After 36 years, the Mississippi Picnic in Central Park is no more.
Funding woes have ended the event, according to a post on the website for the New York-Mississippi Society, which hosts the annual event.
“The 36 years of the Mississippi Picnics has been wonderful and a positive thing for all those involved but with the competition of funding sources and the rising costs and complexity of putting this event together, The New York Society regrets to announce that there are no plans for any future picnics,” the statement said.
During its run, the picnic was famous for drawing thousands of current and former Mississippians to Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park each June. Vendors from around the state, such as Simmons Catfish in Yazoo City and Sugaree Bakery in New Albany, shipped their wares a thousand miles north, so participants could have a taste of home.
In recent years, Gov. Phil Bryant and first lady Deborah Bryant have flown to New York to join in.
Jeff Rent, spokesman for the Mississippi Development Authority, said that that state gave $10,000 to help stage the picnic in 2015, the last year it was held.
But last year, the the picnic folded for the first time since the event started in 1980. At the time, the New York Mississippi Society blamed House Bill 1523, the “religious freedom” law, which the governor had signed on week earlier.
“For almost four decades, the Mississippi Picnic in Central Park has consistently celebrated the best of our state, without regard to race, religion, or gender orientation … Any law such as HB 1523 that discriminates against even a single member of our community cannot be tolerated, and therefore we have decided to stand up for all Mississippians by cancelling the 2016 picnic in the park,” the four founders of the New York Mississippi Society wrote in a statement in April.
The bill, which drew praise from state Republican leaders and in some conservative Christian circles for its attempt to protect strongly held religious beliefs, angered others who felt it opened a door to discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender Mississippians.
A federal judge overturned HB 1523 in June, minutes before it would have taken effect. The governor is appealing this decision with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.