Rogers tells story of state’s diverse historical markers as snapshots of culture

May 28th, 2021     Community Featured News

Snapshots of Mississippi’s history and culture are available throughout the state in the form of more than 1,000 roadside historical markers.

This past week a man intimately familiar with them talked about their history and some of the more unusual ones as well as providing a quick and easy way to browse the markers without leaving one’s home.

William “Brother” Rogers spoke at Museum Moments May 20 at the Union County Heritage Museum.  The program was in conjunction with May being Preservation Month.

Rogers is Programs and Communications Director for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He has photographed most of the historic markers in the state and has compiled them on a website.

Brother Rogers (the “Brother” is a childhood sibling’s nickname for his rather than a religious appellation) said his interest in the markers began in 2014.

“I was at the ‘W.’ My grandmother went there,” he said. “I just started taking photos (of the markers) and before I knew it I had been to all 82 counties.”

So what was he going to do with his photo collection? “I built a website,” he said.

That website is www.mississippimarkers.com.

The site sorts the markers by region and county as well as type.

The familiar green markers from the state came first, but now there are several more types.

We have the Mississippi Blues Trail, the Mississippi Freedom Trail, the Country Music Trail, the Mississippi Mound Trail, the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Mississippi Writers Trail.

Some towns have none.

Union County has 12. They include one for New Albany, Union County, Ishtehotopah, William Faulkner, Blue Springs, Blue Springs Baptist Church, Myrtle, Stratford Company, Glenfield Baptist Church, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Mosley and Johnson and Elder Roma Wilson and Rev. Leon Pinson.

Concerning their importance, Rogers said, “These markers last a long time. This tells the next generation what we think is important.”

Some markers are paid for through the state but sometimes money must be raised. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History signs cost about $2,000 each while the new special ones, with photos and different information on each side, cost $10,000.

Rogers said former Gov. William Winter deserved credit for the marker program, started in 1949 when he was still a legislator.

Today, not only are there more than 1,100 markers, not all are in Mississippi, or even in the United States.

“They are in Tennessee, Louisiana, even Wisconsin,” he said. There are Mississippi blues markers in France and Norway, “All aimed at getting tourism into Mississippi,” he said.

Some markers are situated where history occurred. Some are essentially out in the middle of nowhere. The B. B. King and Muddy Waters markers are examples.

Rogers talked about several country music greats that have markers, mentioning Jimmie Rodgers. Although credited with being the father of country music, Rogers said, “Jimmie Rodgers never heard the term country music in his lifetime. To him, it was just music.”

A marker commemorates Johnny Cash’s Starkville incarceration after he was arrested picking flowers in a lady’s yard late at night, likely under the influence of spirits. There are civil rights markers but there also is one marking the first high school football game in Mississippi (Dec. 9, 1905 in Yazoo City) and Will Purvis. Purvis survived hanging so the huge crowd present to watch decided it was divine intervention and would not allow officials to try again.

Some signs are missing, possibly stolen or knocked down by maintenance workers or others, but Rogers said there is a record of where they were, at least.

Some may be replaced but Rogers said, “Sponsors would have to replace them. They would be privately funded.”

The archives and history department has recently approved the Union County Historical Society’s request for a marker for B. F. Ford School. The historical society have sponsored four of the markers in Union County and will sponsor the B. F. Ford marker.

There also is interest in adding the Ingomar Mound to the mound trail. It was not entirely clear why the mound has not already been approved and only 33 mounds in the western part of the state along Highway 61 are included.

Prior to his work at MDAH. Brother Rogers was director of the John C. Stennis Center for Public Service.  He grew up in Brandon,  and was a high school exchange student in Kyoto, Japan.

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