance of all races on Earth into a common bloodstream;

ance and the authority he projected. Though Percy had long

then, everything will be fine. Otherwise, I don’t see any end.”

ago nominated him for the American Academy of Arts and Letters, it was now courting Foote. The Foote-Percy relationship was unique, considering their shared profession. “Walker and I were close from our teens until he died. For two writers to be friends for any length of time is a phenomenon,” Foote remarked. His feelings about the war’s legacy were complex. “America

While historians typically examine the effects of economic, political, and social systems upon individuals, Foote took the reverse approach, having emerged from the Southern storytelling tradition. But this in no way diminishes his accomplishments. “He should not be misunderstood as some precious exemplar of a South that never was,” journalist Hodding Carter III said. “He knew its flaws and its great comic pretensions.”

has two sins on its very soul. One is slavery, which we’ll never

Millsaps history professor Robert McIlvaine says, “I imagine

remove from our conscience or the marrow of our bones. The

[Foote’s book] has been, and will continue to be, read by more

other is emancipation: they told four million people, ‘you’re free

people than any other work on the war.”

... hit the road.’ Most couldn’t read or write. Few had any trade

Shelby Foote remained modest: “I’m pleased to know that

except farming, and they fell into an abusive sharecropper sys-

I might have something to do with people beginning to under-

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 99


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Morgan Freeman MISSISSIPPI CHAMPION Long before he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting

him opportunity to fully explore his range as an actor. He

Actor, Morgan Freeman distinguished himself as one of the

received Obie Awards for his roles in Coriolanus (1979-80),

greatest actors of all time. His amazing body of work has earned

Gospel at Colonus (1983-84), and for his landmark portrayal of

him the respect of audiences, critics, and peers. He has built a

Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy (1987-88).

career of diverse roles on stage, television, and in nearly 50 fea-

Despite his talent and versatility as an actor, Morgan found it

ture films, some of which are among the most memorable in

difficult to land good roles in films. His first credited film role

cinema history. The place he chooses to call home is a 120-

was in the light-hearted family movie, Who Says I Can’t Ride a

acre ranch in the Mississippi Delta – the same Mississippi Delta

Rainbow? (1971). That was followed by a string of small roles in

where as a child he grew and dreamed.

films and made-for-television movies. Meanwhile, television

He was born June 1, 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee, to

audiences were getting to know him as Easy Reader, Count

Mayme Edna and Morgan Porterfield Freeman. The family moved

Dracula, Mel Mounds the DJ, and other regular characters he

quite a bit when he was young, but most of his childhood was

portrayed on the PBS children’s show, Electric Company (1971-

spent in Greenwood, Mississippi. Growing up, he had two big

76). Others knew him as Roy Bingham on the TV serial Another

and very different ambitions – to become a movie actor and a

World (1980-82).

jet fighter pilot. In a school production at age 8, he played his

Intent on a movie career, Morgan made the most of every role

first lead role. He then won a statewide drama competition at

he was given. Famed New York critic, Pauline Kael, praised his

age 12. As a teen he watched movies from the balcony of the

performance in Brubaker (1980), but it was not until his portrayal

Greenwood movie theater and told himself, “I can do that.”

of Fast Black in Street Smart (1987) that the film community

His goal of becoming a jet pilot required more than natural

truly took notice. That performance earned Morgan his first

ability, however. After graduating in 1955 from Greenwood’s

Academy Award nomination, as well as Best Supporting Actor

Broad Street High School, Morgan turned down a partial drama

from the Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film

scholarship to Jackson State University to join the Air Force.

Critics Association. He followed that role with: Clean and Sober

Always up for a challenge, he soon discovered opportunities in

(1988), Lean on Me (1989), Glory (1989), and the film version of

the U.S. military for a black man in the 1950s were just as limit-

Driving Miss Daisy (1989). For the cinematic performance of his

ed as they were for any black man in the segregated South.

original stage role, he earned his second Academy Award nomi-

After three years as a radar specialist and no hope for flight

nation and a Golden Globe as Best Actor.

school, Morgan moved to Los Angeles where he enrolled as a

Movie by movie, Morgan built a following among audiences

student and worked as a transcript clerk at Los Angeles

and critics. By the early 1990s he was working nonstop—rou-

Community College. Over the next several years he accepted

tinely releasing two feature films per year. Among his most

every opportunity to perform. He was a member of the Opera

memorable films are: Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Robin

Ring, a musical repertory company in San Francisco, a dancer

Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Unforgiven (1992), and Power

in the 1964 World’s Fair, an extra in The Pawnbroker (1964). He

of One (1992). It was The Shawshank Redemption (1994) that

landed his first professional acting role at age 29 in a touring

garnered Best Actor nominations from the Academy, the

company performing The Royal Hunt of the Sun. Morgan left California in the mid-sixties to work on the New

Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild. Outstanding performances continued in Se7en (1995), Kiss the Girls (1997),

York stage. He made his off-Broadway debut in 1967 as

Amistad (1997), Deep Impact (1998), Under Suspicion (2000),

Creampuff in The Niggerlovers opposite Stacy Keach and

and Nurse Betty (2000). Whether portraying a homicide detective

Viveca Lindfors. His Broadway debut came a few months later

in Along Came a Spider (2001), Director of the CIA in Sum of

alongside Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway in Hello Dolly!, pro-

All Fears (2002), or “God” in Bruce Almighty (2003), he has the

duced with an all-black cast. Off-Broadway productions gave

ability to make each role completely believable.

100 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Morgan cemented his status as one of Hollywood’s elite in

The prolific actor is also a director, as well as an executive

2005 when he received for his performance in Million Dollar

producer and co-founder of Revelations Entertainment, estab-

Baby (2004) an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the 77th

lished in 1996. In addition to producing feature films,

annual Academy Awards. The role also garnered him a SAG

Revelations recently teamed with Intel to form a new venture,

Award and a Golden Globe nomination. True to character, he

ClickStar, to provide first-run feature films via the Internet. In

gave himself little time to bask in his achievement. In 2005, he

2006, Freeman partnered with country music superstar, Willie Nelson, to form Earth Biofuels, investing in biodiesel as an alternate energy fuel source. In addition to serving unofficially as a “Goodwill Ambassador” for Mississippi, Morgan helps his home state by generously giving his time, energy, and financial support. Through his Rock River Foundation, he has assisted scores of non-profit cultural, arts, and education projects – ranging from 4-H Clubs, Teach for America, the Delta Blues Museum, the Cutrer House, and Piney Woods School. His foundation has also partnered with other organizations, such as the Dreyfus Health Foundation, which funds individual community service grants aimed at improving the health and quality of life for residents of Clarksdale and surrounding communities. Morgan moved back home to Mississippi in the 1990s. He built a home he shares with his wife, Myrna Colley -Lee, a costume designer he married in 1984. A man of many talents and interests, he speaks French fluently, enjoys working crossword puzzles, and is an avid, veteran sailor. He is also passionate about good food and wine, blues music, and having a down-home good time, which is why he and business partner Bill Luckett, an attorney, opened Madidi, a fine dining restaurant, and Ground Zero Blues Club in the heart of Clarksdale. A pilot for 30 years, Bill was surprised that Morgan had never sought his pilot’s license. Bill had almost forgotten suggesting it when Morgan one day announced, “I’m ready.” From that point on, Morgan learned to pilot a twinengine plane, then received his multi-engine instrument rating

starred in Batman Begins. He also found time to narrate the

in only two years. He now flies himself all over the country. In

blockbuster film War of the Worlds and March of the Penguins,

the summer of 2004, he and Bill were invited to the U.S. Air

winner of the 2006 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Force base in Columbus, Mississippi. The pair learned general

In 2006 he starred in Edison and Lucky Number Slevin and

and emergency procedures, then flew off “into the wild blue

began work on several other productions to be released in 2007. Another career highlight came on March 17, 2006 as Morgan was named the recipient of Spencer Tracy Award for 2006, an honor previously given to such stars as Jimmy Stewart, Michael

yonder” with captains anxious to show them some real Gforce. “It was a dream come true for us both,” says Bill. Photos taken that day show Morgan literally beaming. In a January 2006 interview with 60 Minutes, Morgan told

Douglas, Denzel Washington, and Sir Anthony Hopkins. In

Mike Wallace, “I can say life is good to me. Has been and is

receiving the award, Freeman said, “To be included among this

good. So I think my task is to be good to it.” When Wallace

group of highly accomplished actors is just magical.”

asked, “So how do you be good to life?” He replied, “You live it.”

102 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Proud toCall Mississippi Home ▼

© CHRIS WALTER

BobbieGentry SINGER/SONGWRITER Mystery, intrigue, and ambiguity are the stuff of legends and Bobbie Gentry is no exception to that rule. She took her stage name from the film Ruby Gentry, a 1952 Charlton Heston/ Jennifer Jones drama about a Southern woman, “Who wrecked a whole town, man by man, sin by sin.” Even today, with almost no word from her since the seventies, the mystery continues. Born Roberta Lee Streeter in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, on July 27, 1944, Bobbie Gentry quickly made a name for herself in the music business with her hit “Ode to Billy Joe.” The song topped the U.S. charts for 4 weeks in 1967, creating a legendary character and even inspiring a movie of the same name released in 1976. Gentry’s haunting lyrics and the poetry of that song were enough to make Billy Joe McAllister, the song’s namesake, famous. Like many country songs, “Ode to Billy Joe” tells a story, and to this day, no one knows for sure what Billy Joe threw off of the Tallahatchie Bridge, or if he jumped, or was pushed. But that only makes the intrigue soar. And perhaps it doesn’t matter, since Billy Joe McAllister was a fictional character — or, was he? Again, there has been much speculation through the years about that subject, leaving a legacy of mystery that keeps

all-time country song in a Country Music Association poll. Reba

the song alive today.

McEntire resurrected the song in 1991, and “Fancy” became a

Bobbie Gentry spent her early childhood living with her grandparents on their poverty-stricken farm in Chickasaw County’s

huge hit for her as well. Little is known about Gentry today, aside from a few indications

Mississippi Delta. “We didn’t have electricity, and I didn’t have

that she may have gone into TV production in Los Angeles after

many play things,” she remembers in an interview from the 1970s.

she left the music business. Following her quick rise to fame in

Bobbie credited her Grandmother with helping her get started

the late sixties and early seventies, she performed with several

toward a career in music. “My Grandmother noticed how much I

high profile country musicians including Glen Campbell and

liked music, so she traded one of her milk cows for a neighbor’s

appeared on a number of seventies era comedy-variety shows.

piano.” Bobbie taught herself to play by listening to the church

She was married and divorced three times, but ultimately retired

accompanist. Gentry lived with her grandparents following her

from the music business in the late seventies. Several of her

parents’ divorce until she was old enough to go to school, then

songs have been re-released on compilation albums, and her

moved to Greenwood, to live with her father where she attended

songs continue to receive acclaim — “Ode To Billy Joe” received

grade school.

a 1999 Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

She landed her first recording contract in 1967, and the song

Like others from Mississippi, musicians in particular, Bobbie

that made her famous, “Ode to Billy Joe”, was the title track for

Gentry’s appeal has stood the test of time. There is something

that first release. “Ode to Billy Joe” won 3 Grammy awards for

haunting and otherworldly about her music and how it depicts a

Gentry, including Best Vocal Performance by a Female, Best

part of the South that the world still finds intriguing. Artists still

Contemporary Female Solo Vocal Performance, and Best New

record her music, and her story continues to garner attention

Artist, making her the first country artist ever to win in this catego-

in an effort, perhaps, to unravel the mystery she created in

ry. Another of her hit songs, “Fancy” (1970), was voted a top 100

“Ode” almost 40 years ago. ■

M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 103


Proud toCall Mississippi Home

Seemingly ripped straight from the pages of one of his novels,

pelling, the pages turn and the readers are happy.” A regular on

John Grisham’s life has taken many a twist and turn leading to

the The New York Times best seller list, Grisham’s most famous

unparalleled success. Grisham left two careers to pursue a

works include A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and

“secret hobby” that eventually won him acclaim as one of the

The Chamber. His eighteen titles have sold more than one

most popular and successful American authors of all times.

hundred million copies

Admitting that he never planned on becoming a best-selling writer, Grisham’s advice to college graduates is, “You’d better

Despite his stellar rise to fame, John Grisham has successfully managed to keep his feet on solid ground. Seemingly

be careful. Life may have other plans.” Life certainly had other

unimpressed with his notoriety, Grisham stays connected with

plans for John Grisham.

friends and organizations that were part of the early fabric of

Born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to hard-working parents committed to providing a sound education for their five children,

his life. Mississippi State University students and alumni reap the benefits of Grisham’s generosity while enjoying the John

Grisham and his siblings received the formalized education their

Grisham Room, located in Mitchell Memorial Library. Hoping to

parents never had. Grisham’s family moved through the years

encourage and support aspiring new writers, Grisham established

to towns like Delhi, Louisiana, and Parkin, Arkansas, finally

the John and Renée Grisham Emerging Southern Writers

JohnGrisham AUTHOR

program at the University of Mississippi, which provides writers in residence a stipend and a home. Little League baseball players in the Charlottesville, Virginia, area have enjoyed Grisham’s passion for the game. Grisham and his family moved to Charlottesville from Oxford

settling in Southaven, Mississippi. Sights and sounds from

a number of years ago. He funded a sports complex for the

these places resonate throughout fictional locales of

community and is personally involved in coaching and managing

Grisham’s thrillers.

the teams. “We are able to teach kids that good sportsmanship

Grisham doggedly pursued his childhood dream of becoming

is more important than winning.” Grisham’s childhood dream of

a professional baseball player through his sophomore year in

playing baseball has taken on a new reality, fueling the dreams

college. Finally realizing that the dream was just that, Grisham

of others as well.

transferred to Mississippi State University and switched to accounting. Upon graduation, Grisham enrolled in law school at the University of Mississippi, where criminal law caught his eye. Once out of law school, Grisham established a private practice

The most recent example of Grisham’s benevolence and undying devotion to Mississippi is a five-million-dollar gift creating the Rebuild the Coast Fund Organization. The program provides financial assistance to individuals and businesses that fell victim

in Southaven. His legal career provided a foundation of expertise

to Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Louisiana and Mississippi

from which he draws when developing plots for many of his sto-

coasts on August 29, 2005. Commenting on the indomitable ▲

spirit of Mississippi’s people, Grisham shares, “Hope here comes from the people and their remarkable belief that, if we all stick

serving in the legislature, Grisham found time to write, working

together, we’ll survive.”

in predawn hours on the draft of his first book, A Time to Kill.

Enjoying the fruits of his success, Grisham now writes

Grisham discovered that he enjoyed writing about law rather

about half of the year and spends the other half at his leisure.

than practicing it and in 1991, he left his law practice, said

Book signings only occur at five Mississippi bookstores and

goodbye to politics, and pursued his writing career full time. Authenticity is a hallmark of Grisham’s work. Believable char-

one in Virginia. Despite the passage of time and the trappings of success, Grisham has never forgotten where his success

acters grappling with identifiable struggles keep readers coming

began. When asked what keeps him coming back to

back for more. Committed to integrity in his writing, the author

Mississippi, Grisham responds with a twinkle in his eye,

shares, “When the fiction is authentic and accurate and com-

“Friends, family, catfish.” ■

104 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E

© FRANK CAPRI/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

ries. Grisham also served as the representative from Mississippi’s Seventh District in the state’s House of Representatives. While


M I S S I S S I P P I C E L E B R I T Y | 105


106 | P R O U D T O C A L L M I S S I S S I P P I H O M E


Celebrity2nd  

Proud toCall Mississippi Home MAJOR GENERAL Above right: General Fox Conner in Panama, 1924–signed for John Eisenhower. Photo courtesy of th...

Advertisement
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you