Her aunt, Gale Cushman says, has a bee in her bonnet about this thing. But it is Cushman who lives in the small northern Mississippi town of Senatobia, where she recently got the city government’s approval to erect a memorial to Latvian immigrants in a local cemetery.
Cushman hardly remembers the 40 or 50 Latvian Displaced Persons she said were settled in Senatobia after the Second World War. But her aunt, who now lives in California, went to school with some of them. It is she, Cushman said in a telephone interview, who got the idea that they ought to be honored in some way.
The Latvians lived in Senatobia from about 1949-1953, picking cotton on local farms. Although there were enough of them to own a church and put out a newsletter, today there is no sign of them but for about 15-20 graves in the city-owned Bethesda Cemetery, Cushman said.
“Here’s this cemetery with mostly Smiths and Joneses, and then there’s this one corner with these strange names,” she said. “There’s nothing here left. And they were such a unique people who lived among us for a while.”
That’s why Cushman’s aunt decided something ought to be done to memorialize a small part of Senatobia’s history. And, as it turns out, an interesting part of Latvian history.
After the Second World War, tens of thousands of Latvian DPs came to the United States. With the help of their sponsors, most settled in northern states. But a small group found themselves in the south, with the Senatobia colony being perhaps the best known.
It was a Major Callicott, a U.S. Army official working with Displaced Persons in Europe, who arranged for the Latvians to come to his hometown of Senatobia and, according to Cushman, other locations in the south. The Latvians arrived in New Orleans on the U.S.S. Omar Bradley and were taken by train north to Senatobia. Along the way, some were let off in other communities.
(According to a series of messages posted on GenForum in 1998, the major was actually Col. A.T. Callicott. He owned a large plantation in Senatobia and helped 200 Latvian families settle there.)
The Latvians apparently organized their ethnic community quickly. They purchased a church built in the 19th century and published a newsletter, Ziņu biļetens, from 1949-1953, according to Benjamiņš Jēgers’ Latviešu trimdas izdevumu bibliografija, 1940-1960.
After the Latvians left, the Senatobia Latvian Lutheran Church eventually became the Senatobia Christian Church. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 but soon after was destroyed in a fire, Cushman said.
One elderly Latvian woman may still live in Senatobia, Cushman added.
Now that she has the city’s approval to erect a monument, Cushman said, she will be soliciting donations from local civic organizations. She said she is not sure how big the memorial might be or how much it might cost, but she would like to have enough to also arrange for a permanent display of Latvian memorabilia in the Tate County Courthouse.
Interested in helping Cushman—and her aunt—honor the Latvians of Senatobia? Write her: Gale Cushman, 4461 Highway 51 S., Senatobia, MS 38668.
I just wonder how many other places like Senatobia there are in the United States and Canada where all-but-forgotten small communities of Latvians once lived.
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