John Howell Sr. Editorial 1/17/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 17, 2014

Historic markers long time in coming; now we need more

Perhaps you have noticed the two historic markers recently installed in Batesville. There’s one at the St. Stephens Episcopal Church on Panola Ave. Another has been erected at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Richard Corson on Country Club Road, the home completed in 1856 by Rev. James W. Bates, for whom Batesville was named.

The third marker will be unveiled Monday at Mt. Zion M. B. Church. You can read plenty about that starting on page 1.

The fourth sign is ready for the downtown Square. City officials may wait before mounting it. When the drawings were presented for a small park proposed for the corner of Eureka Street’s entrance to the Square, Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said, “I want to put the sign right there.” It is a good location. We may just have to wait a little while before it’s ready. Or city officials may decide to give it a temporary home elsewhere on the Square in the interim.

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The historical marker placement began, as best I recall, during a meeting of the Panola County Genealogical and Historical Society (Pan-Gens). Members voted to ask the mayor and aldermen for two markers, one at Mt. Zion church and one at the Jim Bates home.
The idea was presented soon after to Batesville’s city officials who readily agreed to buy the two markers.

That’s where the idea languished for too long, mainly because I couldn’t provide a date for King’s visit. Many people remembered when he came and spoke at the Mt. Zion shortly before his assassination in Memphis, but nobody was sure of the date and those who were remembered the wrong date.

I finally found in Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge a written account of King’s activities that put him in Batesville on March 19, 1968, but I did not feel like that was a first-hand source. The information for the markers that the city submitted to the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History would have to meet standards of authenticity, I felt, or they might not approve it.

Meanwhile, the mayor and aldermen were hearing from Main Street representatives and economic development consultants about the need to mark the places in their community where historic events occurred or where historic structures stand. Or stood. They thought up other places that needed markers and became very interested in getting them

It was Lauralee Gann whose research provided the credible information to substantiate the date of King’s visit to Batesville. She’s an engineering assistant with the city’s engineer, Blake Mendrop. She took the project to heart and found documentation in King’s own words about his visit here. Once that was in hand, the rest was paperwork. And time.

That time came to fruition with the arrival of the first four markers. Before they arrived, we had already begun thinking about other places that need to be marked — the site of the old river town of Panola foremost among them.

And it’s only a matter of time before we see a brass plate mounted somewhere in our city like those seen in New Orleans’ French Quarter and elsewhere:
“On this site in 1897, absolutely nothing happened.”