EAST CENTRAL MISSISSIPPI 269 event with many cabins so attendees could stay overnight. The fair had always offered a platform for politicians, and excitement over entry into the war brought many politicians in 1917. Speakers included Ross Alexander Collins, Governor Theodore G. Bilbo (1916-1920, 1928- 1932), Governor Lee Maurice Russell (1920-1924), U. S. Congressman W. W. Venable, and Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Martin Sennet (Mike) Connor who was later elected governor in 1932. Senator James Vardaman also attended. Vardaman, an outspoken progressive, had both puzzled and angered many Mississippians by his adamant opposition to American involvement in the European war. His address to the Neshoba County crowd was titled “Our Part in the War.” Former governor Earl Brewer spoke next and said a few words about Senator Vardaman’s vote on participation in World War I. When Pat Harrison took the podium, he stated that he would oppose Senator Vardaman in the 1918 Democratic primary for the position of United States Senator from Mississippi. The Neshoba Democrat reported: “Mr. Harrison made perhaps one of the strongest speeches he has made in the campaign. His oration picturing the return of the soldier boys caused many strong hearted man and women to weep.” Not all Mississippians supported the move to war. The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 limited the ability to openly oppose it. In response, some opponents retaliated by refusing to buy war bonds. In addition, many Mississippians deserted the military by not showing up for induction or going AWOL. In the spring of 1918, troops were sent to Neshoba, Lauderdale, and Tippah counties to round up deserters who had taken refuge with family and friends. The age to enlist in the military service was expanded to ages eighteen to forty-five in 1918. The Marines did not accept African Americans, while the Navy and Coast Guard only allowed African Americans to serve in limited and menial positions. Still, by the end of World War I, African Americans had served in cavalry, infantry, artillery, medical, and artillery units. They also served as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, and intelligence officers. Emergence of Junior Colleges To provide education for rural students, the Mississippi legislature passed laws in 1908 which allowed counties to establish agricultural high schools for white students. In 1910, the language was changed to “white and Negro” students to comply with the U. S. Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. In 1916, the legislature passed laws allowing any two or more schools in towns or rural areas to consolidate or combine their operations. In 1912, Kemper County Agricultural High School formed. In 1922, the Mississippi legislature passed a bill allowing the agricultural high schools to offer one or two years of junior college education. The school became Kemper County Agricultural High School—Junior College, with J. D. Wallace being the first president. By 1929, the school offered two years of college instruction. Upon Noxubee County joining in support of the school, the name was changed to Kemper County Agricultural High School and Kemper-Noxubee Junior College which would become East Mississippi Junior College. East Central Junior College in Newton County opened to students in September, 1928. Roscoe Conklin Pugh served as its first president. Dr. Leslie Rush, who surgically inserted the country’s first bone pin, was— along with Miss Catherin Hovious and Meridian School Superintendent Dr. H. M. Ivey—instrumental in starting Mississippi’s first junior college nursing program. Coping with the Depression During the Great Depression, some in the East Central region worked to rise above financial collapse. In the 1930s, Phil Hardin purchased a bankrupt bakery business in Meridian and grew it into a corporation with plants in Meridian, Jackson, and Tupelo. His entrepreneurial spirit, accompanied by his selfless, community-mindedness and strong sense of citizenship created his financial legacy: the Phil Hardin Foundation. Since its inception, the Foundation has provided more than $38.8 million in grants and loans to improve the education of Mississippians. Others like Hardin helped transform the region into a medical mecca. In 1929, Dr. Jeff Anderson purchased Turner Hospital in Meridian and renamed it Anderson Infirmary, which operated a laboratory, two operating rooms, and thirty hospital beds. During the Depression, Anderson mortgaged his home on 23rd Avenue to keep the infirmary open. By 1927, Meridian had become one of the largest Jewish communities in the state with a population of 575 strong.