By Ken Strachan
I recently made my last visit to what is an institution here in Mississippi as far as history is concerned, Choctaw Books in Jackson. The bookstore, which began as a private library of former U.S. Congressman Frank E. Smith, has many interesting volumes concerning the South and Mississippi.
With the Internet contributing to more online purchases of old books and with a six-day-a-week operation, Fred Smith, the late congressman’s son, decided to close the store on September 30.
The bookstore began in 1982 in Ridgeland, then moved to Jackson in 1984. It has a wide variety of old books covering many aspects of this state.These are historical materials that just can’t be found in many places. The books and historical papers in this house are something to behold. It is a collection shared by a former congressman from the Mississippi Delta.
Congressman Smith, a native of Sidon who died in August 1997, witnessed a lot of history in his life from his military service to when he was the managing editor of the Greenwood Morning Call. He also worked as an assistant to U.S. Senator John Stennis, and he was elected to the 82nd Congress and to the five succeeding Congresses. His progressive stance on race and his open support of John F. Kennedy for president in 1960 brought him opposition in some circles.
I came away with what I call many collectables, such issues of the Official Mississippi Statistical Register also known now as “The Blue Book.” Smith not only left a distinguished career serving the Delta in Congress. He left one with sharing his personal library with this state.
Over these past three decades, these old records, mostly in the form of hardback books, have helped fill many libraries in homes. I am thankful for the opportunity to preserve history in what I found there to bring back to North Carrollton.
When I left Choctaw Books for the last time, I felt a sense of loss by the pending closure of the landmark but at the same time one of gratitude for the Smith’s. They have served this state well with these treasures that provide so much history in studying the heritage of Mississippi.
Ken Strachan is a columnist from North Carrollton.