By ANGIE CARNATHAN
Historian Forrest Lamar Cooper signs his book “Looking Back Mississippi: Towns and Places” at the Book Mart & Cafe on Main St. Saturday at 1 p.m.
The book is a collection of 39 of Cooper’s essays on various cities, towns and historically relevant places throughout Mississippi from three decades of columns the author wrote for Mississippi Magazine. Each essay is partnered with photographs and postcards from Cooper’s private collection and cover a period of time from the mid-1800s to the 1930s.
Cooper said he has found Mississippi history interesting since he was a boy.
“I have been fascinated with my heritage –– Mississippi –– ever since I was 12 years old,” Cooper said. “I know this because I still have newspaper clippings about my home town of Florence and other nearby communities which I have kept for more than 50 years. I love to research, whether it is hunting arrowheads or reading an old book. I love the quest to learn something new, especially if it is some truth from the past.”
Cooper’s essays give the reader a unique look at the ways in which towns across Mississippi have changed, either from time or natural disasters, and also the ways some things have stayed the same.
“Small towns for the most part have changed quite a bit,” Cooper said. “Eighty years ago, Mississippi had over 1,000 towns indicative of a strong agrarian society. Today there are about 300 towns which shows that our people are becoming more urban. What hasn’t changed for those towns which still thrive is town pride. Mississippians are quick to identify and defend ‘their town.’”
Cooper said he hopes this book will bring Mississippi readers a feeling of fellowship with other Mississippians and see the ways in which we are more alike than different.
“It is my hope that readers will look back at our state’s heritage and realize that Mississippians are blessed,” Cooper said. “Our towns, all centered around churches, cathedrals and synagogues are simply made up of people who belong to different congregations. I think the old postcard views and photographs show, for the most part, that we Mississippians are pretty much all on the same page, and thankfully we basically all still read from the same book.”
For readers who come from other states or areas of the country or even the world, Cooper said he hopes to show them how special Mississippi is and the people who call it home.
“Hopefully, outsiders will see that Mississippi’s uniqueness is its people,” Cooper said. “In a very large way Mississippi is family. It makes no difference for example if you enter the state from the Tennessee line from Memphis and you actually live in Bay St. Louis –– once you cross the Mississippi line you immediately are filled with the comforting feeling, ‘I’m home again.’ I don’t think you can say this about many states.”
For more information on Cooper, visit http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/cooper/colldesc.php .