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Thomas Wells | BUY at PHOTOS.DJOURNAL.COM Tupelo City Councilwoman Nettie Davis, center, and Theodore Debro begin to celeberate after unveiling the new marker along North Green Street where many black owned business thrived liked Debro's Father owned Debro's Cafe.

Tupelo’s Green Street business district remembered

By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal

TUPELO – Just a few yards away where Theodore “Ted” Debro Jr. spoke Wednesday was once Debro’s Cafe, a popular spot for Tupelo’s African-American community.

The cafe, which was opened by Debro’s father, was an integral part of the Green Street business district that served as the hub of the black community in the early part of the 20th century and up to and beyond desegregation.

On Wednesday, Debro joined city and county leaders, the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau and dozens of other attendees to unveil the 12th marker in the CVB’s Heritage Trails Enrichment Program. The marker honoring the Green Street business district is the sixth on the Civil Rights & African American Heritage Trail of the HTEP.

“As the sign says, it was a hub because we were in a segregated community, so the African-Americans had to develop their own community,” Debro said. “They did that through social clubs, churches, schools and civic organizations, where they provided the leadership, the entrepreneurship, the training and everything that was needed to develop us as youngsters to move up and move out. It was the hub to really get things done.”

The area stretching from Barnes Street to Spring Street was home to most of the black-owned businesses in Tupelo and the district was the centerpoint of activity.

Before desegregation, blacks weren’t allowed in most white-owned businesses. So, Tupelo’s black community had its own grocery stores like Morgan’s Grocery, Max’s Grocery, Ashby’s Grocery and Mayhorn’s Grocery. Other businesses included Neal’s Cab Stand, McCrady Auto Shop, Elsie’s House of Beauty, Fred’s Haberdashery and Walter Kirk’s Barber Shop.

The Pig Foot Inn was famous for its pig’s feet, and Joyce’s Drive In and Mayhorn’s Dairy Bar were popular eateries. Clubs like Chatterbox, Red Carpet Lounge and Lamplighters Inn played host to entertainers like B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland.

That rich history – and the impact the community made – shouldn’t be forgotten, Debro said.

Debro went to school at Carver and then received degrees from Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University. His career included serving as president of the now defunct Mississippi Industrial College in Holly Springs and a stint at Miles College in Alabama. Now living in Birmingham, he also was deputy director of the Jefferson County (Alabama) Committee for Economic Opportunity.

“I always felt I was given power by this community and I felt I could do anything anywhere,” Debro said. “I’ve gone to testify before Congress, I’ve spoken to the president and I got to do that because of the support and inspiration I got from here.”

Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo CVB, said the marker was placed in the area “because it truly was an integral part of everyday life for those who lived and shopped in this neighborhood.”

The marker stands in the Green Street Grove Park where North Green Street meets Tolbert Street.

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

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