As you may recall there are several events which occur in October. I wrote about one recently. Another is the Mississippi Library Association’s annual conference. It happens every year around mid-month. As the name implies, it is a gathering of librarians from around the state. There are the usual panels and presentations, plus an awards dinner and breakfast. 2015 marked my third year attending.
In addition to seeing friends I don’t meet very often, the conference gives me the opportunity to travel around the state. Mississippi is a bigger place than people realize and there are some areas I would not otherwise have visited. Vicksburg and Biloxi are two examples. This year it was held in Natchez.
Located an hour south of Vicksburg, Natchez is one of the oldest cities in Mississippi (and indeed in the whole Mississippi River Valley) being founded in 1716. At one time it was the capital of the state, before being replaced by Jackson. For a very long time, Natchez was a port city where the cotton and sugar grown on the surrounding land was shipped out to elsewhere in the US as well as overseas. Eventually the structure of the economy changed and Natchez along with it1.
Its story is similar to many places in western Mississippi including the Delta. Like Vicksburg, Clarksdale, and Greenville Natchez had its hey day long ago. All of these places thrived on cotton production which generated great wealth for those few who controlled the trade. The signs are still visible in the mansions lining the streets of Natchez and Vicksburg. However where the Delta has fallen into decline Natchez has been able to capitalize on its heritage. The city today survives primarily on tourism and to an extent on revenue from a pair of casinos located near the city. The same is true of Vicksburg although Natchez pulls it off much better. The city has far more shops and restaurants not to mention bars. While last year I ended up eating most meals in my hotel and sitting around, Natchez offered more in the way of places to go. I even was able to get some fudge at a shop downtown.
Interestingly Natchez is a city of only about 15,000 people which is not much more than Cleveland. However the two places could not be any more different. The latter is essentially a college town with some ambitions to be a center of blues related tourism. The former is a once thriving center of commerce now turned into a tourist destination. Natchez really does not feel as small as it actually is. Population statistics don’t paint a complete picture of a place. The number of people living in a given town is less important than how the economy is structured and how wealth is distributed.
It remains to be seen if Cleveland can capitalize on its heritage the way Natchez has. This town does not have as illustrious a past being primarily the home of Delta State University. Certainly there are efforts to bring people in – the Grammy Museum for example. However there is little to keep people here for more than a day. Where as places such as Natchez have more of an urban feel, Cleveland really is a small town. The buildings aren’t as big and there isn’t as much to do. Certainly there is no convention center here as there is in Natchez. In the end its more about the resources a town has more than its population.
More Images of Natchez