THE CLAY HILLS 389 returned to town to speak at New Hope Baptist Church. Despite such violence, black activism continued in Grenada. African Americans there continued to register to vote, and they continued to push for school desegregation and other economic rights. Still, as with other places in Mississippi, the movement in the western reaches of the Clay Hills was slow in realizing gains. Black activists continued to meet with economic reprisals and various forms of intimidation and organized white violence. The Sovereignty Commission and its network of representatives and informants, meanwhile, worked behind-the-scenes to stage their own, quieter forms of intimidation and sabotage as ways to blunt African American protest. Here, as elsewhere across the state, the civil rights movement was a hard fought movement for change that took many years and much courage from African Americans to realize the kind of long-term gains they sought. In this way, the story of the Clay Hills ends as it began, in contrast and diversity. Whereas Richard Holmes could integrate MSU quietly, with relatively little fanfare and no violence, those who stepped out on the streets in Grenada faced a wholly different and far more openly hostile situation. The contrasts are striking, but they also exemplify the region’s past and present. The Clay Hills has always been several different regions in one, each marked by its own distinctiveness, and today is no different. As in the past, the Clay Hills counties seem to be headed in multiple directions. They thus defy easy categorization. Many western and central counties remain in decline, due to lost economic opportunity and out-migration. Although they offer much rural beauty, these counties suffer from high rates of unemployment, poverty, and desperation. At the same time, however, there are some bright spots. As in the past, they are found mostly in the eastern Clay Hills, particularly in the counties of Clay, Lowndes, and Oktibbeha where the local economies and local population continue to grow, and where the small cities of Starkville, Columbus, and West Point continue to prosper despite the challenges they face. Indeed, as The Atlantic magazine noted in a series of articles in 2015, the “Golden Triangle”—as the area between these three towns is called—has become one of the state’s success stories. The Indiana-based Steel Dynamics steel mill (sold to Steel Dynamics by Russian steelmaker Severstal in 2014) in Columbus has been expanding production and creating new jobs, as has its neighbor, France-based Airbus Helicopters also located in Columbus. Airbus Helicopters announced in 2015 it had landed a $220 million contract to produce Lakota helicopters for the U.S. Army. This area also has the new, Japan-based, $300 million Yokohama commercial truck tire plant in West Point, which brought 260 jobs to the region upon its opening in 2015 and is expected to grow its workforce to 500. Stark Aerospace (Israel Aerospace Industries), headquartered in Columbus, designs, develops and manufactures unmanned aerial systems for U.S. Special Forces. The region’s two universities and several community colleges are also doing well. After the Mississippi State Bulldog football team led by quarterback Dak Prescott earned a number one ranking in the nation for a time in the fall of 2014, the university welcomed a record number of first-time freshmen students to its campus in the fall of both 2015 and 2016. And the Lady Bulldog basketball team reached the NCAA championship game, falling just one game short of a national title. Not to be outdone, Mississippi University for Women saw a nearly eleven percent increase in its enrollment in 2016. With such positive signs of growth, many Clay Hills residents hope the region might lead the state into a brighter and better future, one that can be shared equally by all Mississippians. HOWLIN’ WOLF Born in West Point in 1910, Chester Arthur Burnett became a worldwide renowned Bluesman. He served with the army in World War II, before returning to music full-time. His use of electric guitars and the harmonica are famous, and have been an inspiration to musicians in the United States as well as the United Kingdom. PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUES ARCHIVE, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI