During a recent visit to Oxford, Mississippi, I met 4 men who have made a tremendous difference to the town and even well beyond its borders. They have different passions and “causes,” but each one continues to make an important impact. The 5th man is not someone I met but is someone I remember from my childhood as a person who demonstrated tremendous bravery and courage.
JOHN T. EDGE
John T. Edge left a corporate job in Atlanta in the summer of 1995 to move to Oxford and enroll in the Southern Studies program at Ole Miss. In his own words, he “reinvented himself.” He chose to focus on food in the south and how that has shaped who we are and what we are becoming. He is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and is a frequent contributor to Oxford American and Garden and Gun. He has appeared on numerous television shows and radio broadcasts.
John T’s command of the English language kept me spellbound. I bought a copy of his latest book – The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South — as soon as I could get to the bookstore. The Potlikker Papers has won numerous awards and was even adopted by the City of Nashville as their official book. It chronicles a 60-year-period in the South’s history as told through food. His writing will draw you in, and you’re guaranteed to learn more about what makes Southerners think, act and eat the way we do.
Jack Mayfield has been referred to as “the guru of Oxford.” He was an insurance company executive who became a history professor and a newspaper columnist. As a fifth generation Oxonian and a proud graduate of Ole Miss, he knows the town and the university intimately and shares his knowledge freely during Double Decker Bus Tours. He even takes time to tease any tourists who might be fans of other SEC schools, especially LSU fans.
I was privileged to be on one of his tours a few weeks ago and learned about some of the famous homes in Oxford, about Hoka, the Native American woman who originally owned the land, about what happened on the university campus during the Civil War and many other very intriguing tidbits.
Jack has recently been fighting cancer, but everyone is happy to have him back conducting tours down North Lamar Boulevard, around the square and through the campus. He knows lots of stories and is the go-to source of information about Oxford. His passion is preserving the town’s robust history. I can promise you will be entertained.
Because of Brian Wilson, I now understand who L.Q.C. Lamar was and what some of his contributions to U.S. history were. Brian has studied Lamar thoroughly and conducts very interesting tours at the L.Q.C. Lamar House in Oxford. Because of his vast knowledge on the subject and through his position on the Lamar House Advisory Board, he speaks to civic groups, writes about Lamar, and is working on a biography of Lamar which should be published in the near future. Wilson has national government affairs experience, as well as success in spearheading local projects. If you take a tour, I’m quite confident he can answer all your questions. Wilson understands not only the facts of Lamar’s life but also the motivations and circumstances behind the scenes.
L.Q.C. Lamar, to name a few of his accomplishments, taught (over the years) mathematics, ethics and law at the University of Mississippi. He served in both houses of the U.S. Congress, was the Secretary of the Interior under President Grover Cleveland, and sat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Lamar was one of eight people included in John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage.
Richard Howorth is the owner of Square Books in downtown Oxford. Howorth opened Square Books in 1979 in a location above the present children’s store, Square Books Jr. Now, his businesses encompass 3 buildings, and he refers to them as “a family of bookstores.” Howorth credits much of the success of his store to the amazing array of writers who have lived or spent significant time in Oxford. John Grisham, for example, lived in Oxford for six years and did his first book signing there. Willie Morris moved to Oxford in 1980 and brought a lot of famous writers here who were his “pals.” Bill Ferris, at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, is a strong fan of Square Books and brought in Alex Haley and Alice Walker. Barry Hannah came in 1982. And those are just a FEW of the names Howorth mentioned when I toured his store with a group of fellow travel writers. Howorth, by the way, is a former mayor of Oxford.
The shelves are lined with signed copies and an impressive array of first editions are housed upstairs. Square Books hosts an average of 160 events each year, with many of those being book signings and readings.
The upstairs balcony of Square Books is a popular hangout for students, and Howorth added with a smile that students occasionally”buy actual books and actually read them!” Howorth admits that his job is fun, so much so that he is reluctant to go home every day. “It’s addictive,” he says.
James Meredith, who will be 85 in June, was the first black student enrolled at the University of Mississippi. When he arrived to register on September 20, 1962, his entrance was blocked. Riots broke out in which two people were killed and three hundred injured. It was a significant showdown between President John F. Kennedy and Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. Kennedy prevailed, and eleven days later, Meredith began classes. A monument to that event is on the Ole Miss campus and consists of a statue of Meredith facing an open door — very meaningful and appropriate. He received a degree in political science and later earned a law degree from Columbia University.
Meredith has been a civil rights activist throughout his life. I found it very interesting that in every photo I made of the monument, African- Americans could be seen in the background. MANY students are there as a result of Meredith’s barrier-breaking actions.
As happens often when I visit new places and meet passionate, influential people, I ask myself “What am I doing that makes a contribution in my community?” All of these men have contributed (and some continue to contribute) to the enhancement of the lives of others in Oxford and beyond. They inspire me.
Colossians 3:23 – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”