382 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI Vardaman, the so-called “Great White Chief,” pioneered that message in his run for governor in 1903. In that campaign, he called for such things as a repeal of the Fifteenth Amendment and advocated lynching as the best way to protect white women from sexual attacks by black men. But the master of such hate speech was Theodore Bilbo. Bilbo, a Poplarville native, first caught the public imagination when he was investigated in a bribery scandal as a state senator in 1908, and then again in 1911 during his run for lieutenant governor. One of the 1911 campaign’s most memorable incidents happened on board a train in Starkville when one of Bilbo’s political opponents, John Henry, pistol-whipped him for insulting him as “a cross between a hyena and a mongrel dog” and worse in a public speech. Bilbo exaggerated his injury to win sympathy and went on to win the race, thanks to the support of many voters in the Clay Hills. He served his first term as governor from 1916 to 1920. Over his long career, which included a second term as governor and one in the U.S. Senate, he earned infamy by advocating the re-colonization of African Americans to Africa and by opposing anti-lynching bills, supporting the poll tax, and defending white supremacy. In such a racially charged atmosphere, African Americans in the Clay Hills, as elsewhere in the state, found the early twentieth century to be a challenging time. Segregation and disenfranchisement affected all aspects of their lives, rolling back many of the gains they had made following the Civil War. Many were trapped in the sharecropping system which had oftentimes devolved into a form of peonage. Mechanization was reducing the labor needed to harvest cotton, and many of the newest industrial jobs went to whites. Thus, it is not surprising that when industrial production geared up during World Wars I and II and remained robust into the 1950s, many African Americans of the Clay Hills joined the ranks of millions of others and departed the South during the Great Migration. Between 1910 and 1930, twelve of the sixteen Clay Hills counties lost population, with the decrease far more visible among African Americans than whites. The trend of out- migration was even more marked between 1940 and 1980. During those fifty years, all but three counties (Clay, Lowndes, and Oktibbeha) lost population, with the biggest losses happening in Carroll, Holmes, and Noxubee. All three of those counties had below average per capita incomes between 1959 and 1989. Holmes had the lowest per capita income in the state by 1989. Carroll’s population decreased by more than half, while Holmes and Noxubee lost close to half of theirs. While this post-1940 migration, unlike that of 1910—1930, saw many whites leaving in the search for better jobs and living conditions, the most dramatic effect was on the African American population. The African Americans who stayed found that segregation played out differently in the different communities of the Clay Hills. Some places could be less restrictive to their advancement than others as long as they stayed quiet and posed no political threat. To be sure, segregation was a fact of life in Starkville just as it was everywhere else in the state, but the atmosphere there was a bit more open and accepting than in other towns, likely due to the influence of the college, and perhaps the presence of industry as well. Sadye Wier noticed the “good atmosphere” when she arrived in town during the early 1930s. Her husband, the barber Robert Weir, learned his craft as a teen when a white barber took him under his wing and taught him the basic skills of barbering. Weir went on to work for the white barber who had trained him. When the white barber died in 1912, Weir and another African American barber took over the shop on Starkville’s Main Street where they continued to serve an exclusively white clientele. In 1921, they moved to a larger shop on Main Street, and obtained a loan to purchase the building. Over time Robert Weir’s business became an accepted part of the downtown business community. Weir, with his reputation for hard work, won the respect and support of many local whites. His shop was a fixture on the town’s main street for decades. Despite fear that political activism might negatively affect his barbering business, Weir, one of the few African Americans in Starkville who could vote, took that privilege seriously and always voted. His politics were of a non-confrontational sort, but his presence at the polls made a statement that others in town could build upon. Postwar Period—Civil Rights Movement and Beyond (1945-2015) Like other regions of Mississippi, the Clay Hills witnessed major changes during World War II and after. The war brought an infusion of federal monies into the state, monies that benefitted the eastern Clay Hills especially well. Columbus saw sizable growth between 1940 and 1950, its population increasing by almost 4,000 people. Some of that increase was due to the wartime founding of the Columbus Army Flying School, which spurred the local economy by bringing 7,000 men through the region to train as pilots. Like other regions of Mississippi, the Clay Hills witnessed major changes during World War II and after.