Thompson speaks to Business and Civic League; Patten and Bridgewater Irving receive man and woman of the year honors

Published 12:06 am Monday, March 4, 2024

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NATCHEZ — The Natchez Business and Civic League presented a number of awards Friday night at its 46th annual awards banquet, including Man and Woman of the Year.

Keynote speaker was U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, of Bolton who praised the community’s small businesses.

Thompson became representative in Congress for Natchez and Adams County when the state’s legislative districts were redrawn in 2022. The second district now expands the length of the state from Tennessee to Louisiana and includes 28 counties.

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“People thought when they gave me Adams County, I was being punished. You know that old saying about putting the rabbit in the briar patch? I’m in the briar patch, y’all,” Thompson said to the nearly 200 gathered at the Natchez Convention Center.

The Natchez High School Choir dazzled the group with two selections, and emcee for the event, Tony Fields of the Natchez-Adams School District, sang as well.

While greeting the group Friday night, Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson thanked Thompson for the attention he has paid to the needs of Natchez and Adams County.

“I think he’s been to our district and to Natchez more than any Congressman I can remember,” Gibson said.

Former Natchez Mayor and current school board member Philip West introduced Thompson, marveling at his journey from the small town of Bolton to leading the fight to save Democracy.

“He has been on that battlefield from 1965 when he finished high school to Tougaloo College to being the chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, a small town boy from Mississippi,” West said.

Thompson told the group he was happy to be among people who recognize the value of small businesses in the community.

“The reason I support small businesses is because in my community, it was the small businesses when I grew up who were taking care of the community,” he said.

“When the civil rights workers came to Bolton, Mississippi, talking about Head Start and all that, it was the man who had the store in town who made sure they got fed. He had the only telephone on that street, so when they had the need to communicate, that’s where they went.

“When we needed a car to carry people, it was the Bolton Funeral Home that had the vehicles, another small business. When we needed to find some money to get something done, it was the Universal Life Insurance agent in the community, a small business, who came up with the money. They are the backbone of the community,” Thompson said.

He said his experiences explain his passion for political service.

“Sometimes your life is the sum total of your experiences. It’s the experiences I’ve had along the way that direct my path,” Thompson said.

“My daddy didn’t go to school because black boys during that time had to go to the field. My mama taught him how to sign his name,” he said.

“My first school was Bolton Colored School. I walked by Bolton School every day to get to Bolton Colored School, so now you find out why I act the way I do. Bolton School had a gymnasium, had a cafeteria, a library. And they had something really strange like new textbooks. Bolton Colored School did not have running water. We had no gymnasium, we had no cafeteria, but I had some dedicated teachers who taught me, if I can get it in your head, they can’t take it from you.”

Thompson urged elected officials here to make certain small business owners have the opportunity to share in the funds that come from the federal government for projects.

“You must make sure that the small businesses get their piece of the pie. They are in the community. Money that goes to small local businesses turns over four, five or six times. If you bring someone in from out of town, it does not turn nearly as much as if you hire someone local,” he said.

Thompson discusses several issues, like the need for broadband access for all of the state’s children.

“If we are going to become and stay the number one country in the world, we have to invest in it,” he said. “We did the same thing about electricity. Anyone who wanted electricity, they could get it. We set up the Rural Electric Coop program to provide electricity to anyone in the United States. We can to the same thing with broadband to make sure our children don’t have to go to McDonald’s to do their homework.”

He also said he understands Mississippi may be nearing a deal for Medicaid expansion.

“Whether Tate Reeves wants it or not, we are going to have Medicaid expansion. We have lost $15 billion because Tate Reeves wouldn’t take Medicaid expansion. Your hospital would not be struggling now if he had accepted that money,” Thompson said.

An emotional Philip West was honored as the first recipient of the Bennie Thompson Award at the end of Friday’s banquet.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten was named Man of the Year and Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia “Rochelle” Bridgewater Irving was named Woman of the Year.

Business and Civic League President Jimmy Ware was honored for his work leading that group.