Sixty years ago this morning the people of Tupelo and the imme

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Sixty years ago this morning the people of Tupelo and the immediate outlying areas had waked up to a scene more terrible than most of them imagined during the darkness and torrential rain that followed the previous night’s horrific tornado.

Most of Tupelo, much smaller then than now, looked worse than a war zone. Its devastation could have come from only one source the uncontrollable power of Nature.

We know now that one of the strongest spring storm fronts of the 20th century in the American Southeast created an immense tornado. It roared over the splendid Victorian and newer brick homes of Tupelo’s most prosperous families, obliterated the more modest homes of the middle class, and ravaged the less sturdy homes of poorer white and black families. Its passage wasted more than 1,100 residences. More than 1,000 people were injured (hundreds seriously) and 233 people were known killed. It was one of the worst single-city storms in our nation’s history; its regional toll was even more catastrophic.

Tupelo’s citizens pulled together on that “morning after” barriers of race and economic class and neighborhood that may have mattered a great deal the previous morning meant little. The goal was to comfort, assist, and recover together. Some who remember that morning believe a new Tupelo emerged in the spirit and mind of the people who looked for lost relatives and literally tried to piece together some of life as it had been 24 hours earlier.

Many decided that a better life was possible, built from within a remarkable spirit of community enthusiasm that was traceable even then to the city’s 19th-century beginnings. The Daily Journal committed itself to becoming part of a new Tupelo a commitment that has not changed except to become broader and more inclusive.

Phyllis Harper’s graphic and moving article about the tornado in Friday’s Daily Journal reported another part of the tornado story Tupelo must never forget: We didn’t rebound alone.

People from across Northeast Mississippi, the Middle South and other parts of the nation came by scores and sent trainloads of sustaining supplies, food, clothing and medicine to pick us up and help us heal. Our “neighbors” from near and far made a critical difference.

Our community’s response to people laid waste by natural or human disasters should always have what others did for Tupelo in 1936 as a motivating background. Some might cynically argue that the “debt” has been repaid many times over. That sad view misses the point. People helped Tupelo in generosity some out of personal poverty in a sacrificial way during the middle of the Great Depression. Our community’s obligation to help people beyond the city limits is not out of debt. It is a matter of gratitude for acts of human compassion.