GULFPORT – The “party of the century,” as it’s billed, kicked off Friday morning at Centennial Plaza on Beach Boulevard. The state’s southernmost counties have come together to celebrate their culture and contributions to Mississippi’s 200 year history with a two-day festival.
Busloads of elementary children led the charge of visitors to historical exhibits, food vendors and musical performances.
South Mississippi’s Bicentennial Celebration is one of three major events scheduled around the state. The Mississippi Bicentennial Concert Celebration North will take place June 24 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Oxford. And the final celebration is set for Dec. 9 in Central Mississippi, culminating in the opening of the new Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.
Tickets to this weekend’s activities are free to the public. The festival concludes with the Governor’s Concert on Saturday evening. The Band Perry, Vasti Jackson, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and Paul Thorn are among the performers in the plaza.
A stamp for the state
The U.S. Postal Service debuted a Forever stamp at a first-day-of-issue ceremony on the main stage in Centennial Plaza commemorating the 200th anniversary of Mississippi’s statehood.
The Mississippi Statehood Commemorative Forever stamp is the latest addition to the Postal Service’s Statehood series. It features a close-up of the hands of Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, a blues musician from Bentonia.
Feeling the love
Timothy Dore and his wife moved to Pass Christian from California about four years ago as a sort of compromise. His wife wanted to be in New Orleans, where she could order pizza 24 hours a day, and he wanted more peace and quiet.
“How can you beat it?,” Dore said. “You’ve got the beach and the people are fun and friendly.”
Friends Marjorie Lee and Jacquelyn Stokes arrived in the morning and spent the day lounging in a shady spot near the entrance and posing for photos. The women, both of whom live on the Gulf Coast, said they were having a great time.
Stokes was born in Jones County, but her family moved to Pennsylvania when she was a child. However, every fall, the family returned home to help with the harvest because her father wanted to make sure his children knew their Mississippi roots.
In 2010, she retired to the Gulf Coast.
“I fell in love with the people and knew that I didn’t want to be anyplace but here,” Stokes told Mississippi Today.
Lee was born in and still lives in Pass Christian, but has traveled across the country as a truck driver. In her travels, she says she has encountered the gamut of Mississippi stereotypes, including questions about whether paved roads exist in the Magnolia State.
“I think Mississippi is misunderstood – because of the media and people just not wanting to know (better),” Lee said. “If you’ve got to grow up and grow old, this is the place to do it.”
Both women agreed that Mississippi’s portrayal in popular culture, as a backward state where whites and African Americans are hopelessly and perpetually at odds is a lie.
They’ve felt no such tension at the bicentennial party, they said.
“Whatever is going on in our societal environmental with politics, none of that has been felt here. It’s just a lot of love,” Stokes said.