WHITTLE: Real story told via small town newspapers
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By: DAN WHITTLE, Post Columnist
Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2012 5:17 am
I’ve worked at both metropolitan and small town newspapers.
In my opinion, the most effective personal journalism in America is that produced by small town news teams. More about this momentarily:
Take Eli Manning and his worldwide fame as Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the New York Giants.
I listened to a few buffoon-hyperbole-laced pre-Super Bowl telecasts, especially to the jerk announcer on ESPN that pooh-poohed Eli Manning’s honest assessment that he’s one of the elite NFL quarterbacks.
Now, sportswriters can’t spell “elite” without E-L-I.
ESPN was smart to keep jerk-mouth out of sight when Eli Manning stepped into the rarified air with the likes of Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, who has relative roots in Sparta, as multiple winners of Super Bowl rings.
So, when I want to know about Eli Manning, I don’t go to the glitzy 24-7 constant blathering of ESPN. I get a copy of The Neshoba Democrat, a top-grade, weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Miss., where his mother, Olivia Williams Manning, grew up. And where all of the Manning boys spent time in the summers away from metropolitan New Orleans.
It’s in this newspaper that I glean significant insight into on of America’s favorite football families.
Football in America has been compared equal to religion, but in the Deep South, it’s much more serious than that.
It was in The Neshoba Democrat that I learned the family’s humble roots, which date back to when Eli Manning’s father, Archie, as a boy, plowed his family’s soybean fields on a worn-out tractor.
Archie Manning was enrolled as a sophomore at the University of Mississippi when he was called home to be with his seriously ill father.
Upon arrival at the farm near Drew, Miss., the family was shocked when the ailing parent committed suicide.
Archie Manning considered leaving college to resume farm duties, but his mother wisely talked him into returning to finish his degree.
Only in a small town newspaper would you learn up close and personal information like this.
On the other side of the family ledger, Olivia Williams Manning comes from Philadelphia, Miss., royalty, in terms of humble community respect, dating back to the Great Depression when the family, through their historic one-of-a-kind Williams Brothers’ Store, gave credit and helped feed hundreds of hungry Neshoba County residents.
“Neshoba County families helped by the Williams have not forgotten,” said Smyrna resident John Stuart, who is originally from Philadelphia.
Three stops are musts when visiting Philadelphia: the unique Williams Brothers’ Store, Peggy’s Restaurant and the Choctaw Indians’ gambling casino.
Peggy’s Restaurant is where you get sensational Southern-fried chicken and pay on the honor system, making your own change out of a basket.
“My stepmother started Peggy’s Restaurant back in the 1950s, and it grew so popular, none of the help had time to make change, so they established the ‘basket honor system’ that still goes on today,” explained Smyrna resident Hilda Stuart, also a native of Neshoba County.
It was at Peggy’s Restaurant in 2005 where I met Eli Manning’s grandmother Frances Williams, who was full of cool, country grace and charm.
The Neshoba Democrat has reported Williams is where Eli Manning gets his cool demeanor.
A recent front-page story explained: “While Olivia Manning confessed she was a nervous wreck (during Super Bowl Sunday’s game) as Eli Manning led the New York Giants to another Super Bowl victory with the calm and cool he inherited from his grandmother…”
It was at the unique and huge Williams Brothers’ Store that I met and interviewed Eli Manning’s first employer, his uncle Sid Williams, a few days after he had received a $12 million signing bonus with the Giants.
“The Giants should have spoken with me, for I got Eli, Peyton and Cooper to all work for me during the summers for minimum wages,” Sid Williams said, as he was busy slicing thick slices of country bacon for a long line of customers.
“You don’t go back to Philadelphia without bringing back some bacon and their hoop cheese,” said Mississippi native Jennifer Stuart, of Smyrna.
The post-Super Bowl edition of The Neshoba Democrat chronicled one word – “Eli” – in a front page story.
“Eli” is the only ‘word” needed in a small town newspaper.
Long live small town newspapers where folks still care about folks.