This Jackson State homecoming story begins 98 years ago. Edward Bishop, the grandson of slaves, had completed the eighth grade in his hometown of Starkville, but there was no such thing as a high school for Black teens at the time in all of Oktibbeha County.
Edward’s father, who worked for a wholesale grocer, knew his son was bright and had a world of potential. So he sent him down to Jackson and what was then Jackson College to finish high school and then attend college, working his way through school as a porter at the old King Edward Hotel. Young Edward played varsity football for what would become Jackson State University, although he was technically still attending high school. He completed four years of high school and four years of college in six years total. He could have not have imagined it then, but he was starting a grand family tradition.
But before we get to all that, you should learn about Edward Bishop’s later accomplishments. His parents had been correct. He did have a world of potential. All he needed was an education. He got that at Jackson State where he earned his B.A. degree in history and political science in 1930.
He then taught and coached at Lanier High School from 1930 until 1935 before moving to Corinth, where he became a high school principal until 1969. He later served as State Director of the Governor’s Council on Children under two governors and was elected a Corinth city alderman in 1977. In 1980, he was elected mayor of Corinth, a town that was then 85% white. That bears repeating: In 1980, a Black man was elected mayor of a northeast Mississippi town that was 85% white.
How in the world?
Edward’s lone surviving son, B.V. “Bev” Bishop Sr., 83, believes he knows the answer. “My daddy got along with everybody,” he said. “He respected everybody and he earned the respect of everyone he met. He proved himself as an alderman. People knew he was the best man for the job.”
It’s homecoming this weekend Jackson State. The undefeated football Tigers, ranked No. 1 among all the nation’s HBCUs, will play Campbell (N.C.) University Saturday afternoon. The homecoming parade in downtown Jackson is Saturday morning at 8. It’s a big deal for the Bishop family every year. It’s an especially big deal this year when the family will celebrate not only Deion Sanders’ high-achieving team but also four generations of Bishops playing for the Tigers.
It started with Edward Bishop. It continued with his sons, their sons and then their grandsons. It started with flimsy leather helmets, number-less jerseys and scant padding, and it continues with today’s space-age helmets and flashy, form-fitting Nike uniforms.
“It is in our blood,” says B.V. Bishop, who was one of three of Edward Bishop’s sons to play at JSU. Edward Bishop had four sons. The oldest, Edward Jr., did not play football but graduated from JSU and became an accomplished reporter at WJTV in Jackson. Brothers Ralph, Harold and B.V. “Bev” all played for the Tigers and graduated from JSU. Ralph, who played center and is a member of Jackson State’s Team of the Century, was later a valued member of W.C. Gorden’s coaching staff at Jackson State when the Tigers dominated the SWAC every bit as much as Sanders’ Tigers are dominating it now.
B.V. “Bev” Bishop, who played for the legendary Big John Merritt in the early 1960s, was teammates with NFL great Willie Richardson and famed Mississippi Valley coach Archie Cooley at Jackson State. That was before integration in the Deep South when nearly all the talented Black players in the South played at SWAC schools.
“One of the greatest athletes I’ve ever witnessed,” Bev Bishop says of Richardson. “Everybody knows Archie Cooley as a coach, but he was a really good lineman at Jackson State.”
The Bishops’ JSU tradition did not end there. Bev Bishop’s son, “Bev II,” played for Gorden. Ralph Bishop’s son, Shawn, also played at JSU. And so did Shawn’s son, Shawn Bishop II, the family’s fourth generation to play for the Tigers.
What does Jackson State mean to the Bishop family? Tears welled in 83-year-old B.V. Bishop’s eyes before he gathered himself to answer. “It means everything,” he said. “It means the world.”
Yes, it’s a lot to take in. And there’s more. B.V. Bishop’s daughter, Dr. Dawn Bishop McLin, teaches psychology at JSU. She graduated and earned her Masters at JSU before getting her doctorate at Mississippi State.
“I could have gone anywhere to college,” she says. “Jackson State was in my blood.”
Her mother was a member of JSU’s Prancing J-Settes, the school’s famed dance team.
Dawn Bishop McLin, Edward Bishop’s granddaughter, believes strongly not only in JSU but also the mission of HBCUs in America. She refers to a 2019 study by McKenzie and Company, a global management and consulting firm.
“HBCUs have graduated 40% of all Black engineers, 40% of all Black U.S. Congress members, 50% of all Black lawyers, and 80% of all Black judges. The numbers speak for themselves,” McLin says.
She had plenty of other statistics to support her belief in JSU and HBCUs, but she doesn’t need any other numbers this weekend. The Bishop family speaks for itself. Surely, Edward Bishop would be mighty proud.