- When Lillie McLaurin first started selling newspapers out
of her home on Mobile Street, her neighborhood was both alive
with opportunity and awash in activity. Restaurants, clothing
stores, churches - all the ingredients of a vibrant, thriving
community - lined the street that made her home the center
of the economic and cultural universe for many African-Americans
years later, at the age of 90, McLaurin is still going strong,
selling copies of the Hattiesburg American from a stand that
sits in her doorway. Only the neighborhood has changed.
started selling newspapers fifty years ago, and I stuck with
it because I liked meeting new people," said McLaurin,
surrounded by stacks of checks, subscription receipts and
unpaid bills clustered around the couch she uses as an office.
"You can learn a lot from people if you listen."
anthropology students at The University of Southern Mississippi
are trying to do the same. As part of a research project known
as "ethnography," 13 students from the Department
of Anthropology and Sociology are spending time with the residents
of the Mobile-Bouie Street district to absorb as much of their
rich history as possible.
usually go to far-off lands and study exotic people and their
cultural knowledge and practices," said Dr. Jeffrey Kaufmann,
associate professor of anthropology and coordinator of the
Mississippi Ethnographic Field School. "But the great
thing about anthropology is that it is possible to do an ethnography
on the street over from where one lives."
Starting June 16, students from Southern Miss extended their
class project into the homes of a few Mobile-Bouie Street
residents. For two weeks, these teams of students will help
the residents with their chores, have conversations, build
rapport and make friendships, Kaufmann said. "They will
observe and gather knowledge about what living in the Mobile-Bouie
area has been like for the resident."
this research and observation, the students are planning a
scrapbook of memories, both past and present, which they will
present to the Mobile-Bouie Street Association, City Hall
and Southern Miss.
to helping, listening and learning this week, senior Pat Huff
of Natchez constructed an extensive genealogical tree for
McLaurin - no small undertaking considering her long lineage.
it was completed, with all the children, grandchildren and
great-grandchildren, from a historical and human sense, the
scope of her involvement in that neighborhood is so impressive,"
Warren, 23, of Magee, said her host was slow to warm, but
once she did, "Ms. Lillie began to trust us with things
you felt she wouldn't just tell anybody."
black neighborhood and the site of the 40th anniversary of
Freedom Summer (1964), the Mobile-Bouie Street district is
almost as old as Hattiesburg itself. Once a bustling center
of commerce and entertainment, the area changed rapidly and
considerably after desegregation, Huff said, as "the
black dollar" was able to go beyond the Mobile-Bouie
guess you'd call it 'creative destruction,'" Huff said.
"That means when one thing is destroyed, another is created,
and you just hope that the thing being created outweighs the
thing being destroyed."
McLaurin readily admits her neighborhood looks nothing like
what she remembers when she first started selling papers,
she has seen signs of recent improvements. "I was able
to get a burger over here for the first time in years,"
McLaurin said, referring to a treat Warren had brought her
from a new local eatery this week. Asked if she thinks Mobile-Bouie
Street is poised for a return to its former glory, McLaurin
nodded her head firmly as if to say "of course."
hear they're fixing up the Eureka school," she said.
"That tells me the city cares about what's going on down
a flyswatter she uses to ward of flies and to "give whippings,"
the former nursery-school owner who attended Jackson State
University to study elementary education can still cast an
imposing posture, as Warren was quick to learn.
was sort of intimidating at first," Warren said, "and
then you realize that these are important people who lead
extraordinary lives. Some of them are so advanced in years
that it's important we preserve some of their experiences
for future generations."