Preserving Mississippi: Mary Margaret & Barry White
written by Garrad Lee
For Barry and Mary Margaret White, Fondren is not just a neighborhood to call home, but a living piece of history.
Take for instance their house, which was once owned by Mississippi State Senator Jean Denman Muirhead, one of Mississippi’s first female senators. Senate Concurrent Resolution 505 says of Ms. Muirhead: “Whereas, once in her campaign for the Senate, she was condescendingly told by her male opponent that women had no place in the smoky motel room where much legislation was conducted. She responded that if she were elected, she would do her legislating at the State Capitol instead of in smoke-filled motel rooms.” This anecdote is quite fitting, considering the way that history intertwines in both the Whites’ lives.
For the past two years, Barry has been working in the Certified Local Government Program through the Historic Preservation Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Most of his time is spent engaging the public about historic preservation, which happens to be one of his passions. After graduating from Mississippi State University with an undergraduate degree in business, Barry spent 10 years working as a carpenter, eventually settling into graduate school at MSU in cultural anthropology.
“I didn’t want to get into contracting, but I wanted to do something similar to carpentry. I thought, ‘How can I stay in this without killing my back?’” he says. His thesis work, which he did in Jackson, gave him the answer, as the many historic neighborhoods in Jackson, especially Fondren, inspired his decision to work in preservation. He now gets to work with everyone from the Park Service to the Smith Robertson Museum, offering his expertise on preserving historic spaces.
The other half of the duo, Mary Margaret, works in Mississippi history as well, albeit in a little bit of a different way. Mary Margaret is the Bureau Manager for Creative Economy and Culture at Visit Mississippi, which is the official state tourism office that operates under the Mississippi Development Authority umbrella.
“My job covers all art, music, and historical aspects of the Mississippi tourism industry,” she says. Mary Margaret works closely with the Jackson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to promote the culture and history of the city. And that often means sending people to Fondren.
“When we have visitors traveling through the state, we send them to Fondren. It is the best place in the city for shopping, music and food,” Mary Margaret says. Barry adds, “Fondren is centrally located and highly functional, which is one of the best things about historic neighborhoods.”
While Barry was familiar with the city, having grown up in South Jackson, Mary Margaret grew up in the Delta. “Northpark was as far as we ever got in Jackson,” she says laughing. Nonetheless, the couple, who married in 2011, knew they wanted to be in the city. Fondren seemed like the natural choice, given their proclivities to history.
And since moving in, Fondren has progressed through many changes rather quickly, as most people will attest to. Seeing historic buildings such as Duling Hall come back to life has been very exciting for the couple and they both look forward to seeing what else is in store. “It’s been so amazing to see Fondren grow,” Mary Margaret says.
Originally published in June 2015. Since that time, Barry has shifted responsibilities at MDAH, working as a liaisonÂ with the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Mary Margaret has been named Executive Director of Mississippi Today.