VICKERS/The Old South can still be found

By OVID VICKERS
Commentary


The question is sometimes asked does the Old South still exist? Well, yes, it certainly does. If a person stands at a distance and looks objectively at Philadelphia, Miss., he will see that the town embodies (even in the 21st century) many of those facets attributed to what is called The Old South.

Since towns like Philadelphia exist on several different levels, the observer must cast about to discover the mystique which has established itself and continues to define the identity of Southern towns and communities.
Many of these customs, manners, and traditions which stamp a place as being Old South came about before and during The War and have endured to this very day.

To be truly Southern, a town must have suffered the ravages inflicted by a Northern army which occupied the town or simply engaged in burning and pillaging as they marched through. The occupying army often stayed briefly because of the nearness of a pursuing Confederate cavalry.

Philadelphia certainly meets this criteria, for a Northern army did march into town and engage in burning and pillaging. On the 24th day of April, 1863, Col. Benjamin Grierson and three regiments of cavalry made up of 1700 men and several artillery pieces entered the county at Stallo and marched south to Philadelphia. The next day they marched south to Union, completing an almost direct north-south line through the countys most heavily populated area.

Grierson did not tarry in Neshoba County because he met resistance at every turn. Local citizens took up arms and the dashing Captain Henry Forbes returned quickly to Philadelphia from Macon where he and his troop of 35 men had been deployed. Although greatly outnumbered, Forbes and his men ambushed Griersons army on its march through the county.

Every Southern town has at least one local author who observes and records the lives and activities of a towns citizens and, for that matter, anyone who might be passing through.
Philadelphia has produced more than one writer.

As early as 1940 Clayton Rand was making some very interesting and astute observations about Philadelphia and Neshoba County in his book Ink on My Hands.

Florence Mars penned a best seller when she recorded the civil rights struggle in Witness in Philadelphia, and Smith Wood told us what it was like to grow up in Neshoba County in the 1940s in his novel Beyond Childhood. Rachel Evans and Betty Seward penned an entertaining and sometimes poignant story with their Nor Far From the Zinnias.

William Faulkner told us in his short story A Rose for Emily that it is characteristic of Southern towns to have an unsolved mystery that is talked about from one generation to the next.
Philadelphia has such stories. Mystery continues to surround the death of the brother of a prominent Philadelphia figure.

One day in 1901 a citizen shot and killed the gentlemen in question on the streets of Philadelphia. The reason for the shooting has never been fully understood, but, understandably, the event caused great excitement. When the man who did the shooting was arrested, it was felt that he might not be safe in the Philadelphia jail because of the popularity and influence of the family of the man who was killed. For this reason, the accused was sent to Macon and then brought back to Neshoba County for trial. Although he pleaded self defense, he was found guilty and sent back to the Macon jail. (It is not clear why he was not sent to the state penitentiary.)

At this point the story takes on a strange twist. The brother of the accused went to Macon and convinced the authorities to let him take his brothers place in the jail so the incarcerated brother would come home and visit his wife and children and attend to his crop. This practice went on for some months with one brother staying two weeks and the other brother the next two.

After about a year or eighteen months, as best the story can be pieced together, a new trial was held at which time witnesses came forward and testified that they had observed the shooting and that the accused acted in self defense.

This story has two ironic aspects. The son of the prisoner grew up to be elected to a very important position in Mississippis judicial system, and today the copies of the Neshoba Democrat which carried accounts of the shooting and the subsequent trial are missing from the archives.

John Berendt immortalized womens clubs in the South through his depiction of such clubs in his winning novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Philadelphia, like almost all Southern towns, has womens clubs.
These clubs were founded years ago and continue to be active. Today, members no longer attend meetings wearing hats and gloves and carrying a handbag complete with a lace-bordered handkerchief and a silver compact.

Manners stay in place in Southern towns long after they have disappeared elsewhere. The other day while eating at the Coffee Bean, a most pleasant place by the way, I noticed a gentleman pull out a chair for his mother and make sure she was comfortable before he stepped to the counter to order.

So, if someone said, Does Philadelphia represent a town out of the Old South? I would have to say yes. Philadelphia has it all: a cemetery on a hill, a court square, magnolias, moonlight, friendly folks, fried chicken and men who continue to seat their mothers in restaurants.