January 22, 2011 9:08:00 PM
Today's front page carries news of the birthing of our new magazine, Catfish Alley. Actually,"gestation" is a better word since the actually birthing will come this spring with publication of the inaugural issue.
The magazine is the result of a lot of planning, conversation and debate. We feel there is a need for a publication -- something more enduring than the daily newspaper -- that celebrates the lives and accomplishments of the people of this region and the cultural resources available here
Coming up with the concept was easy, the name less so.
We wondered, "What word or phrase best evokes our corner of the world and its special character?" We plan to draw from a multi-county area, including west Alabama. Nothing geographic seemed adequate, not Tombigbee or Tibbee or Luxapalila or Buttahatchie (or Bartahatchie). Golden Triangle wasn't enough; Central Mississippi was too prosaic. We live in the Black Belt Praire, but that includes more Alabama than Mississippi. We love the lowly possum, but not for this.
Then finally, during a meeting, someone blurted out "CATFISH ALLEY," and it was done. It hiding right under our noses, just a block up the street. Perfect.
Columbus old timers, who were here before the malls, will remember what a beehive of activity downtown was in those days. And they surely remember that one-block strip of businesses on Fourth Street between Main and College, Catfish Alley.
In its waning days, the Alley was a rundown strip of juke joints, cafes and pool halls. But in its glory days, it was a vibrant commercial area, predominantly -- but not exclusively -- black. As a child I remember taking shoes to be resoled at Bonnie Kimbrell's shoe shop. He was a white man; so was Joseph Hanna, who owned a dry goods store at the corner on Main Street.
Civil rights pioneer Dr. E.J. Stringer had his dentist office in the building just south of Jones Cafe (presently the Alley's most enduring business). Willie Armstead cut hair in his one-room barber shop down the hall. Travis Jones racked 'em up in his pool room on the corner.
In earlier times, country people would hitch their horse at the hitch lot -- or as some of O.N. Pruitt's photographs show, in the middle of Main Street -- and walk to the Alley where they might enjoy a fish sandwich, a drink of whiskey and a bit of gossip.
The smell of fish permeated the Alley in those days. Thus the name.
This was the one place where black encountered white, country mixed with town and young and old rubbed shoulders. It was a spicy gumbo of people, ideas and activity. A perfect description of the magazine we intend to publish.
To borrow from Mr. Faulkner, we're proud of our little postage stamp of native soil. And we're proud of the people, past and present, who grew up here and then went on to make names for themselves in the larger world.
Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier and American Institute of Architects CEO Robert Ivy are two recent success stories that immediately come to mind.
Here at home, Mississippi State harbors a wealth of technological and academic creativity we intend to get to know better. Same for West Point with its jewel-like downtown and fine restaurants. We want you to come with us inside beautiful homes that have been brought back to life after an infusion of creativity and cash. Tom and Emma Richardson are going to review books; Spencer Smith will help us grow heirloom tomatoes and choose trees to shade our yards.
While The Dispatch will be publishing Catfish Alley, Beth Proffitt's ad staff will be selling advertising and some newsroom staffers will contribute content, the magazine will be entirely separate from the newspaper. Stacy Clark, whose work experience ranges from field work for Smith Landscaping to marketing and graphics director for the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, will edit the magazine. Ask anyone who has worked with Stacy, and they will tell you of her quiet, determined efficiency.
Like any publication, Catfish Alley is going to be a collaborative effort. We consider readers, advertisers and the subjects of our stories as collaborators. We'll be reaching out to you.
It's going to be a lot of fun, so grab your cane pole and jump into the back of the truck.
The fish are biting.
Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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