Tupelo, Mississippi was incorporated July 20, 1870 and yesterday we celebrated our 150th birthday as an incorporated municipality in the State of Mississippi. Since that time, we have transformed from a small railroad town to a five time All-America City. We have transformed into what the American Banking Journal dubbed “Bank City USA” as the smallest city in the United States to be the home of two financial institutions valued at over 10 billion dollars. Tupelo is now a global leader in the furniture industry and boasts the Nation’s largest rural hospital, North Mississippi Medical Center.
Tupelo is one of the smallest cities in the country to own a 10,000-seat municipal arena, to have our own symphony, community theatre, and robust art and foodie scenes. From very humble origins, we have now become a regional hub for economic activity, arts and entertainment, and a model for public education. As the birthplace of Elvis Presley, we have become an international tourist destination. And because of our strong progressive spirit, we have also become a hub for international businesses with Toyota, Grammar, Philips Day-Brite Capri Omega, and other international companies all located right here in Tupelo and the immediate vicinity.
The history of Tupelo is the history of the western expansion of the United States. As I have written in a previous column, it can be argued, with a straight face, that we speak English in America because on May 26, 1736, the “unconquered and unconquerable” Chickasaw Nation defeated the French in the Battle of Ackia in what is now Tupelo, Mississippi. In 1905, our Congressman, Private John Allen, delivered his famous “fish hatchery” speech, declaring that Tupelo was “very near, if not exactly, in the center of the world.” The Tupelo area has a long history of being a progressive southern city. In 1914 the Lee County Board of Supervisors traveled to Michigan to study paved roads and soon thereafter, Tupelo and Lee County was home to the first paved road in the south. That tradition continued into the 1930s, when in 1934, Tupelo became the “First TVA City” and began to look toward manufacturing as the future of economic development.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Tupelo to celebrate his “New Deal” success in 1934, neither he, nor locals Vernon and Gladys Presley, who would soon have a child named Elvis, had any way of knowing that Tupelo would soon have to learn to cope with recovering from a natural disaster. But, in the wake of the deadly tornado of April 1936, Tupelo did learn to recover from disaster and what we now revere as the “Tupelo Spirit” was born. In 2014, in the wake of another devastating tornado that followed an eerily similar path, we saw that famed “Tupelo Spirit” reborn.
That “Tupelo Spirit” has guided us through rebuilding, continued growth and progress. Tupelo went from being a poor city in a poor state to being a regional hub for manufacturing, medical care and the banking leader of the southeastern United States.
As we go forward into the next 150 years, it is of paramount importance that we continue to build upon the pillars of success that have gotten us to where we are today. Early in our history we bucked the trend of the rest of the Southeastern United States. We welcomed manufacturing and industrial diversification, we avoided the racial strife and discord that occurred in so many other parts of the country, and we had an unwavering commitment to public education. We inherently knew that a rising tide lifts all boats and in today’s often acrimonious climate, we must never forget that it still remains true – that our model of a more robust local economy for everyone means that we all do better.
Our city’s commitment to public education was and remains the key to our city’s success. The future of the City of Tupelo and the future of the Tupelo Public School District are one and the same.
With a great appreciation of our city’s incredible success, I still whole heartedly believe that our best days are yet to come. If we remain true to the pillars of success that have gotten us to where are today, we can continue to be that shining city on the hill for the next 150 years.
Happy Birthday, Tupelo! May God continue to bless and keep our wonderful All-America City.