HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a guest viewpoint by Margaret Dwight Shelton.
After decades of civil and ethnic strife, cultural diversity finally triumphed in Hattiesburg due to positive change and continuity.
Several factors impacted this transformation-transportation, military, education and civil rights.
The central location of the railroad arteries to major cities, ports and terminals earned Hattiesburg the nickname of Hub City.
Rails modified migration and thought patterns.
Pioneers acknowledged cultural differences when they combined Scot-Irish traditions with strains of Hispanic, French, African and Native American habits. Gleaned from inclusive traditions and customs, a distinctive southern culture emerged.
Beside transportation, other compelling factors contributed to cultural diversity in the Hub City.
These included a military presence, educational opportunities and civil rights.
Firstly, construction and completion of Camp Shelby brought military personnel who introduced new ideas and different lifestyles to the Pine Belt.
As early as the 1940s and thereafter, the Defense Department implemented policies supporting multiculturalism and zero tolerance for discrimination.
For example, training of African-Americans as military policemen and acceptance of women in combat symbolized revolutionary thinking and actions.
Secondly, quality education produced a skilled and specialized labor force, which led to the selection of the first African American as president of USM as well as paved the way for successful minority and female businesses, profiled authors, sport figures and famous entertainers.
Thirdly, the modern Civil Rights Movement caused desegregation in accommodations, transportation, and education.
Following the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Bill, a significant number of bipartisan Hattiesburg voters helped elect the US first African American as president (Barack Obama), state representative (Percy Watson), mayor (Johnny Dupree), and key local officials.
Religious freedom and multi-ethnic congregations now exist in this town.
All of these progressive accomplishments occurred in the Hub City, where diversified culture and positive change matter.