PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI- Looking for the best place to raise you children in the State of Mississippi?
Pass Christian, a small city built along a substantial part of of a beautiful 21 mile Gulf of Mexico white sand beach has, for the past several years, been named the best school system in the state.
It would be more accurate to say “rebuilt.”
Pass Christian took a heavy blow from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina was the storm that made all the news down the road in New Orleans, clearly a much larger, better known city.
The storm wiped out city hall, the city’s library and all of Pass Christian’s schools. Students were moved into temporary trailer-like buildings in a community to the north until the schools could be rebuilt.
Along US 90, which runs beside the beach there are vacant lots overlooking the Gulf for sale. But Amy Wood, a Pass Christian real estate broker, says only one lot is for sale agent the edge of US 90 in Pass Christian. The rest have sold.
The city hall, city court and library have been replaced in a new, attractive U-shaped facility. They also have taken steps to rebuild the downtown on Davis Avenue around a new courtyard with parking.
The thing holding up real estate sales is the FEMA rule that requires the first floor of all homes and stores to be at least 19 feet above sea level. The portion of Pass Christian closest to the water is what appears to be an old sand dune or a “bluff.” It is higher ground than much of the rest of the city. In some areas, where the land is 19 or 20 feet above sea level homes and stores don’t have to be built on stilts to meet the FEMA rule. But many of the newer properties have posts and pillars to lift them off the ground. Some use this space to park their cars and pickup trucks and for storage.
This is a community with a collection of shrimp and oyster boats and a scattering of seafood restaurants that have returned.
Jennifer L. Burke runs the local Main Street program. She reminds me that area was hit by Hurricane Camille in 1969. It had almost completely recovered from that storm when Katrina swirled in.
Now all the FEMA projects have been completed. It is Burke’s job to bring in more business – both retail stores and industry. However, officials persuaded Wal-Mart to rebuild their store at the east edge of the city. Pass Christian now has a firm commitment from a major hotel chain, ten years after the big storm. DuPont has continued manufacturing.
The DuPont plant is located about five miles from Pass Christian and produces a single product — titanium dioxide – a non-toxic white pigment used in paper manufacturing, textile fibers, ink, paint, and plastics. It provides whiteness, brightness and opacity, according to the experts.
Between 500 and 600 people work there. Equally important, DuPont buys what it can locally and pays taxes that substantially help support the area.
In so many ways Pass Christian’s can-do approach provides a positive picture that turns the old opinion so many across the country have held about Mississippi as a floundering, backward state on its head. Add to this that African American mayors have been elected in Philadelphia and Aberdeen and a new Mississippi image is emerging.
Now if only Mississippi public schools in general can improve, the state could become an example of American exceptionalism.