On Emancipation Day, Back to Mississippi

In 2014, the Voices in Harmony chorus from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science performed at Sandfield Cemetery to commemorate Emancipation Day.
In 2014, the Voices in Harmony chorus from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science performed at Sandfield Cemetery to commemorate Emancipation Day. (James Fallows / The Atlantic)

About the author: James Fallows is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, and author of the newsletter Breaking the News. He was chief White House speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, and is a co-founder, with his wife, Deborah Fallows, of the Our Towns Civic Foundation.

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Five years ago today, Deb Fallows and I were in Columbus, Mississippi, to observe the commemoration of Emancipation Day held in the cemetery there. My dispatch about it at the time is here; in the years that followed, Deb and I made repeated visits to Columbus and its neighbors in the “Golden Triangle” of northeastern Mississippi to write about the area’s industries, one of its exceptional schools, its also exceptional community college, and other aspects of its successes and challenges.

You can read some of the two dozen Atlantic dispatches we wrote from the Golden Triangle here or here, or check out this Atlantic video. We also did a long chapter about the area in our subsequent book, Our Towns, which as it happens was published a year ago today.

This week we are back in Columbus again, to report once more on those same aspects: schools, industry, history, inclusion and exclusion, progress and struggle. Later this evening we will be at the cemetery again, for this year’s observation of Emancipation Day.

Over the next few days we’ll have several dispatches from Mississippi, in the model of the preceding series on cities in Indiana. Next in the queue is a report on the only family-owned daily newspaper still operating in Mississippi, The Commercial Dispatch, whose headquarters on Main Street you see below, and what it is doing to buck the trends that have been so dire for local journalism across the country.

James Fallows / The Atlantic

Update Here was a scene from this evening’s presentation:

Students from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science during the Emancipation Day celebration in Columbus on May 8, 2019. MSMS senior Dairian Bowles is in the foreground, in the role of Reconstruction-era Mississippi state Senator Robert Gleed.