Wow, it is hard to believe that Season 2 of the Laurel-based runaway hit “Home Town” will culminate Monday. Seems like just yesterday we watched Ben and Erin doing interviews during Loblolly that were featured in an episode this year. The popularity of the show is continuing to grow.
On Monday at 6 p.m. in downtown Laurel near the Mercantile, the Free State has the chance to say goodbye — thankfully only temporarily — to the show that has led the transformation of the City of Laurel and Jones County. Ben and Erin have done what even Matthew McConaughey couldn’t — draw a steady stream of people into Laurel.
Interest in the city is huge right now. Five years ago, downtown Laurel was crowded for two hours per day — 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., usually in front of Cafe la Fleur — for lunch. Then, adios! Today, we marvel looking at how much foot traffic is in downtown every day. It is astounding.
The sky is the limit for “Home Town” and Laurel’s rebirth. As long as the limit isn’t the sky…
Recently, a woman in small-town Virginia called this newspaper wanting to know more about the town. She had seen every episode of “Home Town” and loved it. Then she asked the dreaded question: “How are race relations in Laurel?”
Race. The scarlet letter of our times. Black vs. White. No matter how many steps are taken forward, there are always a bunch headed backward. It seems so often as if we cannot escape our past and, instead of learning from it, too many let it fester like an open sore, refusing to apply the ointment.
We told the woman race relations, for the most part, are good here. Civic events routinely draw a cornucopia of skin colors and shades. But in some circles — on both sides of the color scale — there are deep-rooted problems. In a widely circulated Facebook post, an unidentified member of the Black community wrote that the goal of Laurel Main Street, the mayor and those involved with “Home Town” is to return Laurel to the 1950s-60s. Mayor Johnny Magee is labeled, albeit without using the words, an “Uncle Tom” for doing everything he can do to let “whitey” succeed at the expense of the Black community. The writer rails against the lack of black-owned businesses in Laurel. Laurel Main Street is decried as picking and choosing winners and losers in the business world by the color of the buyers’ skin.
Now, if anyone from the Black community has been barred from opening a business in downtown or not receiving the same opportunities as a prospective white buyer, we beg you to come forward and tell us all about it. If not, maybe you will be amenable for a challenge.
Former Mississippi Sen. L.Q.C. Lamar, one of Mississippi’s most revered statesmen said: “My countrymen! Know one another, and you will love one another.” Maybe it is we just don’t know each other well enough. Or maybe those above were the words of a bitter person who would rather keep the fires stoked and the wound open instead of adding ointment.
Want to get a consensus of the overall race relations in Laurel? Make your way downtown Monday night for the block party. Because of Daylight Saving Time, it will be light longer and spring is in the air. Enjoy the festivities, marvel at the success and take a walk around downtown. Engage one another, tell a joke and have a good time. When the crowd gathers to watch the finale, the crowd, we hope, will look just like a big bowl of neapolitan ice cream.
Perfect? Nothing is. But Laurel is chest-deep in a renaissance, not for the “good old days” of the KKK and race marginalization, but the good days the future holds — if we let it.