TUPELO – Carver High School graduates from the 1950s and 1960s paraded down Spring Street on Saturday morning from their old high school, now Carver Elementary School, to the old Dixie Belle Theater, RC Cola Plant and site of the 1964 March of Discontent.
There, at the corner of Spring and West Franklin streets, a maker noting the significance of the location and the March of Discontent to Tupelo’s black community and civil rights struggle was unveiled.
The parade followed a similar route as the 1964 March of Discontent organized by the Tupelo Civic Improvement Club, a body of black residents devoted to increasing voter registration, integration of public schools and minority hiring.
The 1964 march ended at the intersection of Spring and West Franklin streets when the marchers were stopped by a blockade of Tupelo’s police. A disturbance broke out and the RC Cola bottling plant’s windows were broken.
Sam Bell had gradated from Carver by the time of the march and moved out west but said he vividly remembers spending time at the Dixie Belle Theater, which operated across the street from the site of the conflict from 1950 until 1955 as a social gathering place and movie theater for the black community.
The old RC Cola Plant is now home to the Mayfield Law Firm and the Dixie Belle Theater now home to the Church of the Living God.
“I spent a lot of time at the Dixie Belle,” said Sam Bell, a 1955 graduate of Carver High School. “In fact, when it opened up during my childhood, the first movie we saw was one of those old black and whites – Porgy and Bess.”
Mayor Jason Shelton, along with Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Neal McCoy, Councilwoman Nettie Davis and Kenneth Mayfield unveiled the marker.
“As a community it’s always important to know where you came from and the history of the community as you look to the future and where we’re going from here,” said Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton.
Mayfield thanked the Carver High School graduates for participating in the marker unveiling Saturday morning before asking if any of them participated in a similar march in 1978, to which many raised their hands.
The march in 1978, like the one in 1964, involved a group of African-Americans protesting mistreatment, but in 1978 the group encountered members of the Ku Klux Klan instead of the Tupelo Police Department.
“It’s with pride today we’re standing here on this hallowed ground marking an area where there could have been bloodshed but it was avoided,” Mayfield said of the two marches. “I think that is attributed to the leaders of Tupelo.”
The March of Discontent marker is the fourth Civil Rights and African-American Heritage Trail maker in the Heritage Trails Enrichment Program.