Officials unveil Catfish Alley memorial

Lowndes County StockThe Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — The city of Columbus has unveiled a monument commemorating Catfish Alley’s rich history as a commercial and cultural hub for African-Americans and a gathering place for all races.

The Commercial Dispatch reports that the sides of the monument list the names of those who ran restaurants, barber shops, dentist offices, drug stores and entertainment venues during the area’s peak eras in popularity and success.

The city also added new sidewalks and a park area all done to revitalize the site.

Mississippi University for Women art professor Alex Stelios-Wills and several of his students made the mural representing the area in multiple eras.

“People showed up every day when we painted to tell us stories about the alley, to tell us what we were wrong on, to correct us and then correct us again, and to bring photographs. It really helped to be able to know about people individually,” he said.

Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said there more work to complete, including the installation of festival lights to provide another element associated with the area in its heyday. He said he’d like to see historical markers placed on each side of the road.

“For the people that really know Catfish Alley that have moved away from here, when they come back they always want to come back through Catfish Alley. Now, it brings back memories and we revitalized it and they can appreciate it more,” Smith said.

The late Sallie Mae Jones was one of the restaurant owners. Her daughter, Connie Brooks Jones, said the Jones family has owned businesses on that street for more than 50 years.

“(My mother) used to cook right in the front door, just about. Her menu consisted of four things: pan trout, hamburgers, beer and sodas … she started out doing special plate lunches on a Saturday. When the people from across Tombigbee River would come to town… my mother used to make a pot of soup and feed people free,” she said.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com