Two hundred years ago Mississippi became the 20th state of the United States of America. Several anniversary observances were held at the beginning of the year and more are planned for the end, closer to the Dec. 10 official ratification date.
Though our country rages debate on many sensitive issues, one topic cannot be questioned: Mississippians have made an impact on not only our state and nation but also the world. Whether it is from the sands of the Gulf Coast to the red clay of the River or the kudzu-draped landscape of the Hills, we are right there clearing a path through history.
Of course when we think of famous people from the state, several names immediately come to mind — Elvis Presley, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Henson, Morgan Freeman, Conway Twitty, LeAnn Rimes, Britney Spears, Brett Favre, Archie Manning, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Deuce McAllister, Jimmy Buffett, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham, Charlaine Harris, and James Earl Jones.
Though these are just a few whose names are probably recognizable by most, there are thousands of others for whom we need to be grateful.
Among them are:
* Gail Borden of Amite County, inventor of condensed milk;
* Harry A. Cole of Jackson, inventor of Pine-Sol;
* Elizabeth Lee Hazen of Rich, microbiologist and developer of nystatin;
* Martin F. Jue of Starkville, amateur radio inventor;
* Chester H. Pond, inventor of the electrical self-winding clock;
* James Hardy of Jackson, surgeon who performed the first successful cadaveric lung transplant;
* Fred Smith of Marks, founder of FedEx;
* Robert Pittman of Jackson, founder of MTV;
* Hartley Peavey of Meridian, founder of Peavey Electronics;
* Robert L. Johnson of Hickory, founder of Black Entertainment Television;
* Fred Carl Jr. of Greenwood, founder of Viking Range Corporation; and
* Joseph A. Biedenharn of Vicksburg, confectioner and first Coca-Cola bottler.
Closer to home, Bolivar County can boast C.L. Franklin of Shelby, the father of singing legend Aretha Franklin; sculptor Floyd Shaman of Cleveland; Paul Gallo of Shaw, radio show host; T.R.M. Howard of Mound Bayou, surgeon and activists; Larry Speakes of Cleveland, presidential spokesman; writer Jack Butler of Alligator; Richard Ragan of Cleveland, White House official and UN diplomat; Bobby Bradford of Cleveland, jazz musician and composer; Bruce Levingston of Cleveland, pianist and composer; baseball pitchers, Boo Ferriss of Shaw and Kevin Rogers of Cleveland; basketball players Travarus Bennett of Rosedale and Margaret Wade of Cleveland; and football players Tony Bennett of Alligator, Bobby Crespino of Duncan, Kevin Henry of Mound Bayou, Ken Lucas of Cleveland, Bill Triplett of Shaw and Floyd Womack of Cleveland.
If this small sampling of standouts is extraordinary, one could only imagine that a complete list would be staggering.
As we Bolivar Countians and Mississippians contemplate the 200th anniversary of our state, the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce has planned a free Bicentennial celebration from 2-8 p.m. Saturday in downtown Cleveland. Music, food and games plus 200 parachute lanterns will be released in honor of the statehood anniversary.
The afternoon will be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and friends, listen to music and celebrate the Great State of Mississippi.