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Today is October 24, 2021

Mississippi Seen

Gather at the river

By Walt Grayson

Gather at the river

Merit Falls in Simpson County

Long-time Mississippi newspaper columnist Bill Minor was an acquaintance of mine. We bumped into each other from time to time at various functions. Often, he would come to the television station and be our commentator on election nights. Over the past few weeks, I have finally picked up a copy of Bill’s book, “Eyes on Mississippi.” It is a collection of his columns about Mississippi politics and associated issues over a 50-year period starting in the late 1940s. It’s an interesting insight into the issues of the day as they were unfolding. All of it is history now. But it was current events at the time Bill was writing about it. We have the perspective of hindsight. No one knew what was coming next as he was banging out his “Eyes on Mississippi” newspaper columns.

The tone of one of his articles caught my attention. It seemed a departure from his normal attitude about things. It’s in the last chapter of his book where he has compiled columns about people that he really admired. The gist of this particular article is how one person can make a difference. And in the 1970s, Mansfield Downs made a huge difference for those of us who like to explore a river or float a Mississippi creek now and again.

Who is Mansfield Downs? Well, I wouldn’t have had any idea had I not read the book. It was Mr. Downs’ persistence that convinced the Legislature to redefine “public streams” in Mississippi. Until 1971, a public stream was one on which you could float a steamboat loaded with 200 bales of cotton for at least 30 straight days a year. All of the rest of the smaller rivers, creeks, and bayous belonged to the landowners. That means if you wanted to try floating or canoeing one of our current popular creek or river floats back then, you could have been arrested for trespassing.

But in 1971, the Legislature updated the public waterways qualifications and opened up about 90% more of the state’s waterways — places we use today. And that may never have been done — or at least it wouldn’t have been done when it was — had it not been for Mr. Downs from Pearl River

County.

And I don’t know another thing about him. But if you ever play in Pelahatchie Creek or paddle the Pascagoula or ply the upper Pearl, thank Mr. Downs.

They say three-fifths of the world is covered in water. Mississippi may not be quite that wet but as a fisherman-cousin of mine told me once, you can’t go 20 miles in any direction in Mississippi without finding another good fishing hole.

In October, the weather finally starts getting to where convertibles, front porch swings, and out-of-the-way streams all become more purposeful. Thank you, Mr. Downs, for access to our watery quiet spots.

 

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Walt is also a reporter and 4 p.m. news anchor at WJTV in Jackson. He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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