Steve Mullen: A historic marker for Catfish Alley

February 21, 2009

Steve Mullen - smullen@cdispatch.com

 

Original ideas are few and far between. In fact, journalists often joke that in the news business, no idea is original: Whatever it is, somewhere it''s been done before. 

 


I experienced this phenomena firsthand, after reading Birney''s column last Sunday about Catfish Alley. 

 


As I read the column, and the responses from readers over the next few days in letters and posts on cdispatch.com, I wondered: Why is there no historic marker honoring Catfish Alley? As a Columbus newbie, I was unfamiliar with this piece of local history, and was moved by Birney''s and others'' descriptions and memories of the area. 

 


I shared my idea with Birney, suggesting The Dispatch help get a Catfish Alley marker dedicated. 

 


I was pleased with myself for coming up with this idea -- until I learned that the same thing had occurred almost exactly a year ago. One of Birney''s columns led to the dedication of a historic marker for legendary sportscaster Red Barber. Locals inspired by that drive then worked to dedicate a historic marker for boxing legend and Columbus native son Henry Armstrong some months later. 

 


Suddenly we''re awash in shiny new green signs. Historic-marker fatigue is setting in.  

 


Those two new signs are among around 630 statewide, according to the state Department of Archives and History. Columbus and Lowndes County boast nearly 30. Several are downtown, including those in front of the Tennessee Williams birthplace and First Methodist Church. A marker for Friendship Cemetery is only a few footsteps away from the First Methodist marker. 

 


Though they seem to be everywhere, there''s a pretty strict regimen for getting a green marker -- rules that work against Catfish Alley. There has to be a clear, documented history for Archives and History to review. Local historians I''ve talked to say that, despite the fact that some people''s memories have been recorded, there isn''t a comprehensive, documented historical study of the alley. 

 


That''s not to say that it couldn''t be done, if the right person came along to champion it.  

 


The fact that generations ago in the segregated South, whites and blacks mingled together among the shops and businesses there, is both fascinating and heartening. I believe, and others might agree, that this part of Columbus and Lowndes County history is worth noting in a permanent way. 

 


Steve Mullen is managing editor of The Commercial Dispatch. Phone him at 328-2471, or e-mail smullen@cdispatch.com.

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.