Finding heaven along South Carolina’s Highway 11

Looking for a road trip to experience the colorful palate of nature? Well, a drive down South Carolina’s Highway 11 will provide you with plenty of inspiration and memorable moments.

Seven state parks offer the best of fall for those seeking solace, color

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this story appeared in the September 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine.

By Michael Banks

Following a path traversed by the Cherokee and bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains, South Carolina Highway 11 has become a favored route of those sightseers seeking solace and beauty. 

Seven South Carolina state parks straddle the approximate 120-mile long roadway — also known as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway — and offer everything from hiking to fishing to boating.

With visitors flocking to the Upstate to view autumn’s colorful palate, here are some things not to miss and some tips on how to get the most out of your visit.

There are numerous paved campsites for RV and/or tent camping along the shores of Lake Hartwell near Fair Play, S.C.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Lake Hartwell State Park

Address: 19138 S. Highway 11, Fair Play, SC 29643

Contact: 864-972-3352

https://southcarolinaparks.com/lake-hartwell

Known for:

1. Outstanding fishing. The 56,000-acre Lake Hartwell is inhabited by striped and hybrid bass, largemouth, crappie, bream and catfish.

2. Camping. In addition to 115 paved campsites for RV or tent camping along the lake shore, the park is the only one in the state to offer unique, single-room camper cabins.

Insider tips:

Looking to combine a room with a view along with your college football? Well, Lake Hartwell State Park may be the option for you as the park sees a large number of people setting up camp on Saturdays in the fall.

“A lot of people come in for Clemson football games,” says Brooks Garrett, who has served as the Lake Hartwell park ranger for the past three years. “They’ll bring their campers in, stay for the weekend and go tailgating.”

He also suggested that birdwatchers visit Lake Hartwell during the week when the park is less crowded.

“We get a lot of migratory birds, especially warblers, during the fall,” he said.

A Civilian Conservation Corps monument at Oconee State Park in Mountain Rest, S.C., honors the 3-million plus people who served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Oconee State Park

Address: 624 State Park Road, Mountain Rest, SC 29664

Contact: 864-638-5353

https://southcarolinaparks.com/oconee

Known for:

1. History. This park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and many of those structures can still be viewed. A CCC monument at the park honors the 3 million-plus people who served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942.

2. Wildlife. Black bear are sometimes seen and there is also a family of foxes who live at the park.

Insider tips:

Bring a good pair of closed-toe shoes and some energy and you’ll be rewarded with an awesome view of a 60-foot waterfall.

Assistant park ranger Savanna Kelley, who has been at Oconee for the past five years, says a three-hour hike along the Hidden Falls Trail is a perfect outing for the fall.

“You can see the waterfall more in the fall than any other month with the leaves down,” she said.

Kelley also suggested renting a paddleboat or canoe. 

“It’s gorgeous to take boats out on the lake with all the leaves changing,” she said.

As dusk falls, the colors of a late autumn sky make for a breath-taking display along the shores of Lake Jocassee in the Devils Fork State Park in Salem, S.C.
(Photo by Michael Banks)

Devils Fork State Park

Address: 161 Holcombe Circle, Salem, SC 29676

Contact: 864-944-2639

https://southcarolinaparks.com/devils-fork

Known for:

1. Lake Jocassee. Four mountain streams and several waterfalls feed into the 7,565-acre lake, making it cooler than others and one of the state’s top trout fishing spots, as well as a fave of anglers seeking bass and crappie. The park offers the only public access to the lake.

2. Scuba diving. The clean and clear waters of Lake Jocassee make it a favorite for divers. Swimmers also delight in the cool waters.

Insider tips:

Those looking for a unique study of leaf color can find it here, especially during the park’s peak viewing during the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November.

“Just get out on the lake and look at all the levels of color change,” said park ranger Kevin Evans, who has been the manager at Devils Fork for 12 years.

“To me, that’s one of the neatest parts. You can see the progression of fall by viewing the different elevations and the best way to do that is to get out on the lake itself.”

Evans also said Monday through Thursday is the best time to visit.

“You can have the entire lake to yourself. That’s just a great feeling, to have that feeling of being by yourself and that wonderment of really being immersed in the resource because there’s nobody else around.”

Keowee-Toxaway State Park in Sunset, S.C., offers access to the 18,500-acre Lake Keowee. It is a favorite of kayakers and canoeists, as well as fishermen.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Keowee-Toxaway State Park

Address: 108 Residence Drive, Sunset, SC 29685

Contact: 864-868-2605

https://southcarolinaparks.com/keowee-toxaway

Known for:

1. Lake Keowee. The 18,500-acre lake offers something for nearly every outdoor enthusiast surrounded by some of the most stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those looking for an access point for their canoe or kayak should arrive early as there is a small parking lot.

2. Wildflowers are abundant at this state park, especially in the spring. Two rare species that can be found are Alleghany spurge and ginseng.

Insider tips:

One of the smaller state parks in the area, visitors should get out of their vehicles to experience Keowee-Toxaway.

“It’s a pretty park, but you really have to get out on the hiking trails as far as the views,” says park ranger Kevin Blanton, who has managed the 1,000-acre site for the past 12 years.

He suggests the No. 3 trailside camping site for those seeking a neat experience.

“It’s located out on a finger of land surrounded by Lake Keowee. To spend the night out on the point out by the lake is really something,” Blanton said.

November’s fall colors are on display near the Visitor’s Center at the Table Rock State Park near Pickens, S.C., as Table Rock looms large in the background.
(Photo by Michael Banks)

Table Rock State Park

Address:158 Ellison Lane, Pickens, SC 29671

Contact: 864-878-9813

https://southcarolinaparks.com/table-rock

Known for:

1. Table Rock. The towering mountain offers up breathtaking views and serves as an access point for hikers on the 80-mile Foothills Trail.

2. Bluegrass music. The “Music on the Mountain” program takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. the second Saturday of each month.

Insider tips:

There’s something special about hiking three miles to the top of Table Rock and seeing a full moon disappear and watching the sun rise, says Scott Stegenga, interpretive ranger at the park for the past 29 years.

“To take in the transition from night to dawn is pretty special. It’s a long hike, but it’s worth it once you get up there. To sit and take in all the surrounding wilderness, watch the sky change, hear the birds awake, to witness the breaking of a new day. It’s just an exhilarating time.”

There is a $25 per person fee and those interested should call the park to register. The next hikes will be Sept. 22 and Oct. 19.

Autumn is a perfect time to visit, Stegenga says.

“You get the foliage peaking at the end of October. The air is cleaner and crisper, less humid. Altogether, it’s a better hiker-friendly atmosphere in the fall. It’s one of the special places in South Carolina that’s still preserved.”

From the overlook atop Caesers Head State Park near Cleveland, S.C., one can see portions of neighboring North Carolina and Georgia.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Caesers Head State Park

Address: 8155 Geer Highway, Cleveland, SC 29635

Contact: 864-836-6115

https://southcarolinaparks.com/caesars-head

Known for:

1. Bird-watching, specifically hawks from September through November. During Hawk Watch, visitors can observe the raptors as they migrate to their South American feeding grounds. On one past September day, 11,048 birds passed through the park.

2. Sixty-plus miles of challenging hiking trails and trailside camping. Hike the Raven Cliff Falls Trail and see the tallest waterfall in the state.

Insider tips:

Tim Lee has spent the past 19 years working as the interpretive ranger for the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, 13,000 acres of pristine southern mountain forest encompassing both the Caesers Head and Jones Gap state parks.

He has seen a lot of visitors and one of his favorite quotes was from a child as she stood atop the overlook at Caesers Head, which sits some 3,200 feet above sea level with a spectacular view that extends into North Carolina and Georgia.

“She said, ‘You can see the whole world from here.’ And I think that’s a great quote,” Lee said. “Through all our different eyes, you can see the whole world from there.”

And if visitors will look down at the ground, they’ll also be in for a treat.

“One of the things that people don’t think a lot about, but there are a lot of beautiful fall wildflowers that bloom along our trails,” said Lee, mentioning New England asters, various goldenrod species and the beautiful but toxic milk sick, which is also known as white snake root.

A portion of the Middle Saluda River runs through the Jones Gap State Park near Marietta, S.C. Some of the best trout fishing in the state can be found in its waters.
(Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks)

Jones Gap State Park

Address: 303 Jones Gap Road, Marietta, SC 29661

Contact: 864-836-3647

https://southcarolinaparks.com/jones-gap

Known for:

1. Beautiful waterfalls. At least five waterfalls can be viewed from this state park. Hikers can work up a sweat on the Rainbow Falls Trail and then cool off in the mist of the falls.

2. The Eastern Continental Divide. Rain falling on one side of this divide runs into streams that eventually end at the Atlantic Ocean, while rain falling on the other side ultimately runs into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Insider tips:

Some of the best fishing for wild trout in the state can be found on the Middle Saluda River, a designated scenic waterway that runs through the park.

Lee, who is a fishermen himself, said the state stopped stocking the river back in the 1970s and those fishermen seeking wild, natural-born trout come to the park.

“You get a true wilderness experience where you feel that you are the only person out there… it’s just you and the river,” Lee said. “It gives you an opportunity to reconnect with the natural world, the river, the forest. I’ve heard many people say how relaxing and calming the sounds of the river

Getting to know South Carolina’s shark whisperer

The man who does battle with man-eating sharks admits he’s “not a crazy jump-out-of-airplanes kind of guy.”
He enjoys playing golf and tennis, but he’s no adrenaline junkie.
“I’m pretty boring. I live a pretty simple life,” says Chip Michalove.
However, he’s quick to admit he gets more than a little nervous when he enters the ocean and the waves hit against his waist.
“I’ve just seen too many of them out there and I can’t relax. If I go chest-high, I’m going to have a coronary,” Michalove says.

Chip Michalove guides his boat off the coast near Hilton Head Island, S.C., on a recent day. In these waters, Michalove has gained the reputation of ‘the shark whisperer.’
Photo by Milton Morris.

By Michael Banks

(This article appears in the August 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine.)

Other than doing battle on the open sea with 3,500-pound great white sharks, Chip Michalove claims he’s a rather boring guy.

“I live a pretty simple life,” says the 5-foot-9, 160-pound angler who earned the nickname of “the shark whisperer” by reeling in great whites measuring up to 16 feet long.

His love of fishing was cast early. Michalove was 5 and his family vacationed on the South Carolina coast. His parents booked a charter with legendary fishing guide Fuzzy Davis and, on that first trip out, they caught a six-foot shark.

“I thought it was just the coolest thing in the world,” he says. “I became obsessed.”

The family later moved to Hilton Head Island and at the age of 22, Michalove bought his first boat and went into business as a fishing guide. Before catching his first great white, Michalove was just like everyone else of generation Jaws—scared to death of the giants. But as he’s caught more and more great whites, his respect for the animals has grown.

“It’s the smartest fish I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I’ve never seen an animal that will come up behind a boat and if they sense something’s not right, they leave. They’re not the maniacs that you see on TV that come in and crash into the place. There’s actually a methodical, thinking process.”

Michalove, who operates the Outcast Sport Fishing charter business, says he is grateful for the life fishing and sharks have provided.

“Great whites have absolutely changed my life,” he says. “They’ve given me a new truck, a new house. It’s been so beneficial, and I owe them everything. If I can help protect these guys, I’ll do everything I can.”

Getting to know Chip Michalove

AGE: 43.
HOME TURF: 
Hilton Head Island.

CLAIM TO FAME: Fishing guide dubbed “the shark whisperer” after catching 50 great white sharks over the past four years, including an unheard-of seven great whites in one day.
A MATTER OF SCIENCE: Michalove attaches satellite tracking tags to many of the sharks he and his charter customers reel in so scientists can track shark movements along the Atlantic coast.

ONSHORE: Enjoys golf and tennis in his free time.
CO-OP AFFILIATION: 
Member of Palmetto Electric Cooperative.

Author Greg Iles’ roots are in the Mississippi mud

Mississippi author Greg Iles has written numerous best-sellers and even had one of his novels made into a film.
Yet, Iles quickly admits he’s yet to write that “one great book.” And he is perfectly fine with that.

“Cemetery Road” latest for writer whose had 15 books appear on NY Times’ best-sellers list.

(This article first appeared in the March 6, 2019, issue of The Clarksdale (MS) Press Register newspaper.)

By Michael Banks

Greg Iles has had 15 books appear on the New York Times best-sellers list, including one that reached number one. The Mississippi-raised author has had one of his novels made into a film and his work’s been published in more than 35 countries.

Yet, he readily admits, he’s still to write that “one great book.”

And Iles is perfectly fine with that.

 “I’ve tried to walk the line between entertaining people and really saying some things that really help people. Maybe the day will come where I write that one. Maybe not. But as long as you can sleep at night, it’s good enough,” said the 58-year-old. “I’m alright where I’m at right now.”

And where Liles is at right now is on the cusp of another appearance on the best-sellers list as his newest novel — “Cemetery Road” – was released March 5, 2019. Liles was in Clarksdale, Ms., on Friday, March 8, 2019, for an appearance and book signing at the Cutrer Mansion as part of the Carnegie Public Library’s Community Book Talks lecture series.

Iles attributes his success to the ability to “mine your own experiences and touch people.”

And that’s something he’s been doing since his first novel, “Spandau Phoenix,” was released in 1993.

Yet, the path to success has been filled with long hours spent away from family and a tragedy that nearly took his life.

In 2011, Iles was seriously injured in a car wreck on Highway 61 near Natchez, MS. He sustained life-threatening injuries, including a ruptured aorta. He was put into an induced coma for eight days, and lost his right leg below the knee.

 It was during his three-year recovery when he wrote the Penn Cage trilogy — “Natchez Burning,” “The Bone Tree” and “Mississippi Blood.” The series follows the life of a fictional Mississippi prosecutor turned author.

He said while everyone is on “pins and needles” wondering where “Cemetery Road” is going to debut on the New York Times best-seller list, he’s fine with his station in life.

“On one hand, do I care? Yes, I do, as it certainly affects my future career. On the other hand? No, man, nothing. None of that matters.

“What matters? Are you still vertical, are you healthy, are your kids OK? And nothing else, nothing else, matters,” he said. “You got to get a little bit old to figure that out. Sadly.”

Author Greg Iles. (Photograph by Michael Banks)

One of the hardest things in writing “Cemetery Road,” according to Iles, was having to write about a character who had a terrible relationship with his dad. That wasn’t the case with Iles and his father, Jerry, who was a well-respected physician for nearly 50 years in Natchez, where Iles grew up.

“My dad was Tom Cage. I didn’t have to make anything up,” he said of the character from his books who is Penn’s father and a revered physician in Natchez.

“Cemetery Road” has been described as an electrifying tale of friendship, betrayal and shattering secrets that threaten to destroy a small Mississippi town.

A review by the Washington Post said the book is “an ambitious stand-alone thriller that is both an absorbing crime story and an in-depth exploration of grief, betrayal and corruption. Iles’ latest calls to mind the late, great Southern novelist Pat Conroy. Like Conroy, Iles writes with passion, intensity and absolute commitment.”

Iles believes the second book he wrote, “Black Cross,” which was set in World War II, was the best book he’s written.

“I wrote that book in three frantic months… I’m really proud of that one,” said Iles, who was born in 1960 in Germany as his father ran the U.S. Embassy Medical Clinic at the height of the Cold War.

The book, which is his only work to not reach the New York Times best- seller list, did provide the author some personal satisfaction.

“My father called me and said his partner from Washington, D.C., had called him and said, ‘There’s a bookstore in the United States where they sell you and they don’t sell John Grisham,’” Liles told the large group, which burst out in laughter.

It was at the museum book store at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington.

“That was a really high bar for me to make, in terms of research and writing and things like that,” Liles said. “Those are those small moments you get that you never forget. So, that book is special to me.”

The two books he wrote from a female perspective – “Blood Memory” and “Dead Sleep” – are also among his favorites.

But with all his books, Liles said, “I just don’t write those books. I live those books, every one of them.”

The act of researching and writing a book is “an intense experience,” he said. But once he’s written and completed the book, he’s on to the next one.

“I’ll go as long as I can without writing a single word,” Iles said of his writing process. “For me, the writing is the easy part. It’s the drudgery, the slavery. It’s just something I could always do. It’s the story, the working out the emotion, the psychology and the facts and the research is something else.

“When I start, it’s just bursting to get out. I say, ‘It’s like a pregnant woman when her water breaks.’ This story’s coming,” he said to a roomful of laughs.

At that point, Iles races to his recliner and starts the process, working about 12 hours a day. That moves up to about 16 hours per day and, near the end, he’ll stay up 24 hours, 30 hours until he’s finished.

“I don’t sit there on page one and agonize. I’m going on instinct the whole time,” he said. “I’m living the story with characters. I’m not someone who cries easily, but I’ve found that I’m sitting in the chair and my face is covered with tears because I’m going through it.”

Yet, to have that success, Iles admits a price has to be paid.

“That writing process is not good for your health, not good for your family life. It’s putting work above all things and working 18 hours a day, month after month after month after month,” said Liles, who admits to not having a vacation in 10 years. “You get successful, but you pay a high price.”

Iles lives in Natchez with his wife and three children.

“You just blink and your whole life’s gone. That’s just the way it happens,” he said. “You figure out where you get to where I am now, none of this matters.”

As far as television and movies, Iles had one of his books, “24 Hours,” made into a movie, “Trapped,” which was released in 2002.

With his success, the author now has the luxury of handpicking his future television projects.

“I’m successful enough now, where I don’t have to go, ‘Oh my god, I’m getting a TV show.’ At this point, I don’t want to have just a TV show. I want to have ‘the’ TV show… or at least I want it to be what it should be,” he said. “I’ll just sit tight, be cool.”

All hail the Kingfish

Riding a wave of popularity from the recent release of his first album and appearances in the Netflix series “Luke Cage,” young blues musician Christone “Kingfish” Ingram reflects upon his days growing up in Mississippi and the musical influences shown in his work.

No longer a babe Bluesman, Clarksdale’s own gentle giant lands on the big stage.

This article first appeared in the April 11, 2018, issue of The Clarksdale (Ms.) Press Register.

By Michael Banks

Some scoff when they see not-even-20-year-old Christone Ingram enter the stage. What does this baby-faced kid know about the blues?

But that tune soon changes when he adjusts the strings and his fingers start to dance and dangle, strum and stroll along the neck of his Fender Telecoustic.

And it’s his voice. Oh, that voice.

It’s not the high-pitched cry of a teenager who just recently celebrated his 19th birthday in January and still lives at home with his mother.

Rather, it’s the timbre and down-home drawl of a man who’s already been to nine countries, performed in festivals across the United States and is on the verge of releasing his first album.

“Even though I’m young, I’ve had some tough situations in my life,” says the man known as Kingfish.

Blues-speak?

“While I haven’t had a woman leave me,” he says with a chuckle, “I do know about heart break. Some people will say, ‘He doesn’t know the blues. He’s just 18 or 19.’ But I’m very mature for my age. I’ve always been that way. I’ve been around grownups all my life.”

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is shown during a performance on Tuesday night, April 3, 2018, at the Hambone Music and Art Gallery in downtown Clarksdale, Ms.
(Photo by Michael Banks)

And it was his days spent in the Oakhurst area in Clarksdale, Ms., where Ingram got his first exposure to blues music. Next door was a blues band that would see the likes of famed musicians Joshua “Razorblade” Stewart, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, Dr. Mike and Terry “Big T” Williams.

“They were all the time having house parties and such, and they’d let me come in and watch them as they played. I’d just go and soak it all in,” he said.

Another of his earliest musical influences came from gospel music, in particular, the gospel tape by The Canton Spirituals titled “Living the Dream. Live in D.C.” Listening to that tape is where, Ingram says with a laugh, “I got my gospel chops.”

“That’s one of my favorite gospel albums and one I listen to on a daily basis,” said Ingram, who recalls parts of his childhood at Faith Temple Word of Faith Christian Church in Tutwiler, Ms., and the St. Peters Missionary Baptist Church in Sardis, Ms.

Combine that gospel background with the next door house parties and that love of music only grew with Ingram, who found himself wanting to learn more and more.

A cousin of county music star Charlie Pride, Ingram would enroll in the Delta Blues Museum’s arts and education program where he would fall under the tutelage of Daddy Rich and Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry.

At the age of 6, he began playing the drums. Three years later, he took up the bass guitar. And by the age of 13, he was playing the lead guitar.

And not only did he gain that musical education and confidence, but he would also come away with the nickname Kingfish. The moniker was handed down by Perry, who believed Ingram looked like the character “Kingfish” from the “Amos and Andy” show, one of television’s first black sitcoms.

“At first, I didn’t like it,” Ingram recalls. “But then I’d be walking around at school and there’d be these kids that I didn’t think knew me and they would yell out, ‘Hey Kingfish. What’s going on?’ Then, I started to like it.”

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, right, speaks with musician Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, left, and Stan Street, the owner of the Hambone Music and Art Gallery in downtown Clarksdale, Ms., during a break in his performance on Tuesday night, April 3, 2018.
(Photo by Michael Banks)

Another thing to like was the popularity that soon followed. He has shared the stage with musical greats such as Bob Margolin, Eric Gales, Rick Derringer, Guitar Short and Buddy Guy. He’s been a guest on “The Rachel Ray Show” and comedian Steve Harvey’s show “Steve.” And he even performed at the White House for First Lady Michelle Obama.

“I’m trying to not let it go to my head,” he said. “I’m just riding the wave, man, riding the wave.”

His mother, Princess Pride, acts as his manager and handles all his bookings.

The presence of his mother at all of his shows, as well as talks with his father, Christopher Ingram, and other family members have helped keep him grounded.

But still, Ingram knows more awaits him.

“No matter how good you are, there is always somebody out there better than you,” he said. “And that’s always grounded me and pushed me.”

He’s on the verge of releasing his first album, “Been Here Before.” The 12-song album features all original tracks and should be out by the end of April or May, Ingram said, as he finalizes a distributor.

In addition to that, Ingram and his bandmates — drummer Christopher Black and bassist Shaun Reddic — have a full schedule this spring and summer that includes trips to the Beale Street Music Festival in May in Memphis, Tenn.; the Chicago Blues Festival in June; and festivals in Colorado, Utah and California.

Still, he says there’s something special about coming back to Clarksdale.

“It’s always good to play here when I get the opportunity,” said Ingram, who will be performing as a solo act in his fifth Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale this weekend. On Saturday at noon, he’ll perform a set on the Mr. Tater Memorial Stage (350 Issaquena Ave.) before taking the main stage at 8 p.m. Saturday at The Bank (123 E. Second St.).

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram says “it’s been a lot of sweat and tears” and he’s “still paying my dues.” He is shown performing on Tuesday, April 3, 2018, at the Hambone Music and Art Gallery in Clarksdale, Ms. (Photo by Michael Banks)

“I’m not lying. It’s been a lot of sweat and tears. And I’m still paying my dues. I have a lot more to put in,” he said.

As one who has been presented with numerous rising star awards, Ingram believes the genre is alive and well thanks to the efforts of himself and other young top blues musicians such as Marquise Knox of St. Louis and Georgia’s Jontavious Willis.

The young songwriter compares blues music to the roots of a tree. You may chop off a limb, but as long as you have the roots, that tree is going to survive.

“It’s not going anywhere. Blues is the roots. It’s the roots for everything you hear.”

Best Feature Photo

This photo was recognized with a first-place award in the 2018 Better Newspaper Contest conducted by the Mississippi Press Association.

In the photo, 2-year-old Camden Aderholt, center, and 3-year-olds Harper Powell and Anna Margaret Marley were fascinated by the bubbles drifting in the air, thanks to the efforts of Anna Sims Wills, 12, at left, Thursday night at the Cutrer Mansion in Clarksdale. The children were more fascinated with the bubbles while their parents enjoyed the sounds of the Blackwater Trio during the annual fundraising event that featured more than 100 people enjoying the music and picnic on the lawn of the mansion.

The awards were handed out Saturday, June 22, 2019, at the MPA’s summer convention held in Biloxi, Ms. Judging was done by members of the Kansas Press Association and the comment on this photo was “Love it!”

Best little newspaper in Mississippi

A short time after beginning my time as publisher/editor of The Clarksdale (Ms.) Press Register, I picked up a single second-place award given out by the Mississippi Press Association for work done by the newspaper in 2017.

At that time, in June 2018, I silently set a goal in my mind that we’d exceed that number – that lone second-place award – with our work in 2018.

Exceed it, we did.

On Saturday, during a gathering of the state’s journalists in Biloxi at the summer convention of the Mississippi Press Association, the Clarksdale Press Register was honored with 26 awards in the association’s Better Newspaper Contest, including a General Excellence, marking it as the top newspaper in its class.

The awards were a culmination of a nine-month period, from our arrival in mid-March to the end of the contest period in December, in which the newspaper staff and contributors took on the challenge of making it one of Mississippi’s best newspapers and one that the community would be glad to call its own.

There were longer hours, more work asked of everyone and a call to do things a different way.

In the end, those efforts were recognized by members of the Kansas Press Association, which judged the annual contest, as well as the community with an increase in our readership and circulation numbers.

According to judges, the Press Register had, in addition to the overall General Excellence award, the best Lifestyles section and Magazine/Periodical (Coahoma Living) in its category, consisting of other weekly newspapers across Mississippi. The paper also received second-place awards for its design and Editorial Page, while our Women in Business special section received a third-place honor.

Staff writer Josh Troy received five awards, including a first-place award for best magazine story with his feature on Roger Stolle, owner of the Cathead music store in Clarksdale.

My talented wife – and unpaid volunteer writer – Danette Banks received a third-place award in the Feature Story category with her profile on local musician John Mohead. And the two of us combined to win the entry for Best News/Feature Package with her story and my photos and layout of a profile on another Clarksdale musician, LaLa Craig.

I was lucky enough to beat out some talented journalists and receive 15 awards. Included in that number were four first-place awards: the before-mentioned News/Feature Package; best Business Story with a profile on Mary Williams and what prompted her to start an urgent-care medical facility in Clarksdale; top Commentary Column with my entry of three columns addressing such things as crime and apathy in Clarksdale; and first place in Feature Photo with the photo linked to this post that shows children enjoying a concert on the lawn of the Cutrer Mansion in Clarksdale.

I knew that we had done good work during our time in Clarksdale and Coahoma County, but was still surprised by the sheer number of honors thrown our way. Secretly, I was hoping we’d win six to seven awards and then reach middle figures the next year and continue to build on our success.

These awards and turnaround in a very short time only reinforce the effort and talents of the limited number of folks who were able to put out an award-winning product in the Mississippi Delta and show what can be accomplished with initiative, hard work, talent and a bit of sacrifice.

I sincerely appreciate everyone who played a part in The Press Register’s success.

Grace under fire

One winter morning earlier this year, Bernadine Reed suddenly found herself in a life-and-death situation, trying to calm and corral 40 panicked first – through fifth-graders as smoke filled Darlington Public School Bus No. 3071.

Photo by Milton Morris.

This story appears in the June 2019 issue of South Carolina Living magazine.

By Michael Banks

Two years ago, Bernadine Reed, who grew up in tiny Dovesville, S.C., left the noise and chaos of Baltimore, Md., to return to the piece and quiet of small-town life in rural South Carolina.

But on one winter morning earlier this year, Reed suddenly found herself in a life-and-death situation, trying to calm and corral 40 panicked first – through fifth-graders as smoke filled Darlington Public School Bus No. 3071.

“I told everybody, ‘We have to get off this bus now,’” Reed recalls.

A vehicle had slammed into the back of the bus after Reed had stopped before a railroad crossing on Jan. 22 at about 6:30 a.m. The only adult on the bus, Reed was able to guide the children, who were all crying and upset, out of the bus and to a nearby field. While flames consumed the vehicle, Reed was able to reach her supervisor and then called each child’s parents to let them know they were safe.

“Everybody looks at this as me being a hero. I tell them, ‘I’m just a mother that got 40 kids off a bus. That’s all.'”

— Bernadine Reed, bus driver in Darlington, S.C.

Reed, who had never driven a bus before, attributes the intensive training she had undergone in December for staying calm under fire. She had only been a driver for 45 days prior to the accident.

“I’ve been around children all my life,” said Reed, who had been a special needs educator and also ran her own daycare in Maryland.

Reed says she has a passion for her “babies,” which is what she calls the children who ride her bus.

“All my kids love me. They call me ‘Miss BeeBee,’” she says. “I think kids are just drawn to me. I’m like a magnet for kids and they listen to me. They know they’re on Miss BeeBee’s bus and Miss BeeBee don’t play. We are on this bus to get to school and home, safe and sound.”

Bernadine Reed

Age: 49

Home turf: Darlington

In the family: Reed’s 27-year-old daughter, Shantee Jacobs, recently moved from Maryland to Darlington and also became a school bus driver. She believes her entire family, which includes four children and three grandsons, will eventually move to South Carolina.

Accolades: While the parents of the children she rescued rewarded her with flowers and candy, Reed was also honored by the local school system and received a key to the city of Darlington.

“I told them, ‘Y’all don’t have to do this. This is my job. This is what I do,’” Reed says.

If a movie’s made, who plays the role of Bernadine Reed? “Queen Latifah,” she says with a laugh.

Did you know? Reed admits to being “a little bit adventurous.” She wants to go bungee jumping and says she likes to climb trees and “I want to jump out of an airplane, at least one time.”