A great review for Hidden History of the Mississippi Sound

John Davis is a prolific book critic who writes for the Decatur Daily in Alabama. Mr. Davis recently turned his critical eye toward Hidden History of the Mississippi Sound. We were delighted to learn upon publication of the review that Mr. Davis was a big fan of the book. Some highlights from Mr. Davis’s review:

“Pounding waves and sandy beaches make the coastlands between Lake Borgne and Mobile some of the most attractive in the world. This stretch of the Mississippi coast, The Sound, was not always so benign. Indeed, Josh Foreman and Ryan Starrett are born Mississippians and scholars who hope to bring the hidden, indeed in some cases “forgotten,” history of this part of their home state to public awareness. In this they’ve performed remarkably well.”

“Foreman and Starrett are masters of suggesting deeper stories. They hope others will enjoy hearing of these events, then study further. They are crisp writers, with an eye to the appropriate and surprising quotation. Well-researched, heartily presented, and truly worth a day’s reading to ponder, I hope you get a chance to enjoy this book.”

We hope Mr. Davis’s review will spur some readers in Alabama to pick up a copy of Hidden History of Mississippi Sound. Thank you to Mr. Davis for reading and recommending!

Brent’s Drugs: Keeping the ember burning

In Hidden History of the Mississippi Sound, we wrote about how New Orleans had preserved a thread to its past by keeping a historic streetcar running. For a short time, streetcars were the dominant mode of transportation in American cities. At the peak of ridership, New Orleans’s streetcars carried 148 million passengers a year. Streetcars fell out of fashion, though, and most cities opted to switch to motor vehicles. New Orleans kept its St. Charles Line open through the middle decades of the 20th century, even though no one seemed particularly interested in riding streetcars. Then, as the century drew to a close, people were suddenly interested in streetcars again. New Orleans began building new lines. More people wanted to ride. The St. Charles line had been the ember that made rekindling the fire possible.

Infrared view of a streetcar on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. The St. Charles Avenue Streetcar line is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world. Library of Congress

The Mississippi Gulf Coast once had its own incredible streetcar network. But it was lost, as hurricanes and motor vehicles made the streetcar lines too expensive to maintain. Now residents of Gulfport, Biloxi, Long Beach and Pass Christian can only dream about riding along the shore in a state-of-the-art electric car with huge windows and a carved wooden ceiling. If only an ember had been kept alive there as well.

The Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company cars that once ran along the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Lucky for Jackson residents, one man and his partners are doing their part to keep an ember from the past burning. They don’t maintain a streetcar line. Instead, they have preserved a soda fountain — the culinary equivalent of the streetcar. The man is Brad Reeves, and the soda fountain is Brent’s Drugs.

Soda fountains once served a useful function in the city, providing a cheap, social place to have a handmade milkshake or a burger after school or church. The soda fountain even helped ease Jackson’s transition from wet to dry in the early part of the 20th century. Barkeeps with drink-making skills suddenly found themselves out of work. They took their skills to soda fountains, crafting non-alcoholic drinks for customers that delighted them a little more than a Coke poured from a can could.

Brad Reeves

Brent’s has been in operation since 1946, and Mr. Reeves has been the owner for a decade. You can’t get your prescription filled there, but you can get a tall milkshake or a cherry limeade. Ryan and I visited on a Sunday recently, and I was impressed by how many people were at the fountain hanging out. It was as busy as it might have been 60 years ago.

How easy would it have been for Brent’s to fade away like so many fun cultural relics have? But Mr. Reeves stepped up, and now we can all enjoy eating crispy skin-on fries in a bona fide soda fountain. Thanks for keeping the ember burning, Brad!

Kamau Bostic stops by for a visit

Kamau Bostic, a young Mississippi photographer, shows students some of his commissioned work.

Kamau Bostic, an impressive young photographer who lives in Tupelo, guest taught my photography class this morning. Kamau is a professional photographer who specializes in portraits and product photos. Kamau wowed my students with his beautiful portfolio, took questions, and even set up his photography equipment and showed students how he shoots and edits portraits.

Kamau graduated with a BFA in photography from Mississippi State in 2018, and was heavily involved in the Starkville arts scene. Several of my students knew of him and were happy to welcome him back to State.

Jarrius Carter volunteered to have his photo taken. Kamau set up his remotely-triggered strobe light and a huge umbrella, and shot Jarrius with his Nikon D810. Kamau put the photo up on our classroom’s Smartboard and walked the class through his editing process. I for one learned a lot about editing and can’t wait to implement some of Kamau’s techniques.

Kamau Bostic brought along his favorite lighting setup for portraits.

Kamau is good friends with my brother Wes, which gave me an opening to have him visit my class. He is in the early stages of his career, but is already making a name for himself as a talented young Mississippi artist. He has landed some big clients, and spends many of his weekends traveling to photo shoots. Kamau also works for the Mabus Agency in Tupelo. You will be hearing about him soon — mark my words!

The portrait of Jarrius Carter that Kamau Bostic shot and edited in front of my class.

Meeting an Icon

Ryan and I were lucky to meet Mississippi icon Malcolm White over the weekend and hear some of his stories from many years owning Hal and Mal’s, living in Jackson, and generally being involved in the Mississippi arts scene.

Ryan took plenty of notes and will be relaying some of Mr. White’s stories in “Classic Restaurants of Jackson.” In addition to meeting Mr. White, we also got to try some of Hal and Mal’s downhome Southern cooking. It was another great weekend of meeting interesting people, tasting great food, and learning about some truly great restaurants.

We have visited six restaurants and still have 12 to go before we are done. I could get used to this kind of work!

Video from the 2019 Mississippi Book Festival

“All About Mississippi”

Marshall Ramsey has been tickling me with his cartoons since I was in high school, so it was a great honor to sit and talk with him, Luke Lampton, Kate Stewart, and Janice Branch Tracy in front of an audience of about 250 at the 2019 Mississippi Book Festival. Marshall was a fantastic moderator who kept the conversation flowing and the audience engaged.

I got a notice today from the MBF that our talk, “All About Mississippi,” is available to view on the MBF website. The video quality is fantastic. To be honest, no one has ever filmed me in such a way before! I watched a minute or so of it and thought that my head looked bigger than I realized, and my beard longer…

Anyway, if you want to see our full talk with Marshall, you can watch the video here.

Thank you to Mississippi State University for the write-up

Mississippi State University recently published a story about our Deep South trilogy of Hidden History books (HH Jackson, HH Mississippi Sound, HH New Orleans). You can read the story here. We would like to thank them for the support. Several people have contacted us since the story ran to express their interest in our books.

As a Mississippi State graduate and instructor, I would also like to say Hail State — wrap this one in maroon and white!

Work has officially begun on “Classic Restaurants of Jackson”

Ah, the struggles of a food writer. Ryan and I spent a grueling weekend tasting and photographing food at some of Jackson’s best restaurants. We have officially begun work on “Classic Restaurants of Jackson.”

We would like to extend an enormous thank you to David Conn, a partner in the group that owns Amerigo, Char, and several other restaurants, and Bill Prisock, president of the Cock of the Walk restaurants. The men were our hosts over the weekend. David dazzled us with plates at Amerigo and Char on Saturday, and Bill told us stories about Cock of the Walk’s legendary founder, Ken Jackson, as the sun rose over the reservoir Sunday morning.

David described Jackson as a “foodie town.” Ryan and I are trying hard to do Jackson’s food scene justice with our work. We were able to get some great photos of beautiful plates at Amerigo, Char, and Cock of the Walk. We plan to visit another 15 of Jackson’s best restaurants in the next few months, and have our manuscript to the History Press around the turn of the new year.

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the photos we got:

Flame-grilled salmon fillet with black bean salsa and green beans ($13) at Amerigo
Chicken and waffle ($12) at Char
Grilled catfish “Keelboat Special” with onion rings and fried pickles ($22) at Cock of the Walk

HHNO Cover Reveal

The History Press just finished designing the cover for Hidden History of New Orleans, and as usual they did a fantastic job. The cover features a photo of a dockworker on the Mississippi River waterfront in the 1880s. The image was graciously provided by our friends at the Rijksmuseum, one of the Netherlands’ premier art and history museums.

The official release date for HHNO is Feb. 3, 2020, just in time for Mardi Gras.

Thank You to the Great Katy Simpson Smith

Ryan and I are thrilled to announce that the great Katy Simpson Smith, author of The Story of Land and Sea and Free Men, has written the forward for our upcoming book, Hidden History of New Orleans. Ms. Smith is a Jackson native who currently lives, writes, and teaches in New Orleans.

Ms. Smith’s third novel, The Everlasting, will be published by Harper next year. You can buy her other books at Lemuria in Jackson, on Amazon, and at many other bookstores and online retailers.