Is it time to rebrand Ross Barnett Reservoir? Some Mississippians think so.
Civil rights activist James Meredith, on the other hand, called name changes dubious.
An organized call to rename the reservoir came after the death of outdoor author and Reservoir spokesman Bobby Cleveland.
Cleveland, who died in an automobile accident in April, was known for his decades of service as a writer for the Clarion Ledger and later as a reservoir employee and member of the Barnett Reservoir Foundation.
An online petition circulated to change the lake’s name to RH Cleveland Reservoir in honor of Cleveland, and it was signed by more than 1,200 supporters.
Although the reservoir’s name was not changed, the reservoir board of directors changed Lakeshore Park’s name to Bobby Cleveland Park at Lakeshore, which many thought appropriate given that Cleveland spent much of its time organizing concerts and other events at the park.
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Ross Barnett Reservoir:Reservoir Park renamed in honor of popular outdoor author Bobby Cleveland
However, comments on the petition made it clear that renaming the reservoir was twofold for some. Part of that was to honor Cleveland. The other was to remove Barnett’s name; a former governor who went down in history as a self-proclaimed segregationist.
Assisting in the name change of Barnett Reservoir
“Ross Barnett is no longer appropriate at MS,” wrote one supporter.
“I support the name change 100%. I prefer a name that reflects all of Mississippi. It’s time to bring the state together for our future. We’ve changed our flag and it’s more beautiful than ever!” wrote another.
These comments were echoed by other supporters who signed the petition and also by reservoir anglers.
“We are a progressive state,” said Don Terry, Sr. of Jackson. “We’ve moved away from the era when Barnett was meaningful to us.
“Our state wants to be a progressive state and changing Ross Barnett’s name would be an indication that we are changing. There was a time when the name was representative of the state. What he stood for is not what we are about. now.”
Memories of Ross Barnett and Change in Mississippi
For Bernard Williams of Jackson, the name brings back memories of Barnett trying to stop civil rights activist James Meredith from registering with Ole Miss in 1962 and shaking hands with Byron De La Beckwith in a courtroom when Beckwith was accused of the NAACP field assassination became secretary Medgar Evers.
Two trials for murder ended in hung juries, but Beckwith was convicted in 1994.
“I was a kid, but I remember all that stuff,” Williams said. “But Mississippi has changed more than New York, Chicago — all those northern states.
“We have changed, black and white. We have more black elected officials than any state in the Union.”
With these changes, Williams doesn’t see Barnett fitting.
“It’s right up there with the (state) flag,” Williams said. “It’s a difficult subject.”
Rabbit Rogers of Fannin said he never supported segregation, Barnett or naming the reservoir after Barnett. So much so that he never referred to the lake by its real name.
“I never called it Ross Barnett,” Rogers said. “I just called it Barnett.”
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Meredith calls name changes ‘a waste of time’
However, not everyone agrees. Meredith made history when he became the first black man to enroll at Ole Miss in 1962. He was thrust into the limelight again when he was shot dead by a sniper with a shotgun while on his march against fear in 1966.
Meredith said he’s aware of people asking for the name to be changed, but said it wouldn’t make a difference for issues like crime and education, which worries him.
“I thought all these name changes were a waste of time,” Meredith said. “We spend too much time on frivolity and too little on making the world a better place.”
In a previous interview, the reservoir’s general manager, John Sigman, said that a name change is required to bring the idea to Barnett Reservoir’s board of directors for board approval.
“Reservoir renaming is the responsibility of our board of directors,” Sigman said. “It would be up to the Board of Directors to take up the issue.”
But he said that doesn’t preclude the Mississippi Legislature from taking action.
“The legislature has the power to intervene at any time, but as it stands, the power rests with our board,” Sigman said.
Contact Brian Broom at 601-961-7225 or email@example.com. Follow Clarion Ledger Outdoors on Facebook and @BrianBroom Twitter.