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Tupelo, MS - Things You May Or May Not Know About The City

Tupelo is the county seat and the largest city of Lee County, Mississippi. It is the seventh-largest city in the state. Tupelo is best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, though its history is enhanced by and with the contributions of many who made Tupelo the city that it is.  This is Tupelo in 1898 in the picture to the right. Even then, the spirit of movement and thriving is evident of what we currently see in the city.

For thousands of years, before any outsiders drifted onto the area, Tupelo was home to the Indigenous peoples, Chickasaw and Choctaw, both Muskogean-speaking peoples of the Southeast. European-American settlers were welcomed by the unassuming inhabitants of the northeast Mississippi area. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and suthorized the relocation of Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, which was completed by the end of the 1830's. Popular opinion is that the Native Americans were literally "uprooted" and forced off their land.

Conflicts increased in the early nineteenth century between the rightful owners of the land and the European-American settlers. it is said that after the Indians had been pushed off their land, the European Ameaicans re-named the town Gum Pond supposedly due to its numerous tupelo trees, which are locally known as blackgum Incidentally, the city still hosts the annual Gumtree Arts Festival. Likewise, the Battle of Tupelo was also named for the trees. The site of the Battle of Tupelo was later designated Tupelo National Battlefield; and is administered by the National Park Service. Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield is about 10 miles north and represents another Civil war site in Tupelo.

The post-war era encouraged an attitude of industry and growth with the construction of a multistate-servicing railroad for northern Mississippi. It was during this period that the town expanded and changed it name to commemorate the Battle of Tupelo.

Tupelo became the site of a booming textile industry in the early twentieth century; and employed whites only; both adults and children. It was during this time that Tupelo was cited for obstructing Child Labor laws.

In 1932, Machine Gun Kelly, notorious gangster, relieved the Citizen's State Bank (of Tupelo) of $38,000. On November 30, 1932, after the robbery, the bank's chief teller said of Kelly, "He was the kind of guy that, if you looked at him, you would never have though he was a bank robber."

upelo, in 1934, became the "First TVA City"; which means Tupelo and its region harnessed electricity from the newly constructed Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1935, President Roosevelt visited Tupelo to celebrate the occasion; since the TVA project spawned from the Roosevelt administration.

1936 would become a year that would bring the strong wind of a deadly and devastating tornado that is referred to as the Tupelo-Gainesville tornado of April 5th and 6th of that year. The storm struck Tupelo's northside residential areas at night; therefore, there was no warning. Death and destruction invaded the area while the community slept. Life had been literally snatched away; or drastically changed by the time they awakened. The F5 tornado destroyed the Gum Pond neighborhood; and most of its victims were found in the pond. The tornado of 1936 destroyed and leveled over 200 homes over a 48-block radius; killing 216 whites and injuring 700. Racial imbalance of the 1930's deemed Negros unworthy of most considerations; and therefore an accurate accounting of Blacks was not foremost after the 1936 tornado. It is still not known how many Blacks were killed during Tupelo's 1936 tornado; although both black and white worked together to recover people from the rubble. Dr. Zuber, the first Black physician in Tupelo, helped adminster medical attention to those (black & white) who were injured in the storm.

Negro Training School

The Negro Training School, the educational center for Black folk during that time, caught fire and was destroyed during the tornado. GumTree Chronicles (GTC) Films documents history of Tupelo, Lee County and surrounding areas

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Tupelo's Community Development Foundation is responsible for much of the city's growth over recent years. The CDF was organized in the Blue Room of Hotel Tupelo by community leaders who wanted to harness control of the city's economic growth.

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