Tupelo Sunday beer vote stirs emotion

TUPELO – Good morning, Sunday, the most controversial day of the week.
At least in Tupelo. At least lately.
Today is the day no one can buy beer, wine or liquor within the city limits. Today is the day some residents claim they’re saving, and others claim they’re liberating, as everyone braces for a vote to lift the Sunday ban.
The City Council will decide Tuesday whether to allow beer and light wine sales from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday in restaurants and stores. And if early reactions to that upcoming vote are any indication, it’ll be a long and contentious meeting.
“It’s a hot issue,” said Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings, who has received more than 70 e-mails and at least half as many phone calls on the subject since it surfaced earlier this month.
“Every one of them so far is against it,” said Jennings, who himself opposes the measure. “I got phone calls from people in Verona and Saltillo and people all around. I’m getting a lot of calls from church pastors – Harrisburg, West Jackson Baptist.”
They’ve also called and written Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis. Some of them, she said, told her she’ll go to hell if she votes to lift the beer ban. Others questioned her Christianity.
“It’s just a very touchy subject in the Bible Belt, and people have a tendency to criticize you if you support it, accuse you of being alcoholic,” Davis said. “But I think you have that right, and if we want to be a city we have to provide the type of things people want.”
Davis supports lifting the ban and said she believes it will pass this time. The council last considered the issue in 2002 and voted it down.
Tupelo does allow beer sales the other six days of the week, from 7 a.m. until midnight. Liquor also is available six days a week, but Tuesday’s vote will deal only with beer.
Among the vocal opposition this time is the Rev. Forrest Sheffield, senior pastor at Harrisburg Baptist Church, Tupelo’s largest congregation. Sheffield preached against the measure last week and said he’ll preach again this week.
He also posted a message on the church’s Web site urging people to tell the mayor and council members to vote down the measure.
“There will come a time when someone gets hurt from buying beer on Sunday,” said Sheffield, who also disapproves of alcohol Monday through Saturday. “Even if it did bring in some tax dollars, it’s not worth the harm, maiming or life of one person.”
Sheffield said hundreds of community members share his opinion and that they are in the majority.
But hundreds of others support Sunday alcohol sales, albeit in a less vocal way.
As of Saturday night, 495 people had joined the pro-measure online Facebook page “Sunday Beer in Tupelo, MS.” Members include young and old, black and white, Democrats and Republicans, Ole Miss and MSU, and several of whom mention religious affiliation in their profiles.
The original creator of the page initially granted an interview to the Daily Journal speaking in support of Sunday sales. But he later asked not to be quoted for fear of reprisal to his family business.
The page now is sponsored by Main Street Bar and Grill.
Said Council President Fred Pitts, who supports the measure: “You always hear from the ones who are against it, you never hear from the ones who are for it.”
Not all supporters are silent, though. Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington said he has heard from dozens of residents who want Sunday beer sales.
Whittington, like Davis, plans to vote yes this week.
“It’s been a lot of people who are against, but it’s been more people who are for it who have contacted me,” Whittington said. “Most of the people who are actually for it are being kind of quiet, though.”

Click here for more information on the City Council meeting and agenda.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal