Mississippi preps for birthday bash

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Next tax season, Mississippians can join in celebrating 200 years of statehood by contributing all — or a little — of their income tax refund to help bankroll a birthday bash.

Gov. Haley Barbour this past week signed a bill creating the optional funding support for the Mississippi Bicentennial Celebration Commission.

The preamble notes Mississippi joined the Union as the 20th state on Dec. 10, 1817. David Holmes, who had been serving as territorial governor since 1809, became the first governor of the state.

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The territorial capital of Natchez temporarily continued as the state’s seat of government. After several relocations, the Mississippi Legislature designated a site known as LeFleur’s Bluff on the Pearl River in the center of the state as the Capital City, and in 1822, the city was named “Jackson” in honor of Gen. Andrew Jackson.

On Jan. 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second Southern state to secede from the Union in the runup to the Civil War — a bloody conflict that lasted until 1865. The secession was never recognized by the Union.

America’s entry into World War I in 1917 led to the cancellation of Mississippi’s Centennial celebration, which was to have included dedication for the start of construction of a north-to-south highway from the Gulf Coast to Jackson.

The state’s 150th birthday was marked with the issuance of a 5-cent postage stamp postmarked Dec. 11, 1967, with a pictures of the early state Capitol building and of Gov. Holmes.

In 1992, Gov. Kirk Fordice selected arts patron Thalia Mara to spearhead Mississippi Homecoming, a celebration of 175 years of statehood.

For 2017, a 15-member commission will plan and coordinate programs for the bicentennial celebration.

H.T. Holmes, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said the commission was created in 2008 but only for a year. He said lawmakers agreed that the commission needed some semi-permanence to development a program for such a large undertaking.

“The lead time we have for planning — eight years — may sound like a lot but we’re seeking to have a celebration not only for 200 years as a state but to celebrate Mississippi and the great things we have done here to get where we are today,” Holmes said.

Holmes said many communities around the state will likely have events. He said the commission will focus on the statewide celebration.

Lawmakers have not appropriated any money for the bicentennial effort. However, the bill provides for a “voluntary contribution checkoff” where taxpayers can designate $1, $5, $10 or another amount of their income tax refund to a Bicentennial Celebration Fund.

Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes III, R-Gulfport, says the income tax checkoff provides an opportunity for Mississippians to contribute to the celebration.

“People throughout the state of Mississippi have ownership in this celebration and the plan is to make it for everybody.

“It’s all in its infancy, but we expect venues throughout the state,” he said.

The fund would become the seventh checkoff to be listed on the Mississippi income tax return. Others benefit military family relief, volunteer service, wildfire heritage, education, burn victims’ care and wildlife foundation programs.