By ANGIE CARNATHAN
The Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum will present a program celebrating Black History Month today at 2 p.m. The program will feature the history of the Needmore area of Starkville and various community leaders are speaking. The event is free, and the public is encouraged to attend. There will be a roundtable discussion, and anyone with stories or memories from the area are invited to come and share. The museum is located at 206 Fellowship St. in Starkville.
Chairman of the Museum Board Joan Wilson said she hopes for a great turnout today for the program.
“The Museum’s Board of Directors along with the Friends of the Museum work to showcase the unique history and legacy of Starkville and Oktibbeha County,” Wilson said. “The museum looks forward to hosting the discussion of the Needmore Community and the opportunity to share its important history.”
Speakers include Fenton Peters, retired superintendent of Starkville Public Schools; Walter Williams, retired principal of Henderson and Emerson Schools; Charles “La La” Evans, a retired postal carrier who became Starkville’s first black postman; Betty Evans, a retired banker, and Dr. Carolyn Evans, a retired educator who served East Mississippi Community College.
Rev. Joseph Stone Jr., pastor of Second Baptist Church in Starkville, said programs like this are integral to a community.
“This month we recognize and celebrate the many significant contributions from persons of African descent,” Stone said. “It keeps before us the impact they have had on a local, state, national and global level.”
Starkville resident and program committee member Emily Jones said she has always been fascinated by the history of where she lives.
“When the museum was established one block from my house, I was first in line to do what I could,” Jones said. “I am so honored to be involved.”
Jones said the Needmore community would have been her closest neighbors and her current home on South Montgomery Street may have been a part of it.
“Had I lived during those time when racial lines governed our lives I would have missed out on knowing ‘La La’ Evans, who I consider a blood brother, and Fenton Peters, whom I only met while we were planning this program,” Jones said. “I loved hearing him talking about playing ball in the streets and eating nickel hamburgers at The Blue Goose Cafe.”
Jones said the mission of this project is to focus on the contributions of the people of Needmore and make sure that they are never forgotten.
Ruth Morgan, also a planning committee member for the program and Starkville resident, said the idea from the program began with Evans.
“It all started when ‘La La’ (Charles) Evans casually walked in the museum when I just happened to be there researching an article,” Morgan said. “He had only one thing on his mind, and that was how to get a historical marker for Needmore.”
Morgan said her knowledge base at that time consisted mostly of a lady named Ruthie Glenn, who lived on the corner of Lummus Drive and Jarnigan Street.
“She worked for the Dr. Sheely family and our family,” Morgan said. “She was always immaculately dressed in a solid black dress and white apron with her hair always styled. On Sundays, she was well dressed in a suit and beautiful hat.”
Morgan said as she got older, Glenn would come around the house during the holidays to help with meals and to see the children.
“I remember being sick shortly before she moved away, and Mother was doing her daily seven laps around Odd Fellows Cemetery and happened to see her and told her I had really been sick,” Morgan said. “She baked a butter roll, which she used to make for us as children, and brought it to the house for me. Our family had a bond with her that still warms my heart today. I said all this to say that I knew the love of a lady who lived in Needmore.”
Morgan said being the on the board of directors of the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum and vice president of the Oktibbeha County Historical Society, as well as writing her weekly column for Starkville Daily News, she has come to know many people who lived in Needmore.
According to Morgan, United States Attorney General of 1913 Wiley N. Nash said when trying to get a Union depot that he studied the Needmore area. At that time it was a suburb of Starkville, since it was outside the city limits. He wrote about the people over in the area as “quiet, peaceable and law abiding, and generally speaking try to ‘do right’; this is rather remarkable in view of the fact that all are some distance from the heart of the city living where constables and city marshals and police officers are seldom seem. Their population amounts to 159,” Nash said.
“When I read those words, ‘do right,’ I remembered going through a 1928 Starkville Directory and seeing the name of a church in Needmore named ‘The Do Right Church’ and felt that must have been the terminology of that day and where that name came from,” Morgan said.
Morgan said she hopes the community will come out on Wednesday to hear and share more about the fascinating history of Needmore.
“Had ‘La La’ not walked into the museum with a burning desire to have a historical marker erected for Needmore, I probably never would have never known what a remarkable history it truly holds,” Morgan said. “Through the years I had heard of Needmore and thought it was a place where the people needed more. But I found through researching that many towns located need railroads throughout the United States are named ‘Needmore,’ and it was because ‘they needed more settlers.’”
For more information, call the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum at 662-323-0211.