Town and Gown: The Saga of Clinton and Mississippi College

-James Osborne, News Editor

Now available in local bookstores is the new book “Town and Gown: the Saga of Clinton and Mississippi College” written by Walter Howell, Ph.D. The book is being sold at local stores including Pentimento Books and Lemuria Bookstore for $29.

“My intent was to write a history of Clinton, but I soon found out that you cannot write a history of Clinton without including a history of the college,” said Howell. “Not only are they so intertwined, but the college ran the town really for most of its history. Many of the mayors of the town have been former college professors of MC.” Howell himself is the most recent mayor of the town and was also a professor at MC.

Howell has a bachelors and master’s degree in history from MC and holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Georgia. He gives credit to his education at MC for his ability to graduate number one out of a class of 12 with his Ph.D. He taught history at MC for 13 years and served as president of the Mississippi Historical Society. He served as a Clinton city alderman from 1977 to 1981 and as mayor of Clinton from 1981 to 1985. Howell was named official town historian in 2013 by the current mayor and town aldermen. He also gave the MC faculty convocation lecture at the beginning of the semester.

Howell said that when thinking of a title for the book, he included the word “saga” which is a reference of the chronicling of worthy people and events.

There have been previous books on the history of the college, but Howell said those books were written from a college administrator’s viewpoint and did not touch on any controversial information, which Howell said he was not afraid to do. “I found a wealth of information and I’d like to think that I brought a faculty members perspective.”

“Mississippi College is a very unique college and invaluable to the town,” added Howell. He went on to explain that the college was started before there was officially a town. Hampstead Academy started in 1826 which then became Mississippi Academy in 1827, and then Mississippi College in 1830. The men who founded the college laid out the plans for the town in 1829, and it was then chartered in 1830.

The book focuses on the beginning of the college and the town in the civil war era, but it also tells of the town during two world wars, the Great Depression, and the history of the town and college up to present day.

Some of the interesting stories in the book include General Sherman providing 15,000 rations to the people of Clinton to prevent starvation during the Union Army’s 1863 occupation and the Clinton Riot in September 1875, which led to the overthrow of Carpetbagger government in Mississippi and the end of Reconstruction in the state in 1877. The book also tells of the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s vote to move the college to Meridian and the town’s fight to make sure the college stayed in Clinton. Other stories include Clinton acquiring MCI WorldCom, which was then the third largest telecommunications company in the world at the time, and later the largest bankruptcy in American history.

Since the book’s release on Nov.18, Howell has attended book signings at various locations such as the Quisenberry library, Lemuria book store, the MC Library, and Pentimento books, and he spoke recently about the book on the morning show of MC’s own Star 93.5.

“We did have a very nice crowd the two days we had Mr. Howell for the book signing,” said Tammy Smith, manager of Pentimento Books in downtown Clinton. “I enjoyed listening to his stories. I enjoyed learning about the riots of the late 1800’s, Dr. Todd’s house, and Violet Banks house. I think it is important to see the role that Clinton played in the history of Mississippi.”

“Mississippi College has enjoyed a long and rich history with the City of Clinton,” said Steve Stanford, vice president of administration and government relations. “It is exciting that Dr. Howell has worked diligently and conducted extensive research to capture some of that history. His book will undoubtedly serve as an enjoyable read and an informative reference for readers for years to come.”

Stanford and the rest of the administration at MC are recognizing the relationship between the college and town this school year under the campaign called “Celebration Clinton: Town and Gown since 1826.” “Our purpose in identifying this year as ‘Celebrating Clinton – Town and Gown since 1826,’” said Stanford. “Is to express our appreciation to our host city for the support it offers to our students, faculty, staff and university. Our histories are certainly intertwined and our futures undeniably connected. We are a part of a wonderful city that reflects our values, beliefs, and commitments to God, family, education and community.”

One part of this campaign is the production of “Our Town” by the MC theater department being shown in the spring. “We chose to do ‘Our Town’ by Thornton Wilder as our spring main stage production for several reasons,” said MC theater teacher Phyllis Seawright. “Yes, the idea of ‘Town and Gown’ is one we have embraced for several years with our casting for ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.’ Ms. Sandra Grayson has used children from the Clinton area for many roles in ‘Best Christmas.’ Another reason we chose ‘Our Town’ is because it has not been done here for many years, if ever. That means we will be introducing it to a fresh audience,” said Seawright.

Seawright said that “Our Town” is about the life cycle of a town and its residents. The play illustrates the ordinary routine of living and dying, even as it captures the beauty of that routine. The message of the play is to enjoy every day to the fullest.

“Dr. Walter Howell’s convocation lecture made me aware of so many people I never knew of before,” said Seawright. “I had not known that so many professors had also held the office of mayor of Clinton. That gave me a new appreciation for why MC has remained so strong for so many years. The backbone of a college is its town, whether an MC student ever knows that. Those of us who are here for more than four years provide that necessary stability, and those of us who live here nurture the soul of this place.”

Howell said that the college has had a tremendous impact on education in Clinton due to so many teachers and administrators in the Clinton school system graduating from MC. “Considering the strong influence MC has on Clinton,” said Howell. “Look at the ranking of Clinton schools in MC compared to the Oxford, Starkville, Hattiesburg, and Cleveland schools. There’s no comparison! To me, that is tangible evidence MC has had a greater impact on its host city than any other college city in the state. They can put that in stone, cause it’s true.”


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