Memorial would honor Latvians in Mississippi

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.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

29 thoughts on “Memorial would honor Latvians in Mississippi

  1. Where would we be w/o email and such?!

    this is the first time that i have heard about this project.

    i am sure that those of us who at one time lived in senatobia would be glad to contribute and to
    even try to be present for the unveiling!

    maris kirsons

  2. My great-grandmother is one of those buried in Senatobia, and my father’s godmother was one of the very few who stayed in the area… she was also buried there just some 5 years ago… I seriously suspect she might be the very elderly lady referred to, though towards the end of her life she was in a nursing home in a town some distance away. At the time I wandered about, reading the headstones (nearly all from the 1950s). It’s as the lady said… pat nave maza grupina, sava maza dalina…

  3. My husaband’s mother’s family lived in Senatobia when they first came here. In fact, one of his cousins still lives there with her family. I’ll try to pass on the article.

  4. It was USS General Omar Bundy, not Bradley, on which we came over to New Orleans. there were opver 600 Latvians on her. Callicott had about 1 500 acres and settled about 90 Latvians on his farm late in 1948. Then he cahrged his neighbors who also wanted share-croppers who would not hurt our eyes” — that is, were not black – $ 30 per family and thus in the spring of 1949 the entire ship load came to Mississippi. Mosat of us did not stay on the farms for more than one crop of cotton (summr of 1949).

  5. My son (14 years old) and I spent this past Thanksgiving (Nov ’04) in Memphis, TN, and then in Senatobia and the surrounding area. I wanted to show my son where I had gone to school, where we had lived, some of the fields my father had worked in, etc., etc. Mrs Cushman was a superb first contact and introduced us to other locals who were instrumental in making the trip for both of us such a success. (The weather was perfect at the time, also.) With a piece of great luck, we even found and met my 1st grade teacher, Mrs Leroy Gaines (Poagville School), who now is 96 and was a pleasure to talk to! I would very strongly encourage any Latvian-American or descendant to support Mrs Cushman’s project and send a donation to her so that her proposal can see the light of day and something tangible can be placed in the Senatobia cemetery as a permanent reminder to all that see it of the post-war Latvian immigrants that arrived in Mississippi to begin their new lives in America. (Mrs Cushman’s address is in the article above). God bless Latvia and our new home in America!

  6. I was not part of the big ship load of Latvians who came to Senatobia in 1949 but my relatives got their employer Mr. Gann to sponsor us in 1950. My dad and I worked for the Gann Lumber Company building houses for a year and moved on to Sledge where Latvians had organized a furniture factory for their sponsor. My wife, who went to school at Northwest Junior College in Senatobia, and one of my daughters visited Senatobia in November of 2004 and it was hard to recognize the place. I did not find out about this project until recently.

  7. My mom and her brothers and sister came to the Senatobia area from Latvia around 1950. There were 5 brothers and 5 sisters, the Kiperts family. My mom, who is still living, would tell me and my sisters stories of coming to Mississippi and going to school at Senatobia High School. There were very poor and were sharecroppers, but were very proud, independent people. Many of the family married American spouses and moved on to bigger locales such as the Memphis area. I am proud to be a first-generation Latvian-American.

    1. Did this family of Kiperts live in Holly Springs for a few years. I remember Valois, Regina , and Zagrita Kiperts at Holly Springs High School. Are these relatives of yours.

  8. Very interesting in deed. Es ari ka jauns zens ar gimeni atbraucam Amerika, un dzivojam Senatobia.

    My family also lived on a cotton plantation where they picked cotton, eventually working on a dairy farm. All this going back to 1952 when we came to the states.
    My foulks are dead now, but I have two brothers; one living in Tennessi and the other in CT.

    This is all neet, as life did not begin at Ellis Island. Amen.

  9. My great uncle is Vilis Varsbergs who posted october 9 of 2004. He is a very wise man as you may be able to see. I used to live in Cordova, TN, my cousins live in Sanatobia, we all are of latvian blood. I am now part of the Latvian community in Seattle, WA and I just wanted to share with you that we are a very close community and have a ton of fun together. I am in college, so imagine a college party during which at wee hours of the night all of us are singing and dancing together, in Latvian of course. ITs quite a unique thing to be a part of!

  10. My mother’s brother, Bob Dean, farmed in Sledge and had several Latvian families on his property. I never really met them, since they tended to be busy and retiring, but I was and am curious as to their ways and means and how they actually got to Sledge…what the war brought them, what were the DP camps like in Europe. Anything would be helpful. I can be emailed, too. I am in Memphis, TN.

  11. My grandfather, D. G. (Joe) Clayton had some Latvian familes working with him in Tate County, near Arkabutla, Mississippi. I am trying to locate these families. I believe they eventually settled in Detroit or Chicago. Many years ago he and our family heard from them, but I don’t remember their names. Contact:

  12. My great grandmother (Anna Kalnins), grandfather (Alexander Kalnins, grandmother (Marta Ozols-Kalnins), father (Ludis Kalnins), uncle (Bruno Kalnins),and aunt (Ina Kalnins-Grinbergs) were part of this particular Latvian colony who were sponsored to come to the US, sponsored by the (Harvey) Howze family. My family settled in Sledge, MS to build cabinets and furniture, and helped establish and run the very successful Latvian Manufacturing Co. I don’t have a lot of room here to document what I know of their history, but I have begun to some photos of my Latvian family on facebook. An interesting antcedote is that the African-American country & western singer Charlie Pride got to know some of the Latvians who lived in Sledge, MS, back then, and he even learned to speak a bit of of the language. I have a wonderful story of how Mr. Pride moved heaven and earth to get tickets to one of his sold-out performances a few years ago for my father and mother when he found out they were living just down the street from the Sanger Theatre in Hattiesburg, MS. This article was written in 2004, and I am proud to report that the memorial proposed here is a reality. I have photos of it I am happy to share with whomever is interested.

    1. Good morning. I have been doing some research on Latvians and just saw your post.
      I am Sharon Howze Fortner. My dad, Harvey Howze, is the one who opened Latavia Manufacturing Factory. I would love to know more about your family.

    2. I am doing research on the Latvian families. If you have any further information I would appreciate corresponding with you.

    3. My wife’s piano teacher in Coldwater was Mrs Antonia
      Silins came over through a church sponsor from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Whe had escaped the harrows of two wars, WW 1 and WW 2. She had lived in a time in Russia where both She and her Husband had performed Leningrad. She escaped from the Russian army under the communist rule and escaped from the German army at the wend of WW 2.
      There is a great story in the Tate county Democrat dated Feb. 7,1957. I have been in touch with her Grandson in Indiana and sent him a copy of this article.,

  13. I now live in Texas, but when I was in high school at Tate County Agricultural High in Senatobia, Mississippi, two of my classmates were Edwin and Irene Kipert. I just looked them up in our 1953 high school yearbook. I remember that Irene was the top student in my class for those two years (1952-54) and Edwin and I were good friends. I wonder where they are. I am now a member of the Friends of Latvia, a group working to assist churches in Latvia in efforts to use their expanded freedom to grow and serve their communities.

  14. My family was part of the group and my grandmother was possibly the lady who was believed to still be alive. She lived in Love, MS, not far from Hernando. My grandparents and great-grandmother are all buried there. Ilza Lasis, Vilis Ielaidnis, and Antonia Lasis Ielaidnis. My father is John (most knew him as Ivars). My aunt Eva still lives in the area.

    1. Lori, I belive I knew your dad, John, and your aunt Eva. I was in 5th grade in Sunflower school when they came to the Roundaway community. My mother Anne L Henley became good friends with your grandparents, especially your grandmother, Mrs Ielaidnis. They kept in touch throughout their lives. I remember my mother telling me that Mrs. Ielaidnis had celebrated her 100th. birthday. I recall going to her house and having the most wonderful cookies! If you get this message, you can email me at

  15. My mother, Dzidra Kiperts who went by her middle name Rita was a DP and lived and attended high school in Senatobia. She later married Lee “Gene” O’Daniel of Coldwater. They raised a family in Southaven for over 50 years together. I am their youngest daughter.
    Rita had 5 brothers and 4 sisters. She had scars on her hands from picking cotton and told many stories of their trip to the United States and the difference in the heat here. She definitely preferred the cooler weather. I would love any additional information on the Kiperts family or pictures. Please email

  16. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article, 8/19/2004, by Andris Straumanis in “Latvians Online”. I immigrated to the US in May 1949, as a child aboard the USS General Bundy from Bremenhaven (Bremen), Germany. My parents worked as cotton pickers in Scott, Mississippi, until my father found a better job 6 months later as a piano tuner in Greenville, MS. In 1960 my parents opened a music store in Greenville. They were the local dealer for Baldwin pianos. They retired in 1975 to relocate in St. Petersburg, Florida, which also has a Latvian community. I was educated in Greenville, Mississippi, and the University of Mississippi where I graduated in 1965.

    Around 1953 my brother and I attended a summer camp/school in Senatobia. I remember attending church services at the Latvian Lutheran Church during this period. I have precious memories of my early life in Mississippi. I now live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

  17. The original article and comments have been an incredible read. Thank you! I serve on the advisory board for the Latvians Abroad – Museum and Research Centre / Latvieši Pasaulē (LaPa) muzejs un pētniecības centrs in Rīga, Latvia. Recently we received a gift to our permanent collection of the large wooden chandelier from the Senatobia Latvian Lutheran Church. Our main curator has contacting leads trying to learn more about who actually made the chandler and we are still looking for photos of the interior of the church which may show the chandelier as it was placed, also other historical materials like information about church events, copies of the newsletter… Some of the leads have brought us to Sledge, with the wonderful Latavia Furniture Manufacturing Co. and these comments contain so much more helpful info. (My father Valdis and his family – the Muižnieks family – also spent time working in the cotton fields and attending this church) before moving on to Chicago.

    1. I was 5 years old when Austra Ozols was hired by my mother to watch me one afternoon. She was in my brother’s class in school, so I was aware to their presence in Holly Springs, MS, where they lived two years after leaving Senatobia. MS. I knew their history because my mother explained it to me. Within the past two years I have come to know them all by weekly Zoom meetings during Covid. I shall be meeting them in Holly Springs next month and am trying to get Mississippi information for them. You mentioned a photo of the chandelier in the museum in Riga. Would you be able to send me a photograph of it? Juris Ozols has done an excellent mini-documentary on their refugee journey for his family. I would love to surprise him with the photo. Thank you.

  18. I am looking to find a photo of the wooden chandelier from the Latvian Church in Senatobia. I saw a photo online and now cannot find it. Can anyone guide me? Thanks.

  19. Just came across tis site and my parents and oldest brother were at Senatobia sponsored by the Colonel to work the cotton fields. What I recall was that they arrived in Boston, MA on the General Omar Bundy and took a bus ride to Mississippi – curious that one of the respondents mentioned that this vessel docked on New Orleans for some of the Latvians. My research finds passenger manifest for Boston listing my family.

    Mother told me that they had to scrap and save money as the cost of rent, food, etc. was burdensome with little hope for advancement in Mississippi. At some point a church from Pennsylvania came to Senatobia to check on how the displaced Latvians were being treated. My family left Mississippi with the church group and settled in Phoenixville, PA.
    My parents were respectful of the fine citizens who assisted the Latvians but it was not exactly the climate that they wanted to live in as Pennsylvania was a lot cooler in the summer. Plus there was a community of Latvians established in Phillly and its environs.

    Plant to visit Senatobia sometime soon to pay homage.

    1. The vessel made two trips with Latvian emigrants. The first voyage was from Nov. 08,1948 to Nov. 18, 1948 which landed in Boston. The second voyage was from April 29,1949 to May 12,1949. This voyage landed in New Orleans.

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