Did Jones County Secede?

This essay by Alexander Lee Bondurant appeared in Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, vol. 1 (pp. 104-6), printed for the Society in Oxford, Mississippi in 1898. Other entries include “Mississippi as a Field for the Student of Literature”, by W.L. Weber, “Suffrage in Mississippi”, by R.H. Thompson and “Some Inaccuracies in Claiborne’s History in Regard to Tecumseh” by  Charles Riley.

Most alumni of the University of Mississippi will find Professor Bondurant’s name familiar if only for the classes they took in Bondurant Hall, though some of the most hard-core Ole Miss fans will remember him as the man who established the University of Mississippi football team and served as its coach during its first season in 1893. For the record, the Rebs had a 4-1 season, losing only to the Southern Athletic Club in New Orleans (0-24) on Nov. 30; they stayed in the city long enough to beat Tulane there two days later (12-4). Bondurant was also a classics scholar with degrees from the University of Virginia and Harvard.

I reproduce his essay refuting the existence of the Free State of Jones out of historical interest. I myself remain solidly convinced that the Free State of Jones was never a cohesive entity, much less one with noble objectives, most likely nothing more than a handful of outlaws protecting themselves and their families against the depredations of a moribund, corrupt local regime.

Did Jones County Secede?

It seems that many within and without the State would answer this query in the affirmative, and even their ordinance of succession is given by one writer on the subject as follows:

“WHEREAS, The State of Mississippi, for reasons which appear justifiable, has seen fit to withdraw from the Federal Union; and,

WHEREAS, We, the citizens of Jones County, claim the same right, thinking our grievances are sufficient by reason of an unjust law passed by the Confederate States of America forcing us to go into distant parts, etc., and therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That we sever the union heretofore existing between Jones County and The State of Mississippi, and proclaim our independence of the said State and of the Confederate States of America; and we solemnly call upon Almighty God to witness and bless this act.”

Such being the case, it has seemed to me in order to advert to a discussion in The Nation beginning March 24, 1892, which throws considerable light on the question. In the paper of this date Samuel Willard, of Chicago, writes that he had been a soldier in the army which invaded Mississippi, and that he had never during the war heard of such an occurrence. When, therefore, he saw the statement made in The New England Magazine for November, 1891, the author being professor Hart, he doubted its accuracy. It may be stated just here that Professor Hart, in a subsequent history of The Nation, gives as his authority Mr. Galloway, historian of the Sixth Army Corps, who published in The Magazine of American History for October, 1886, an article entitled “A Confederacy Within a Confederacy”; but upon what authority Mr. Galloway based his statements does not appear. He therefore wrote to the Governor of the State of Mississippi and to the clerk of Jones County, and elicited replies from both of these gentlemen, and Governor Stone enclosed a letter from his predecessor, Hon. Robert Lowry, who was sent to Jones County during the war in command of troops for the purpose of arresting deserters. The texts of the letters are too long to quote in full, so a few passages will have to suffice. Gov. Stone writes:

“It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the whole story is a fabrication, and there is scarcely any foundation for any part of it. To begin with, Jones County furnished perhaps as many soldiers to the army of the Confederacy as any other county of like population. * * * Many of them declined to go into the army in the beginning, but so far as formal withdrawal or resolution to that effect is concerned, no such thing ever occurred in Jones County. Hon. Robert Lowry was sent to Jones County during the war for the purpose of arresting and returning deserters to their commands, and there was some little fighting with these bands of deserters, or rather bush-whacking of his men by the deserters; and some of the deserters were arrested and executed, but only a few. The whole story is the veriest fabrication, and I presume few persons of intelligence will believe any of it.”

Ex-Governor Lowry writes: “The county furnished nearly and probably its entire quote of soldiers, many of whom did splendid service. No such effort as establishing a separate government was ever attempted. The story of withdrawal and establishing a separate government is a pure fabrication—not the shadow of foundation for it.”

Governor McLaurin, in a recent letter to me on this subject, writes: “I was a boy thirteen years old when the war commenced. I was ‘raised’ in Smith County, a county adjoining Jones. I was at home the first three years of the war, and, if there was any attempt by Jones County to secede and set up a separate government, I did not hear anything of it. I was in a brigade that intercepted a federal raid that started from Baton Rouge to Mobile in November or December, 1864, and we passed through or very near Jones County, and I never heard of any attempt to set up a separate government in the county. I think it safe for you to negate the whole story.”

E.B. Sharp Esq., chancery clerk, writes: “The report is utterly false in every particularly.”

Buildings of Mississippi: A Review

Books about Mississippi architecture tend to focus on poverty-stricken African-American communities or the antebellum and Victorian-era mansions of the state’s white elite. Buildings of Mississippi finally puts them side-by-side, as they actually have been for centuries.

“Our goal from the start was to integrate—and I use that word purposely—black and white landscapes,” said co-author Jennifer Baughn. “This book helps illustrate how the two races did interact in some ways, and in other ways were separated.”

Nine years in the making, Buildings of Mississippi is the 26th volume of the Buildings of the United States (BUS) series commissioned by the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH). This series documents state-by-state the full range of structures that are deemed of historical or architectural interest by experts in the field. Jennifer V. O. Baughn is Chief Architectural Historian at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the author of numerous articles on the state’s historic buildings. The late Michael W. Fazio was Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Mississippi State University and coauthor of Buildings across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture. Mary Warren Miller is Executive Director Emeritus of the Historic Natchez Foundation and coauthor of The Great Houses of Natchez.

Illustrated with photographs and maps, and newly redesigned in a more user-friendly format, readers of Buildings of Mississippi will come to know the history of 557 sites, illustrated by 249 photographs (all but 33 taken by Baughn and Fazio) and 29 maps. Along with stately plantation houses (and their housings for slaves), the volume surveys a range of other locations such as Native American mounds and villages, 20th-century enclaves built for sawmill workers, neighborhoods that bolstered black Mississippians during segregation, and the vernacular streetscapes of small towns as well as modern architecture in Greenville, Meridian, Jackson, and Biloxi.

The buildings are grouped into twelve regions that move roughly from the southwest corner of the state to the north, the east, the center, and then south to the Gulf Coast. Buildings of Mississippi includes such wide-ranging places as Longwood and Wister Gardens, Poor Monkeys, Club Ebony, and Dockery Farms in the Delta, the Coca Cola Company in McComb, Ginntown Rosenwald School near Tylertown, Holy Child Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, Shiloh Methodist Campground and Piney Woods School in Rankin County, the fabulous St. Michaels Catholic Church (round with a clam shell roof) in Biloxi, and the oldest house in the Mississippi Valley, “Old Spanish Fort”/de la Pointe-Krebs House in Pascagoula.

Baughn said that the books in the series used to be hardback, and were more like reference works. That seemed puzzling to her, since reference books on such a specialized subject have primarily professional appeal. The new field guide format is a recent innovation, and Baughn considers it a more natural option, more appealing to a wider readership, people who might put the book in a car or backpack for a trip. Buildings of Mississippi is also the first book in the series to be all color.

“The criteria for inclusion were determined both by the SAH and our own knowledge and research,” Baughn said. “We generally focused on buildings that were on the National Register, or in the case of buildings from the 1960s through the present, we tried to identify those that were important for historical events or had won architectural awards. And once we started writing, as Michael Fazio said, the building had to have ‘a hook, a story’ that would make it an interesting entry for the reader.”

The buildings must still be standing, so there are no non-existent buildings included. They also must be accessible from a public right-of way or open to the public. “Unfortunately,” Baughn said, “that criteria excluded many rural houses that can’t be seen from a public right-of-way and aren’t public houses.”

“The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), considers this to have an international audience. Well, I don’t know international audiences,” Baughn said. “My audience is the average Mississippian who enjoys history and historic buildings, and who likes going out in the state, driving around their town, small or large. I thought if these people were happy with the work, then international visitors would be happy, too.”

Buildings of Mississippi is an important work that brings the research on our state’s historic architecture up-to-date. The scholarship supporting the text is impeccable. The format is accessible to armchair historians and weekend travelers as well as tourists, and the illustrations—particularly the photographs—are lavish and outstanding. This book belongs in the hands of all Mississippians intrigued with our past.









Savoring Sansing

David Sansing gave me hell when I was at Ole Miss. It didn’t help that he knew my parents and probably assumed it part and parcel of his consideration of them to single out their wayward son for what he doubtless considered the academic equivalent of “tough love”, but no matter how attentive I was in class or how good my grades, I always felt targeted for seemingly innocuous but loaded questions that ended up with a subtle and solemn sort of tsk-tsking.

As time went on, I realized I wasn’t the only slacker he picked on; in retrospect, I think Sansing considered it his God-given duty to inspire every student he taught with a profound respect for the Muse of Mississippi History (bless her tattered soul). He is a marvelous teacher. What made Sansing even more formidable in the classroom is his leonine demeanor, the high, noble brow framed by curling swept-back hair; he is the very picture of an academic, moreover one who if he should ask you what the Black and Tan Convention was, and you respond that it was a craft beer festival, you likely won’t live to tell of it.

The title essay confirms Sansings command of his subject in sturdy prose that crackles with authority and sets forth his theme: “Poverty and prejudice and illiteracy have kept Mississippi back, and backwards, but The Other Mississippians have battled poverty and prejudice throughout our history. And for every Mississippi politician who has shamed its name, there have been others to make it proud.” And in the initial passage of “History of Northern Mississippi” Sansing describes the singular mystique of the state he loves:

Any standard historical atlas of the United States will indicate to the most casual observer that there is a political and geographic subdivision designated Mississippi. There are fifty such subdivisions, and collectively they constitute the United States. However, Mississippi is not just a state of the Union. It is a state of mind; it is more than a constituency, it is a condition.”

“History of Northern Mississippi” was presented as the opening lecture at the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference in 1974, and I find it germane that Sansing’s dissertation at Mississippi College (1959) was “A History of Calhoun County, Mississippi”. “History of Northern Mississippi”, along with the later essay “Professor B.L.C. Wailes: A Forgotten Man of the Old South” represent two of the finest examples of historical writing to be found in our literature, a subject that also comes under Sansing’s expansive attention along with the Meredith Crisis, the Mississippi state flag, the University of Mississippi and tributes to the likes of L.Q.C. Lamar, Arch Dalrymple III, John Leslie, Bill and Carroll Waller, Professor Guyton and others.

Former students will delight in hearing Dr. Sansing’s voice thundering off the pages and students of Mississippi history across the globe would be tragically remiss if this entertaining, edifying and authoritative work doesn’t find a place on their bookshelf. You will find yourself picking up David Sansing’s The Other Mississippi again and again for great writing and heartfelt history.

A History of Belhaven: Part 1, Birth of a Neighborhood

This, the first of four in a history of the Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, was written by resident, journalist, and historian Bill Harvey.

When people ask if I live in Jackson, I tell them, “No, I live in Belhaven”. While the locations overlap, Belhaven sounds better. Where in Jackson is Belhaven? Conventional wisdom outlines it as Fortification to the south, State St. to the west, Riverside Dr. to the north and the Pearl River to the east. While never a political subdivision by that name, Belhaven’s name  grew up around the college and is more than just a name.

The area south of Fortification is officially known as Belhaven Heights, a neighborhood older than “Belhaven” and more official, with a history of its own.  It has its own story to tell and may do so in future writings, but for now “our Belhaven” will encompass the above parameters – with perhaps a sneaky tentacle reaching out occasionally to the west or south to briefly touch a historical moment.

Jackson in 1900 had a population of 7,914. Mississippi’s capital city since 1823, Jackson grew slowly for a variety of reasons. Union Generals Grant and Sherman burned most of the city to the ground in 1863, sparing only a few structures for use by their men and the City Hall because of the Masonic Lodge on the top floor. The city was known then and even today as “Chimneyville”. Streets were mainly gravel and mud and Town Creek flooded the downtown area on an annual basis. The business community consisted of small shops and professional offices clustered around the Old Capitol, South State and Commerce Streets. Capitol Street, other than the Governor’s Mansion, was largely residential, tree lined and dusty. It was a great leap forward in 1899 when mule drawn trolleys were replaced with electric cars much to the satisfaction of the mules.

The turn of the 20th century brought  noticeably progressive changes to Mississippi and the nation. The U.S. population stood at 76,212,000 and there were 45 states. William McKinley was president and the world, for a time, was at peace. In the year 1900, Henry Ford introduced his first commercial vehicle, an electric powered delivery wagon, Frank Baum copywrited his book The Land of Oz, which later became the Wizard and Puerto Rico became a new American territory.

Mississippi at the turn of the last century was recovering from the Great Civil War, Reconstruction and the loss of manpower from that conflict. Essentially rural and agricultural, what little it had was concentrated in a few of the larger cities. The Gilded Age had passed but cotton, while no longer king, was the dominant crop along with the lumber industry and sorghum. The Democrat party controlled all politics and for some reason the era was known as the Progressive Age.

Mississippi’s Governor at the turn of the century was Andrew Longino, its Lt. Governor James T. Harrison. The Attorney General was Monroe McClung, Secretary of State, John Logan Power and the Treasurer was J.R. Stowers. The state’s population stood at 1,551,000, growing at about 15% a year. Vicksburg was the largest city. The Vicksburg and Alabama Railroad transversed the state from west to east and the Gulf and Ship Island Railway was newly constructed from Jackson to the Gulf Coast.

The state’s capital city was beginning to wake up from the deprivations of war and reconstruction. Shopping at Christmas in Jackson was mostly done at the Rookery, a downtown variety store which specialized in toys, tinsels and festive clothing designed to gladden the hearts of little folks. Colleges, state institutions, theaters, banks, churches and department stores bloomed along the downtown streets as more merchants moved from the environs to the city. It was an exciting time.

Jackson’s northern boundary was Manship Street (North Park Addition) in 1900. The city ran south to Silas Brown and out to the area of Monument and W. Capitol to the west. Residents lived along north-south streets radiating from Capitol Street, along the river streets of Pearl, Pascagoula, Amite and Tombigbee and around Union station at Gallatin. Outlying areas were along the Clinton Road (W. Capitol), where a new cemetery, Cedarlawn had just opened, Asylum Road (later Woodrow Wilson to the northwest) and into the estates of Livingston, Whitfield and Cohea. Fondren was a separate town.

An interesting adjunct to south central Jackson was Duttoville. Built in the late 19th century by Catholic priest Father Louis Dutto, it was a self-contained village with small homes, a fire station, grocery stores, a Catholic Church and a park. It was added to the city in later years but has been nearly absorbed in modern times by urban growth.

Jackson’s strong suite in those days was its leadership. The mayor was John W. Todd who had just taken over from Mayor H.M. Taylor. Families composed of Virdens, Yergers, McWillies, Enochs, Westbrooks, Strausses Hedermans, Watkins, Greens, Spenglers, Barksdales, Galloways and Kenningtons headed up businesses and the chamber of commerce. Businesses of the day included the Clarion-Ledger, Jackson Marble Works, J.W. Everett & Sons, Jackson Steam Laundry, Mississippi Cotton Oil Company, the Lawrence and Edwards Houses (hotels), Tucker Printing Company, Jackson Lumber Company, Westbrook Manufacturing Company and Adkisson & Bauer Hardware. The newly renovated Century Theater, converted from an opera house, graced the northern side off the first block of East Capitol Street.

In the midst of this growth and urban development an institution was born in 1894 when Dr. Louis Fitzhugh acquired the Jones Hamilton mansion near the northeast corner of Bellevue and Jefferson Streets. He established a school for girls the following year. It had seven students and Dr. Fitzhugh. The home was destroyed by fire shortly thereafter but was rebuilt and named for Colonel Hamilton’s Scottish forbearer, first Lord of Belhaven.

A neighborhood was born.

Bill and Nan Harvey; June, 2017 

 Sources for History of Belhaven: Part 1

Carroll Brinson, Jackson/A Special Kind of Place (Published by the City of Jackson, 1977)
Julie L. Kimbrough, Images of America, JACKSON (Arcadia Publishing, 1998)
Grady Howell, Jr., Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Chickasaw Bayor Press, 2007)
James F. Gordon, Jr., A History of Belhaven College 1894-1981 (Jackson, MS, Belhaven College (1983)
“Jackson City Directory” (1904/05) – Multiple pages under street section
Demographics, various internet sources in public domain

Capitol St. 1908 – Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days  in Jackson, Mississippi (Howell) p. 95
The Rookery – Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Howell) p. 124
North State St. – 1900 – Images of America – Jackson (Kimbrough) p. 105
Jackson Street Cars – Images of America – Jackson (Kimbrough) p. 106
Jones-Hamilton Home (original Belhaven College- artist rendition) – Belhaven University Archives

Holidays in Old Calhoun

My mother Monette Morgan Young was born in 1915 on a small farm east of the village of Reid in the northeast part of Calhoun County on the old road to Houlka. She was the daughter of Hosea Morgan and Eula Murphree Morgan, and was an only child. The lack of siblings and nearby neighbor children made her childhood lonelier than most. Her mother was a teacher for many of Monette’s early years, moving around from one one-room community school to another and lodging with someone in that community during the short school term each year. She took Monette with her while Hosea stayed home to take care of the farm. When schools were not in session, all three worked hard to raise enough food and “bring in” a small cotton crop to sell for their cash needs.

Monette was a reader and a writer; she loved poetry and history. In her later years, Monette began to write of her growing-up days and her life on that farm. Like many people as they grow older, she became interested in family history and began a decades-long period of formal research and the gathering of family stories from surviving aunts, cousins and others who had lived in Reid. Her cousin Clarence Morgan was a great source of family and community information; and she and he made many trips, some with grandkids along, to old cemeteries and old communities barely recognizable by then with the changes of time.

 In the early 1980s she began sending me long letters—some she typed but most were handwritten in a hurried scrawl—letters with information she had gathered about not only our family but also about other families who lived in that area and her memories of them and her life there. As I saved her letters, I began to realize that if the material was organized, edited a bit, fleshed out with a map or two, and if I took the various bits of information about, for example, the Clark family or the community social life, and put those together and did likewise with other topics, this might make an interesting memoir as well as a useful genealogical and historical resource. I did that. It took months in those pre-computer days, but it began to come together. I finished typing it and decided I’d have a few copies made for me and my children and would give her a few copies on her 75th birthday. I called it “The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi”. She was delighted, but said several times, “If I had known you were going to do this, I’d have written this or that, or would have not said that, or would have added the story about….” I told her to consider it a draft and to add or subtract whatever she wanted, and I’d revise the book accordingly. She did, and I did. After Mother died in 2000, I created a second edition of the book, adding the additional material and cleaning up some typos and some errors that had been pointed out. Over 100 copies of that second edition were subsequently made and a digital version is available on the internet for free download.

(an excerpt from The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi, by Monette Morgan Young

We did not do lavish Christmas cooking, not in our circle of acquaintances and kin, nor did we do lavish Thanksgiving cooking. We usually had fresh pork both times and often our meat would be a huge pot of backbones. If the hog killing had been in the last day or two before the holiday, we had the most prized meat of all, the loin strip. Our men did not make pork chops of any cut of hog. That long lean strip was taken out without bone and how I looked forward to it. I hated any boiled meat. Mother and all her acquaintances and kin only boiled or fried meat. One reason for that is that they did not know of roasting procedures and second that it would have required oven cooking and use of much stovewood. They could boil a piece or pieces of meat in the black iron cooking pot on the coals on the hearth by the fire which was already going for warmth. Mother would make good dressing with that water and we always had small Bermuda onions growing in the garden all winter. These grew in clusters and did not decay as the large ones did and were not hot. Mother did not have to buy sage. She grew it, dried it in a slow oven and so we had sage and onions for dressing and since I always contended for fried meat, she fried something for me. We sometimes did have a hen boiled but since I wouldn’t eat boiled meat, she had to do the frying for me and I ate dressing with that.

Usually Thanksgiving Day was just another day. Daddy was sometimes up to his ears in corn gathering and we cooked a little better dinner. Some meat as I have described, maybe a molasses cake with the dried apple filling and frosting, one or two or three of the many vegetables in storage, canned or dried, the usual dish of pickles, preserves, canned berries, or peaches, on the table. Christmas would be the same with the exception of a coconut cake. Mother always cooked a large luscious coconut cake. She used only her simple two-egg recipe for the batter (2 eggs, ¾ cup milk, 1-1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup fat, 2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt), but we always got a fresh coconut and she filled and covered the cake lavishly with frosting and coconut. Then she always had Daddy to buy the cone-shaped frosted jellied candies, assorted colors. She topped the cake with those and it looked like tiny frost-covered shapes of color in a snow bank. That was her specialty. I never saw or read of a fruit cake. With all our folks, just ordinary cakes were made. A little more lavish perhaps, was a Christmas cake, or was called so.

We often saw no one but ourselves on Christmas Day. The weather would have been too bad to venture forth. My parents had bought a little fruit and a few nuts. Oranges still always smell like Christmas. We had them no other time unless someone was really sick. Those little home-grown apples smelling like all the aromas of Araby would still be crisp and we would allow ourselves a few more of those unwrapping them from the Sears Roebuck catalog pages that were used to protect them and out of their cardboard boxes from under the bed in the front room. We got a few raisins, the seeded ones still on stems, I never taste such now.

If we did not go to Mama Murphree’s on pretty Christmas days we would walk to Grandaddy Morgan’s. My parents occasionally bought a box of lemon stick candy. At Grandfather’s he would bring out his goodies. He may have sent to town for a bushel of shipped in apples, which then I preferred to our small homegrown ones, and he had oranges and several boxes of candy. He always bagged up a large paper bag for us to carry home. Uncle Alsie’s children made their home at Grandaddy’s and Grandmother’s. These were Euras, Theda, Roy and Lois. Lois was near my age, the youngest. So I would get to see the cousins there.

One favorite toy at Christmas time for parents and teachers to give children was a harmonica. At that time, all children were given gifts by teachers. A harmonica, which we called a French Harp, cost all of a nickel or a dime. A good sized professional one might cost a quarter. I invariably wanted one. Of course, I had not a musical bone in my body. I made noise on it, and that was all. Another gift that teachers most often gave was a “bought” toothbrush. Our toothbrushes were off the black gum bush or the black gum tree. They made a large tree, but the woods were full of the small ones and we got a good sized twig about as large as a small cedar pencil, peeled the bark down about an inch and a half and the whole thing was about six inches long. We chewed the peeled end into a mop shaped thing and brushed our teeth with that. We used ashes or baking soda. I recall that Daddy used ashes.

I had bountiful Christmases. I always got one special large gift and one or two small ones. Also there were the oranges and raisins which we did not get at other times, not often. There was candy too, then, but seldom at other times. My victory over my nice pretty things was a little hollow, with no one to show them to or to play with them with me. Some other children of the area did not get anything but the candy, nuts, and fruits. Christmas was a very quiet celebration then. The weather was usually bad and the roads almost impossible to travel on, so family get-togethers were never planned. We almost always got to both my grandparents during the Christmas week. At “Mama” Murphree’s sometimes we got to see other cousins, sometimes not. At the Morgan grandparents, my four cousins who made their home there were always at home and I enjoyed them. Friends and relatives did not exchange gifts. We had no church programs. We didn’t try to plan for such due to not knowing what the weather might do. Mother tried to see that I had a good Christmas. When she was a child, they had had usually nothing except a little candy and one time nothing at all. One Christmas there was a bisque doll with curls for me and one time there was a big sleeping doll and a cloth body–perhaps a paper mache head with painted-on reddish blonde hair. That day it rained all day. We never got outside.

When I was about four, Tellie Murff and Winnie Davis gave me some lovely Christmas gifts. I think Tellie gave me a beautiful ball and some of the best of candy. Winnie gave me a box of blocks, some of which were painted to form the facade of an antebellum house. They were still in the house when all of the things had to be sold and/or given away when Daddy got sick. Some winter Sundays we couldn’t go to church. We’d have Sunday school at home. My Father was well read in the Bible. He was on speaking terms with the old Bible Patriarchs. We three would read and discuss the lesson while pork backbones simmered in the kitchen, they for our Sunday dinner, and while sweet potatoes baked and while perhaps dried peas or butterbeans cooked.

Monette Morgan Young
Monette Morgan Young

Balancing on the Barstool

Alcohol is what makes a martini sing, beer buzz and wine fine. It’s also a poison and—along with nicotine—the only recreational drug legally available in most states to the American public, which consumes it in its various forms to the tune of an estimated $110 billion dollars a year.

ethyl moloculeEthyl alcohol (C2H5OH) is formed by the action of yeast upon sugar and starches. The yeasts that create alcohol are among the oldest cultivated plants in the history of civilization, and some archeological studies suggest that mankind may well have been brewers before they were bakers, probably as early as the Mesolithic period, some 7000 years ago. Bad pick-up lines, irresponsible sex and hangovers also date from this period. Drinking as a subject represents the prime example of a familiar topic that on closer examination becomes quite arcane. Drinking is steeped in tradition, exalted in verse, celebrated in song and provides pleasure to millions, yet to others it is a curse.

The devil on the rocks

Before there was a wild West, there was a wild Southwest, and Mississippi was its cornerstone. At that time, any city or town with a berth on a river (which most of them had in those days before rail) eventually found itself host to a riverfront district subject to laws that were either non-existent or non-enforced.

This sketch of Natchez-Under-The-Hill was drawn in 1866 by A. R. Waud, for Harpers Weekly.
This sketch of Natchez-Under-The-Hill was drawn in 1866 by A. R. Waud, for Harpers Weekly.

Natchez-Under-the-Hill is a prime example of such a red light district, but Jackson harbored a similar section during its early development. Audubon, who visited the area in the 1820s, said that the banks of the Pearl under LeFleur’s Bluff were filled with “low dives of the worst sort.” One of the most notorious dens of iniquity was located just below the corner of North and Amite Street, within spitting distance of the Old Capitol itself, now the site of the Winter Building housing the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. As fortified as these fiefs of John Barleycorn were, they soon found themselves inundated by the spirit of Protestant evangelism that was spilling its way down from the Northeast. The first churches were established here well before Mississippi became a state, but the nineteenth century revivals increased their numbers a thousand fold, and their influence on state laws regarding alcohol were (and still are) formidable.

Mississippi is still legally “dry” in that the state never has repealed Prohibition. According to the Mississippi Code of 1972, “The policy of this state is reannounced in favor of prohibition of the manufacture, sale, distribution, possession and transportation of intoxicating liquor; and the provisions against such manufacture, sale, distribution, possession and transportation of intoxicating liquor, as contained in Chapter 31 of Title 97, Mississippi Code of 1972 and elsewhere, are hereby redeclared the law of this state.” Instead, the state has granted counties and municipalities to “come out from under the dry law” in local option elections.

William F. Shughart II, an economist at the University of Mississippi, wrote in an article for the Independent Institute that “when national Prohibition was repealed in 1933, so that the federal government would be able to offset declining income-tax revenues by reintroducing selective excise taxes on distilled spirits, wine, and beer, the regulation of alcohol sales was left to the individual states. Mississippi finally went “wet” in 1966, choosing to become one of 18 jurisdictions operating state-owned wholesale liquor distribution systems. Other states, like Pennsylvania and Virginia, sell alcoholic beverages directly to consumers through state-run liquor stores, and still others, like California, simply tax liquor sales at retail.”

The ABCs of alcohol

In Mississippi, the Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) of the Mississippi State Tax Commission is responsible for the purchasing and distribution of wines and spirits. The ABC buys about 3,000 brands and package sizes of wine and ardent spirits from vintners and distillers. As the enforcer of the state’s liquor laws, ABC is also responsible for maintaining fair and equitable enforcement of the Local Option ABC laws and the prohibition laws. Twenty-eight certified enforcement agents are stationed across the state, most of whom maintain offices at the Tax Commission District Offices. Since 1966, ABC agents have successfully prosecuted in excess of 36,000 liquor law violations and destroyed approximately 2,500 illicit whiskey stills. David Wilson, Chief of Enforcement for ABC, said, “We have much more of a problem with unlicensed sellers, but we still catch a lot of moonshiners. You might say that we have a lot of unlicensed distribution points, and that’s a continuing concern. If you’ll look at the map, you’ll see that almost half of the state is still dry, and if there’s drinking going on in those parts, there must be an unlicensed distributor.”

State law requires the ABC to mark up the wholesale price on alcohol by 27.5% over what it pays its suppliers. This markup generates about $32,500,000 in revenue for the state annually, not counting the sales taxes which are also collected on retail liquor sales. The actual mark-up for the general fund is 24.5; the other three percent, dictated by statute, goes to the Mental Health Association, purportedly for alcohol rehabilitation and treatment.

“As it sits now, the state of Mississippi itself controls what sort of beer, wine or spirits you might legally prefer to have at your dinner parties,” Shughart said. “Until any given alcoholic beverage has been included in the state list (ABC’s “Price Book” or on its monthly “Fine Wine List”), it is unavailable to the citizens of Mississippi.”

The alcoholic beverages purchased by the ABC are shipped to its 186,000 square-foot warehouse located in South Madison County’s Industrial Park, from which every year 2,000,000 cases of wine and distilled spirits are reshipped to the state’s 1,250 retailers who are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for either on- or off-premise consumption where local-option laws permit. It is a massively complex operation. According to Joe Perkins, Deputy Director of the ABC, additions to the list are based on consumer demand, as well as demand from the retail stores and the industry. “This includes the venders, brokers, and companies that we buy from will present listings to us, submit lists to our purchasing department who decide, based on brand support and consumer demand whether we should list a particular brand or not. This decision is ultimately approved by the three commissioners, Commissioner Ed Buelow Jr. along with Associate Commissioners Terry Jordan and Donald Green, who oversee the ABC.”

“We add various sizes of products according to consumer needs and we work with the companies on these sizes, too. Sometimes the company will dictate when they want a product in a particular part of the country and in what size, so it’s a little more involved (to add a particular product) than people sometimes think. We do everything we can to give the consumers what they want,” Perkins added. “We do all the work of getting the pricing, getting the case or whatever ordered, getting it in here and getting it out to them.”

Mike Cashion, former executive director of the Mississippi Restaurant Association, said, “There are some aspects of the system that work well. The issue of being able to pick up the phone and order a product from one central location is pretty convenient. But overall with the system you just need to look at it and see if there’s a better way to do business. If you look at what happened a couple of months ago (October 17) when the ABC had to shut down (due to a problem with computer software), I think that’s indicative of the fact that there are some operational issues that need to be reviewed,” Cashion said. “There were several areas that needed to be fixed. From a business perspective you need to look at what caused those problems and see what those long-term fixes are.”

Cashion said that the ABC has made some inroads in procedures on how to special order and has made some progress on that, but he points out that when it comes to blanket availability there are a lot of factors involved. “It’s very, very complicated and there’s no easy fix and no easy answers to the questions that are out there,” Cashion said.

Incidentally, the spirit and wine law is separate from the beer and light wine law; beer and light wine permits are issued by the Miscellaneous Tax Division of the state tax commission. This division registers all beer and light wine labels and issues permits to wholesalers. The tax commission issues wholesale beer permits to distributors (wholesalers), and beer permits to retailers. The wholesalers distribute beers and light wines to retailers, which number about seven or eight thousand in the state, including bars, restaurants, retail groceries and convenience stores. The only direct dealing the ABC has to do with beer is that ABC agents enforce the beer laws.

Of booze and bods

The way the body disposes of alcohol has been on record since the nineteenth century, having first been described by the German chemist von Liebig. Before Liebig, it was generally assumed that alcohol simply passed through the body without change, only to be eventually excreted in its original form by the skin, lungs and kidneys.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Most foods (and alcohol is a food, albeit a poor one) need to be broken down and remodeled by various agents in the mouth and stomach in order to be oxidized in the body. But ethyl alcohol doesn’t need any sort of preparation; it is as naturally as digestible as water, and can be assimilated into the body by the stomach, the small intestine, or even the large intestine (yes, you can get drunk from a vodka enema). Since alcohol has no effect until it reaches the bloodstream, the key to the effects of alcohol on the central nervous system lies in what as known as the blood alcohol level (BAL). It is recorded in milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, or milligrams percent. For example, a BAL of .10 means that 1/10 of 1 percent (or 1/1000) of your total blood content is alcohol.

Various factors influence the rate of alcohol absorption, the most crucial of which is the speed with which it is drunk. The effect on the body of a quick succession of high-proof drinks is shattering, and can even be fatal. With increasing alcohol consumption, unconsciousness and even a failure to breathe becomes more likely. In extreme instances, the alcohol level is so high that the sleep center in the brain becomes depressed, breathing stops and death may occur. Yet a mild degree of intoxication is the very reason why most people drink at all. The vast majority of people who drink do so because they find it enjoyable. Most people who drink choose to do so for at least partially hedonistic reasons. If fact, this may be the single most obvious reason that some anhedonic religious groups not only abstain from alcohol, but condemn drinking on the part of others. All over the world, people claim to drink because they like the taste, the sense of celebration and relaxation that comes with drinking, the mood alteration it provides, and the positive social aspects that surround it.

Alcohol is almost unique in that it has a dual effect on the central nervous system. Briefly, on the upswing curve the blood alcohol level, it acts as a stimulant. After the first drink or two, most drinkers feel animated and most can even perform better in tests of eye-hand coordination. But relaxation is another common reason for drinking, especially in the context of leisure time. Refreshment might also be an aspect of this: a cold beer on a hot summer day, for instance, or a warm toddy on a cold winter night. Then again, for most people, a drink or two is enough to cause an alteration in mood, and for most people this change is pleasurable. You’ll find people explaining that having a few drinks after a round of hectic activity—say a day at work—is a relaxing activity. Hence we have that institution with the blithe name of happy hour, during which for an hour or more during the afternoons you can drink at reduced prices, presumably with the result of becoming happy. Not so recently, since some critics have voiced the complaint that drinking should not be promoted as a key to happiness, some of the more progressive drinking establishments have instituted what is known as an “attitude adjustment hour.”

Yet however enjoyable or pleasurable a few drinks can be, a steady increase in the levels of alcohol in the blood has less fortunate effects. After several drinks, disorientation is followed by mental confusion, dizziness, and increased muscular incoordination. Further intoxication usually results in staggering gait and slurred speech, marked muscular incoordination, the inability to stand or walk, vomiting and incontinence, impaired consciousness and stupor.

When the party’s over

Drunkenness is condemned down through the ages. “At the first cup,” a Japanese poet wrote, man drinks wine. At the second cup, wine drinks wine. At the third cup, wine drinks man.” Genghis Khan recommended that a soldier not get drunk more than once a week. “It would be better if he did not get drunk at all,” he wrote, “but one should not expect the impossible.” The Jews filled the Old Testament with denunciations of drunkenness; the “strong drink” of the Old Testament is considered to be undiluted wine, since distilled spirits didn’t come about until around 800 A.D. The lyric poet Alcaeus wrote of habitual excess that “One that hath wine as a chain about his wits, such a one lives no life at all.”

Throughout history, it was obvious that no matter how much time someone spent in the gutter or in the stocks, or how often they were threatened with hellfire and brimstone, no matter how much their family begged and beseeched them to quit drinking, some people just kept getting drunk. Gradually the “problem” with alcohol became removed from the outward and everyday fact of drunkenness itself to a realization that there were some people who showed a propensity to get drunk whenever the opportunity presented itself. What made these drinkers stand out as different was that they easily lost control over their drinking and just got sloppy drunk again and again and again. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that alcoholism and alcohol abuse in the United States cost society from $40 to $60 billion annually, due to the lost production, health and medical care, motor vehicle accidents, violent crime, and social programs that respond to alcohol problems. One half of all traffic fatalities and one-third of all traffic injuries are related to the abuse of alcohol.

Alcoholism is a complex medical and psychological condition, and many theories have been put forward to explain the phenomenon. Initially, of course, alcoholics were simply dismissed as inveterate sinners, but as people began losing faith (so to speak) in sin as an all-embracing explanation of deviant behavior, they began to consider that perhaps something was constitutionally wrong with this sort of drinker. The concept of alcoholism as a disease finally congealed around the middle of the twentieth century in the studies of a researcher at the Yale Center for Alcohol Studies named E.M. Jellinek.

Jellinek published influential research which appeared to confirm the disease status of alcoholism by showing that over time the condition was predictably progressive, with distinct and recognizable phases to its natural history. Jellinek’s masterwork, The Disease Concept of Alcoholism, was published in 1960. When he died in 1963, the disease concept, both as idea and work, was seen as his supreme accomplishment. Even though Jellinek invented a scientific doctorate for himself which no university ever awarded, the significance of his work remains profound. His recommendation of total abstinence remains the basis for the most effective treatments available today, including the programs at the Betty Ford Clinic and other treatment facilities and abstinence, along with the celebrated 12-step process, are the basic tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous, widely regarded as the most successful recovery program for alcoholics the world over.

Patsy Hillard, former associate director and outreach coordinator for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of the Central Mississippi Area, states that according to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for Mental Health, “alcoholism is a disease.”

The, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) Inc. is a national non-profit organization combating alcoholism, other drug addictions and related problems through its National Office, 200 state and local affiliates and thousands of volunteers in communities throughout the nation. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of the Central Mississippi Area was established in 1949. Hugh Barkley, executive director of the NCADD of Central Mississippi said, “The treatment programs that we deal with are based on the 12-step programs that have been used by Alcoholics Anonymous for over sixty years. An alcoholic is an alcoholic; one drink is just going to trigger his mind to going back to start drinking rather than coping with life on a regular basis.”

Barkley said that one of the most significant pieces of legislation involving alcohol in Mississippi was the lowering of blood alcohol levels for the conviction of DUI cases in 2002. The law lowered the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers in the state from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent. This law brought Mississippi into compliance with federal requirements passed in 2000. States that fail to lower their blood-alcohol levels risked losing millions of dollars in federal highway funds in the year 2003.

“That’s just the way we do things in Mississippi,” Barkley said. “We wait until the last or the next to the last year before the government threatens to take away funds, then we pass the law. We always procrastinate. But according to a recent report, our DUI rates have decreased, whereas in other states, such as South Carolina, they have increased. And that’s directly attributable to the new DUI law and its enforcement.”

Barkley also said that the state’s allocation of tax monies for treatment has also undergone revisions. “Back in the 70s, the legislature put a tax on hard liquor that was to be used for alcohol and drug treatment. That was true for a few years, but then the state got into a budget crunch and the Legislature saw fit to say, ‘Okay, we don’t want to earmark that money for alcohol and drug treatment, we’ll put it into the general fund along with the other funds, and we’ll allocate funds to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, and they can decide how much they’re going to put into treatment.’”

“Basically, one out of ten people who drink in this country will become alcoholics,” Hillard said. “That’s probably world-wide as well. But the one thing that’s interesting about traffic accidents and traffic fatalities (involving alcohol) is that they are not caused by alcoholics but by people who might go out and drink more than they’re accustomed to. Most alcohol-related traffic fatalities are caused by people who are not alcoholics, not regular drinkers. One of the things we address in our prevention programs is to talk about risk factors,” Hillard explained. “Risk factors are those factors which might make a person more likely to become addicted to alcohol or any other drug. They include a family history of alcoholism or addiction or living in a place where drugs and alcohol are readily available. You can’t always move a child out of a neighborhood, but you can alert him or her to the risk factors they face.”

Barkley said that many people who are addicted to alcohol are abusive, not only to themselves, but to their family members, and this abuse is often more subtle than physical or verbal: such elements as the erosion of family finances, the upkeep of homes and compassion for others are problems spread across every social and economic level, every race and every gender.

“Alcoholism has so many facets that you can compare with other diseases,” Hillard said. “It’s treatable. The recovery rate is not what we’d like for it to be, but just because a person goes through treatment many times does not mean that we don’t hope that they might make it one day.”

Bottom line

During the holidays, law enforcement agencies across the state conduct “You Drink and Drive, You Lose” campaigns. Given the adjustment in the DUI laws that are now in accordance to federal standards, the state will have about a quarter of a million dollars at their disposal to put additional officers on the roads and to enhance patrols that are already in place, and while these efforts have reduced alcohol-related highway fatalities considerably, drinking and driving still leads to tragic consequences on a periodic basis. Drink responsibly, and always drive safely.