White: Telling the Mississippi Story

Mississippi has a rich history, and we need to be the ones telling it. That's the message Mississippi Tourism Director Malcolm White delivered to the crowd Friday morning at Koinonia Coffee House.

Mississippi has a rich history, and we need to be the ones telling it. That's the message Mississippi Tourism Director Malcolm White delivered to the crowd Friday morning at Koinonia Coffee House. Photo by Tyler Cleveland

Mississippi has a rich history, and we need to be the ones telling it.

That's the message Mississippi Tourism Director Malcolm White delivered to the crowd Friday morning at Koinonia Coffee House.

White, the 62-year-old owner of popular Jackson restaurant and bar Hal & Mal's, is in his first year with the Mississippi Development Authority. He said he is in the business of selling Mississippi—and business is good.

Most visitors to the Magnolia State, White said, come with a specific purpose—whether it's to visit family members, play golf or gamble. The trick is to sell them on our history so they will go out and see something they didn't expect.

The U.S. Travel Association's 2012-2013 survey shows that Mississippi spends $6.4 million on tourism annually. That's less than its neighbors Louisiana ($13.2 million), Tennessee ($11.7 million) and Alabama ($11.6 million), but White told the audience at Koinonia not to focus on that.

"That's the reason we are at or near the bottom of all the lists (that) you do want to be high on and at the top of the lists you don't want to be on," he said. "We're poor. That's just data, folks."

But a tight budget hasn't kept White from working diligently to turn tourism into an economic driver for the state.

The Jackson Convention and Visitor's Bureau reports that Jackson alone received 3.13 million visitors last year. Those visitors spent roughly $300 million inside the city limits.

Tourism supported 20,378 jobs in the state in 2012, the Mississippi Employment Security Commission reports, and the payroll on those jobs was more than $4.2 million.

White said one of the things he's proud of is the expansion of the Freedom Trail, a series of markers the state has put up in locations where some of Mississippi's most interesting—and often shameful—history took place.

"We have a difficult history and story to tell," White said. "But on the positive side, we talk about it. We mention the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement in the same sentence. Mississippi has changed more than any state in the nation. We have come a long way. It has not always been a pretty picture, but we're at a point now where we can sell our story."

White self-identifies as a Democrat, and said in meetings with state leaders, he's often the oldest person and the only liberal in the room.

"When I came in to talk to them about the job, I asked them, 'Do you know who I am?'" he said. "They said 'Yeah, and we've decided to hire you despite that.'"

Comments

js1976 1 year ago

"We mention the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement in the same sentence"

I hate that this is what we are known for across the nation! We need to continue to build on our blues history and stop promoting our negative past. Neither the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement reflect a postive image of our state.

I know many of you feel that the Civil Rights Movement is something to celebrate, but I feel that it's still a grim reminder of how terrible people were treated in our state.

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Duan 1 year ago

Hey JS - I will agree with you on one thing - it does get stale after so long.

I've been saying this for a minute now - but the biggest challenge to Jackson and Mississippi altogether - is what's Mississippi's identity? What's the cultural identity?

Because when you have so much division - it's a challenge to find what unites a diverse group of people from one place and that's what defines a culture.

When you got to Memphis they can say, "We are the BBQ capital of the world" - when you go to New Orleans what hits you, "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez" - Atlanta - hell that the NYC of the South - they took on diversity in the mid-1980's and ran with it.

But back to Mississippi - we need to find our identity? Whether it's through the architecture, the food traditions, the diverse landscape between Desoto County and The Coast, along the river, the musical history/traditions - what is it that says to people outside and inside the state, "Damn, I want to get down to Mississippi or back home, because I know I will have a great time doing................................................"

I've lived in quite a few places and I can say - when I go to Chicago I gotta do this, or when I get down to Miami I can't wait to...... or when I go to Memphis - I have to do this or when I get a chance to get back to New York I have to have.........................

Jackson and Mississippi has to find its niche and we just have not found it. I see people and many organizations making a legit effort to try and get the culture train moving - but we still have a lot of negative detractors in the midst in powerful positions that want to halt any progress.

But let's hope Malcolm makes the most with his opportunity and brings in some people that want to move this state forward.

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donnaladd 1 year ago

Promoting negative past? Trust me: people know that part. It's folks who dont want us to talk about it that make us look unreformed.

We're promoting how much we've changed and grown, bozo.

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Duan 1 year ago

But let me clarify one comment that I made - it was the following,

"but we still have a lot of negative detractors in the midst in powerful positions that want to halt any progress. "

I meant - you have some people - that are in prominent positions, that want to keep it stale - keep "the outsiders" out. Hell, some of them want to crank up the time machine and go back.

But that's what I was indicating in my post.

I'm just glad the topic is out there

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js1976 1 year ago

"We're promoting how much we've changed and grown, bozo."

Childish name calling really does demonstrate how much someone has grown doesn't it.

Hence the reason no one can have a serious discussion with you regarding civil rights unless we are of the same opinion.

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donnaladd 1 year ago

Yeah, I know. But it's really no more childish than whining about people talking about history, no?

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js1976 1 year ago

I have no problems with anyone talking about history, nor do I advocate that we sweep it under the rug. I do have a problem with how we are viewed by others throughout this country! If you consider that "whining", then I'll take some nice aged cheddar with my glass please.

I think Duane summed up the point I was trying to make, our identity is stil racism!.That's all we fight for! Our citizens want to promote our Civil War history or our Civil Rights history, neither paint a picture of a positve and forward thinking state. You think it promotes change, but I disagree.

I don't have a problem with us "selling our story", but we have other stories to be told. I do feel that Malcolm is the man for the job.

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