Photos by Jay Sowers
Photos by Jay Sowers

Reading the signs: Familiar names are just around the corner in the Miss-Lou

Published 12:05am Sunday, August 18, 2013

Driving through downtown Natchez, motorists from out of town are sure to see streets bearing familiar names, regardless of where they call home.

U.S. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe join founding father Benjamin Franklin in having streets in Natchez that bear their last names.

Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also has a road named after him here in the Miss-Lou — four actually.

Roads named in honor of MLK can be found in Natchez, Adams County, Ferriday and Vidalia.

While the names of presidents and national heroes do grace a large number of street signs throughout the region, they share the honor with dozens upon dozens of lesser known, but equally important, local heroes.

George F. West Sr. Boulevard — Natchez

For James West, the hard work of his father, Alderman George F. West Sr., who was the first black alderman in Natchez after reconstruction, carried with it a message that should not be forgotten by present and future residents of Natchez.

“We have to negotiate,” West said. “We have to work together.”

George F. West Sr. Boulevard extends from the end of North Union Street and connects to Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Natchez.

“There are so many people in this town who give so much for this community, and we forget about them,” West said.

“It means a lot to know he has not been forgotten.”

Seargent S. Prentiss Drive and Prentiss Street — Natchez

Seargent Smith Prentiss gained national recognition in the early-to-mid 1800s as an orator, especially his work for the Whig party.

After studying law in the North, Prentiss moved to Natchez in the late 1820s and began practicing law in both Natchez and Vicksburg shortly thereafter.

Prentiss served in the state house of representatives before being elected a member of Congress.

There are two roads in Natchez named after Prentiss — Prentiss Street on the north side of the city and Seargent S. Prentiss Drive, which is a portion of U.S. 61 on the southeastern side of town.

John R. Junkin Drive — Natchez

“Who was John R. Junkin?” is likely one of the first or last questions one has during their visit to Natchez, depending on what point they cross the Mississippi River bridge.

Junkin served in the Mississippi House of Representatives beginning in 1944, and was the Speaker of the House from 1966 to 1975.

During his time in the state government, Sallie J. Ballard, Junkin’s daughter, said her father worked to instill his deeply held belief in a balanced budget into the workings of government, just as he had in the family’s Natchez home.

“He wouldn’t want to spend a dime if there wasn’t 15 cents coming in,” Ballard said.

“I feel he certainly deserved the honor of having the street name after him, because of all he did for Natchez and the state of Mississippi,” Ballard said.

John Dale Drive — Vidalia

When the City of Vidalia decided to name a road after local civil servant John Dale, they encountered a peculiar problem: which John Dale should they name the road after?

John Dale Sr.? John Dale Jr.? John Dale III?

John Dale IV can recount the family history — John Dale Sr. was both a lawyer and a judge, but he was also known locally for founding Concordia Bank and Trust.

Dale IV said the next man in the line, John Dale Jr., was a District Attorney and also served as chairman at Concordia Bank.

John Dale III served as a multi-term mayor of Vidalia during his life.

Dale IV said its an honor to know his family’s work will be long remembered in Vidalia.

“Growing up, I knew enough about what each of them did, and how they each worked to help this area progress,” Dale IV said.

Lynda Lee Drive – Natchez

Lynda Lee Mead Shea, a native of Natchez was a student at Ole Miss in 1959 when she won the Miss Mississippi crown, but that was not to be her highest honor.

A year later, in 1960, Lee would be crowned Miss America.

Lynda Lee Drive is on the north side of Natchez, running from Martin Luther King Jr. Street to U.S. 61.

Currently residing in Memphis, Tenn., Shea said it is still humbling for her to think about the road renamed in her honor in her hometown of Natchez.

“I am honored that (winning Miss America) is still being commemorated 53 years later,” Shea said.

“When I am back in Natchez, it’s so special to look up and see that sign,” Shea said.

“I can’t help but smile.”

John A. Quitman Boulevard — Natchez

“John Quitman could have been president of the Confederacy,” said Mimi Miller, executive director of the Historic Natchez Foundation.

And his life’s work certainly back up that sentiment.

Quitman spent his life in public service.

He served on the state legislature in Mississippi, even being named the president of the body in 1835.

In 1846, Quitman was honored with the title of Brigadier-General in the U.S. Army, serving under General Zachary Taylor.

A staunch advocate of states’ rights, Quitman was a loud voice arguing in favor of secession before his death in 1858.

Jerry Lee Lewis Boulevard and Mickey Gilley Avenue — Ferriday

The musical history of Ferriday is well documented, and two cousins at the forefront of that story have been honored with streets in their hometown named after them.

Mickey Gilley Avenue is named after the country music legend, while Jerry Lee Lewis Boulevard bears the name of the rock-and-roll pioneer.

Jerry Lee Lewis Boulevard is a bit out of the way for most visitors to Ferriday, as it runs along the northern edge of Ferriday, close to the Huntington baseball and softball fields.

Mickey Gilley Avenue runs east-to-west through Ferriday, just one block south of Louisiana Avenue.

Delta Music Museum Director Judith Bingham said the two Ferridians certainly deserve to be remembered.

“They are two kids from our small town and they became famous worldwide,” Bingham said.

“That makes them more than worthy to have roads named after them, in my mind.”

Bud Scott Lane — Natchez

Lewis and Gilley may be two of the better known musical talents from the Miss-Lou to make names for themselves with their voices and instrumental skills, but they were not the first.

Bud Scott was a renowned Natchez jazz musician who would perform with his band everywhere between Memphis and New Orleans.

The lane named for Scott cuts between North Union Street and Claiborne Street on the northern edge of Natchez.