Is it time to rename Ross Barnett Reservoir? Some Mississippians think so.
On the other hand, civil rights activist James Meredith called name changes frivolous.
An organized call to rename the reservoir came after the death of outdoors writer and reservoir spokesperson Bobby Cleveland.
Cleveland, who died as a result of injuries suffered in an automobile crash in April, was well known for his decades of writing at the Clarion Ledger and later as a reservoir employee and member of the Barnett Reservoir Foundation.
An online petition circulated to change the name of the lake to R.H. Cleveland Reservoir to honor Cleveland and it was signed by more than 1,200 supporters.
Although the reservoir name wasn’t changed, the reservoir board of directors changed the name of Lakeshore Park to Bobby Cleveland Park at Lakeshore, which many felt was fitting as Cleveland spent much time organizing concerts and other events held at the park.
Sharks:What are the odds of a shark attack? A lot of other things will probably kill you first.
Ross Barnett Reservoir:Reservoir park renamed in honor of beloved outdoors writer Bobby Cleveland
However, comments on the petition made it clear that for some, renaming the reservoir was two-fold. Part of it was to honor Cleveland. The other was to remove Barnett’s name; a former governor who went down in history as a self-proclaimed segregationist.
Support to change name of Barnett Reservoir
“Ross Barnett is no longer appropriate in MS,” wrote one supporter.
“I support the name change 100%. I prefer to see a name that reflects ALL of Mississippi. It’s time to bring the State together for our future. We changed our flag and it’s more beautiful than ever!” wrote another.
Those comments were echoed by other supporters who signed the petition and also by reservoir anglers.
“We are a progressive state,” said Don Terry, Sr. of Jackson. “We have moved along from the era when Barnett had significant meaning to us.
“Our state wants to be a progressive state and changing the name from Ross Barnett would be an indication we are changing. There was once a time when the name was representative of the state. What he stood for is not what we’re about, now.”
Memories of Ross Barnett and change in Mississippi
To Bernard Williams of Jackson, the name brings up memories of Barnett trying to stop civil rights activist James Meredith from enrolling at Ole Miss in 1962 and shaking the hand of Byron De La Beckwith in a courtroom when Beckwith stood accused of the assassination of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers.
Two trials for the murder ended with hung juries, but Beckwith was convicted in 1994.
“I was a kid, but I remember all that stuff,” Williams said. “But Mississippi has changed more than New York, Chicago — all of those northern states.
“We have changed, black and white. We’ve got more Black elected officials than any state in the Union.”
With those changes, Williams doesn’t see Barnett fitting.
“It’s right up there with the (state) flag,” Williams said. “That’s a hard issue.”
Rabbit Rogers of Fannin said he never supported segregation, Barnett or naming the reservoir after Barnett. So much so, he’s never referred to the lake by its proper name.
“I’ve never called it Ross Barnett,” Rogers said. “I just called it Barnett.”
‘I was very suspicious’:Fishweir, possibly hundreds of years old, found in Mississippi
Read this:What you need to know about deadly bacteria found in Mississippi soil, water
Meredith calls name changes a ‘waste of time’
Not everyone agrees, though. Meredith made history when he became the first Black to enroll at Ole Miss in 1962. He was thrust into the spotlight again when he was shot by a sniper with a shotgun on his March Against Fear in 1966.
Meredith said he is aware people are asking the name be changed but said it would make no difference for issues he’s concerned about such as crime and education.
“I’ve thought all these name changes were a waste of time,” Meredith said. “We spend too much time on frivolity and too little on making the world a better place.”
In a previous interview, reservoir general manager John Sigman said to have the name changed, it requires presenting the idea to the Barnett Reservoir Board of Directors and board approval.
“The renaming of the reservoir is in the purview of our board of directors,” Sigman said. “It would be a matter of the board of directors taking up the issue.”
However, he said that does not exclude the Mississippi Legislature from taking action.
“The Legislature has the authority to step in at any time, but as it stands, the authority remains with our board of directors,” Sigman said.
Contact Brian Broom at 601-961-7225 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Clarion Ledger Outdoors on Facebook and @BrianBroom on Twitter.