Examining Choctaw County 75 years ago for changes over time

By Daniel Brunty The Choctaw Plaindealer

As the residents of Choctaw County continuously see the economic growth and prosperity at present, they are looking forward to a brighter future. With such progress, it is hard to imagine the success from where the county was previously in the past. Elvis Graves, a long-time resident of Choctaw County, spoke on the how the county was 75 years ago, when he was 18 years old. “Ackerman was a town back in that day that didn’t have any chain stores,” said Graves. “There were individually owned stores, several of them. Main Street then was about like it is now. It was all about agriculture back then.” There were a lot of people around here who worked at Choctaw Lake because of that. Most of it was manual labor.” Choctaw County saw its share of ups and downs during 1937. ““I think 1937 was a pretty typical year,” said Graves. “It was after the Depression, so things were getting a little better. When Roosevelt became President in 1932, he started the WPA (Works Progress Administration) that hired people and improved things.” Some of those events and happenings of the year that were in The Choctaw Plaindealer from 1937 include: • “Two transients killed and bodies burned (March 26, 1937)”— What was described at the time by The Choctaw Plaindealer as “the most diabolical crime that has ever been committed in this section”, two men were murdered on the outskirts of Ackerman. Both were shot and beaten to death. What made the scene even worse at the time was that an attempt to cremate the bodies was performed postmortem. Neither men were ever identified and after a jury and inquest by Judge G.P. Reed, a verdict that the two men came to their death by unknown parties. • “Supervisor special election set for January 27” (January 15, 1937)—At the end of 1936, Board of Supervisor Mr. John Shaw passed away. Until they could hold a special election for the position, then Gov. Hugh L. White appointed Mrs. John Shaw to his position by recommendation of the board. The notice for the special election printed in The Choctaw Plaindealer is very similar to the ones printed today. Also, a petition with at least 15 signatures was required of candidates who wanted to qualify for the election, similar to today’s practices. • “Choctaw County is leading sweet potato section” (February 12, 1937)—Choctaw County had 105 sweet potato growers with 217 acres, making it the leading section for sweet potatoes in Mississippi in 1937. Mississippi today has 150 growers in the state, growing on 8,200 acres. The county is now a far cry from leading the state, with sweet potatoes taking a backseat to other crops. • “New Auto Agency Opens in Ackerman” (April 30, 1937)—The town of Ackerman received a brand-new automobile agency in 1937 located in the brick building on the corner of Main and Commerce Streets called R.L. Cooper Auto Company. The business, which was owned by R.L. Cooper, sold Ford vehicles as well as repaired them. • “Farm program helps Choctaw Farmers” (May 7, 1937)—County Agent B.U. Jones announced on this day that soil conserving and soil building payments totaling $39,309.27 had been made to 1,781 Choctaw County farmers under the 1936 agricultural conservation program. Farmers who participated in this government funded program reaped huge benefits by planting large acreages to soil conserving and soil improving crops, and receiving top dollar for cotton and cotton seeds produced, allowing them to make more money and live more comfortably. With agriculture being a mainstay for the county back then, this funding helped the county’s economy. • “Everybody worked on a farm that was about the main job it was” said Graves. “People raising cotton, corn, a few peanuts maybe. They lived on what they made pretty much. We had two gins back then, one downtown and one on Babers Road. There would be wagons lined to get the cotton back then.” • “Natchez Trace gets funds from Congress” (July 2, 1937)—The U.S. Senate voted and approved a $7,200,000 appropriation for 1938 construction work on the Blue Ridge and Natchez Trace parkways on June 28, 1937. A committee amendment increased the funding for the Natchez Trace from $500,000 to $2,700,000. The money voted for the Natchez Trace was divided between Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee according to mileage of the parkway located in each state. • “Road contract on Highway 15 awarded” (September 3, 1937)— The State Highway Commission awarded a contract for the grading and draining of 4,997 miles of road construction on Hwy 15. The contract was awarded to the W.W. Keaton Construction Company. The construction company had done previous contracts on the same highway. The contract would connect the blacktop of the Cunningham, place to a location about two miles south of Ackerman. The next contract in that section would join the one previously discussed and would come through Ackerman going north. The route was made to miss the business section of the town, about ¾ mile west and crossing then G.M. & N. and I.C. Railroads at their intersection. The reason for this was that the streets of Chester were so congested in their business section due to the city officials not taking steps to pass laws to remedy the parking of cars, trucks, and other vehicles on that thoroughfare. The reason why Hwy 15 and Hwy 25 would be routed away from the business section would be the lack of town authorities enforcing traffic laws. • “Weir News by Annie Day McArthur”—In most editions of The Choctaw Plaindealer in 1937, there was a section of news from the town of Weir written by Annie Day McArthur. In it she detailed happenings around the town as well as updating everyone on local resident’s health and well-being. The tradition of Weir News is still being upheld to this day by Weir’s very own Frances Martin. • “Beer matter to be tried here today” (December 10, 1937)— Then Chancery Court Judge T.P. Guyton held court on this day regarding the sale of beer in Choctaw County. The sale of beer had been voted out the month before. Dealers of the beverage went into the courts after the decision, however, and were allowed to sell it for a short while, only to have it outlawed again. Judge Guyton would make his decision and it would be published in next week’s edition of The Choctaw Plaindealer. • “Choctaw Beer Election declared void” (December 17, 1937)— After hearing attorneys in proceedings over the sale of beer in Choctaw County, Judge T.P. Guyton declared that the election held in November regarding the sale of beer, was null and void. His reason of making this decision was that the election notice should have been published 30 days before the election, but proof showed that only 26 days had passed between the first publication of the notice and the date on which the election was held. This allowed beer dealers to continue to sell without penalty.