OUR OPINION: Tupelo trail enhances local self-knowledge


History doesn’t get the respect it deserves these days. Our knowledge of it – local, state, national and world – isn’t what it used to be or should be, if surveys and anecdotal experiences are to be believed.

Part of the problem is that the study of history has been de-emphasized at many levels of education, or has moved away from a focus on the important dates, events and individuals that serve as the necessary foundation for a broader, contextual understanding of the past.

But schools and universities reflect trends in society, and we simply don’t attach as much value to knowledge of history as we once did.

Yet there are still people who are history buffs, and they like to visit historical places. Cultural heritage tourism is a fast-growing market in the tourism industry.

Tupelo is getting in on that market with its new Heritage Enrichment Trail project. Two historic markers on the trail have been unveiled over the last couple of weeks, one marking the site of the old Woolworth’s store downtown where a lunch counter was desegregated with a sit-in, and the other at the site of the Civil War Battle of King’s Creek.

These are just the start of the many markers that will make up driving and walking tours of Tupelo’s Civil War, civil rights and Chickasaw Nation heritage. Tupelo is believed to be the first city in the state to take up such a comprehensive project.

It’s being touted as a tourism lure and a contribution to the city’s economy. But of equal importance is its educational value to residents of Tupelo and nearby communities. People will now have an easy way to learn more about the place where they live, and to find out things about it they probably didn’t know.

Knowledge of history – whether of family, community, state or nation – helps us better understand who we are. We are not bound by our past, but we are unquestionably shaped and molded by it. This is as true for communities, states and nations as it is for individuals.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Knowing history provides a context for better understanding what’s happening today – and for evaluating how to respond to it.

So if Tupelo’s Heritage Trails Enrichment Program brings in tourist dollars, great. But it’s valuable and worth the effort even if it doesn’t.

NEMS Daily Journal