Haley Barbour reflects on notable folks from Yazoo City

Jerry Clower, Willie Morris among area’s famous former residents

VIDEO: Haley Barbour reflects on notable folks from Yazoo City

YAZOO CITY, MS (WLBT) - Yazoo City native Haley Barbour’s roots run deep in Mississippi and the area he has called home since birth.

“My mother is partially Choctaw," he says. "My great-great-great-great grandfather was Louis LeFleur, who founded Jackson. His son, Greenwood LeFlore, sold what is now Yazoo City to some land speculators from Clinton in about 1820.”

At his lake house on Wolf Lake, north of Yazoo City, the former governor who once worked for President Reagan and chaired the Republican National Committee knows he could live anywhere. So he lives here.

“Marsha and I first made the decision before I went to the White House in 1985 that we were going to stay here, and that really has worked out for us. I’ve been national party chairman, and I’ve been a lot of things in Washington and other places, but this is home.”

Barbour is not the first Yazoo City resident to think that way. Comedian Jerry Clower came to Yazoo City to work for Mississippi Chemical in 1951 and called it home for most of the rest of his life.

“The first time I ever heard Jerry Clower speak, he came to Yazoo City Junior High to give away Bibles for the Gideons. (It was the) first time I knew the Bible was funny," he says with a laugh, "because he was just so funny in his presentation.”

That natural comedic ability paid off for Clower, who did up to 300 shows a year at one point, delivering his uniquely southern material to audiences across the country.

“My uncle was his lawyer who negotiated his recording contract," Barbour recalls. "I remember Uncle William saying, ‘Jerry, you better hope these people are honest, because I don’t know anything about what we’ve been doing.’ And Jerry had a great career and continued to live in Yazoo City for a long time.”

Clower retired to his native Amite County in 1988 and died ten years later, but he will forever be associated with Yazoo City.

“He was very popular here, and he used to say that he never told a joke for money that he couldn’t have told in Sunday school. And I think that’s totally true.”

WLBT reports death of Jerry Clower (August 25, 1998)

The renowned writer and editor Willie Morris was raised in Yazoo City. Barbour knew him long before Morris edited Harper’s Magazine or won a Pulitzer Prize for his work there.

“Willie and I grew up in the same neighborhood," Barbour says. Morris was eleven years older than Barbour, but they still crossed paths in the small, close-knit community. "His next-door neighbors, the Graebers, had sons my age, and Willie used to babysit us when he was in college and would be home for the summer.”

Morris had a distinguished yet colorful career and was celebrated for his talent and his humor. Barbour recalls that wit from an inscription Morris wrote on a copy of “Eudora Welty Photographs," for which Morris had written the foreword.

“He wrote in the inscription to me, ‘Haley, I never dreamed one of the Barbour boys would grow up to be chairman of the party of Sherman.’ That was vintage Willie humor.”

WLBT reports death of Willie Morris (August 3, 1999)

“People are very proud of Willie, proud of Jerry Clower, and Owen Cooper (longtime head of Mississippi Chemical who also served as head of the Southern Baptist Convention).”

Barbour also pointed to the success of Fletcher Cox, the celebrated Mississippi State University football standout who went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. Like Barbour, Cox graduated from Yazoo City High School.

"This is a town where, in my lifetime, there have been some people who are very special not only to Yazoo City but to Mississippi and the whole country.”

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