The title Queen is given to a female monarch of power and rank. This glorious title is given to the city of Meridian, Mississippi, and not because it is a powerful city. As a matter of fact, it is just a small town in the South. Meridian, however, does have an unrelenting will to survive.
Jack Shank’s book, “Meridian: Queen with a Past, Volume 1” discusses the rich history of Meridian and explains where the name “Queen City” came from.
One of the reasons that Meridian is called the “Queen City” is because it is the burial place of Kelly Mitchell, queen of the Romany Gypsies. The second reason for the city’s nickname is because it was an important stop for “The Queen and Crescent” passenger train that ran between Cincinnati and New Orleans in the 1880’s. The third reason that Meridian is called the “Queen City” is because of a pageant that was promoted by the city’s Board of Trade that was entitled “Queen of the East”.
Meridian found her beginning after the release of Indian land through the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on September 28, 1830. The treaty opened the land that would become Lauderdale County three years later. It would be thirty years later that the city of Meridian would be born.
Settlers were slow to move into the Lauderdale County area. The first settler of the area was Richard McLemore. McLemore migrated to the area in 1831. He saw the potential that the area had to become a town. He persuaded others to come to the area by offering free land. It was not long before the area grew.
Meridian’s true birth came with the railroad. The early settlers know that the railroad would put the city on the map. Meridian’s Founding Fathers, John T. Ball and Lewis A. Ragsdale, pushed hard to get the railroad companies to expand through Meridian. It was only through a twist of fate that Meridian finally received her railroad.
The author Jack Shank provided realistic details of William Sherman and his time in the area. Shanks explores the reality of war through his description of the results of the burning the houses of Meridian’s citizens and the destruction of her prized railroad.
The fall of Jackson to the Union during the Civil War led to Meridian being named the capital of Mississippi for a brief time. Meridian was chosen because of her railroad.
Also of interest was Meridian’s tribute to its dead. The origin of the “Threefoot Building”, Meridian’s only skyscraper is discussed. What most people don’t know is that it was built in honor of Abraham Threefoot by his three grandsons.
One of the most interesting tributes was that of Mrs. Leila William Smith. Mrs. Smith had an unusual funeral. Instead of the traditional funeral, Mrs. Smith had her funeral done in the style of a wedding. She was buried in pink satin and her face was covered with a veil. She was placed on a bed of roses, and young women lined the stairway in white dresses with bouquets in their hands. It was the first open casket ever seen in Meridian.
The author also goes into details about the racial unrest in the city after the war. The 1960s marked some of Meridian’s darkest days. Shank did not hide the involvement of Meridian’s citizens in the hanging of blacks they felt were troublemakers.
Is “Meridian: Queen with a Past. Volume 1” a good read? Yes, it is. It is alive and rich with the fascinating history of the town. It is only a 163 pages long, and it is published by Southeastern Printing. The book is easy to read. People interested in learning about the South must read this book.