Elvis Presley in Tupelo

Elvis Presley shakes, rattles, and rolls as he performs at the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair, Tupelo, Mississippi, September 27, 1956. (AP Photo/RCA Victor)

Early this year, Daily Journal staff began planning how to remember our history. In 2020, the city of Tupelo and the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal both celebrate 150 years. Ten months after those conversations began, one thing is clear: this year, we’ve been making history and not simply remembering it. Our early planning was conducted without any awareness of the upheavals that would strike around the world and close to home in this year of 2020.

This community is not a stranger to upheaval. Infectious diseases, deadly natural disasters, economic uncertainties and community divisions have each made their presence felt – repeatedly, at times – and have called forth a response.

So perhaps there’s no better time to pause and reflect on the course taken by this city and this newspaper than at a time of unusually heightened strains. Difficulty here in our community has often been a spur to new and greater development.

This special section sets out to tell the Tupelo story afresh. The community’s leaders, civic figures and boosters have long been proud of the city’s story and have told it frequently – a hardscrabble, impoverished community with few resources transforms itself over the course of the 20th century into a small but vibrant city known for a cooperative, forward-thinking civic spirit and a “can do” self-reliance.

That story has not just served to repeat the past, but to muster resources for the future, to harness the ideal of the “Tupelo Spirit” as the community faces new challenges.

No louder voice telling this story has existed than the Daily Journal as led by its longtime publisher, George McLean, during the key decades of the middle twentieth century and then by his successors following. Well, some things never change, and in this sesquicentennial year, the Daily Journal is telling the story again.

Some of it will be familiar, and there’s value in the familiar. That’s how a culture, with its ideals and values, is passed down from one generation to the next. The birth, growth and development of the city; the transformation of electrification bringing with it the historic visit of a president; the strife of natural disaster; the birth of a musical legend; the economic gains of industry.

An effort has been made, however, to highlight some previously less told aspects of these familiar stories: Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in the historic presidential visit of 1934; new research casting light on the long neglected Black experience of the 1936 tornado; the figures who fought a long, quiet battle to break down barriers and demand the fruits of full equality.

In the telling anew of these 150 years gone past, may they provide the promise of 150 more years of progress yet to come.

– Caleb Bedillion, special projects editor


Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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