SHUQUALAK, MISSISSIPPI- Shuqualak (pronounced Shuga-lak) is a little town with between 400 and 500 residents. The 2010 census counted 562 people, but the number had dropped to 480 in the 2013 population estimate.
It could have a new hero soon.
It has a large city park, but I didn’t see swings or other playground equipment. We may have missed it. The streets were extremely rough, and we were concerned about the shaking our small motorhome was experiencing. That distracted us.
A few African American children were riding bicycles. There didn’t seem to be much else to do after school.
The percentage of older mobile homes seemed high, and many of the other homes would have been classified as older cottages in many communities. The exception was a bit further west on State Road 21 where a small scattering of attractive brick homes had been built in the past 20 or 30 years. I felt these were the homes of those who worked in the lumber company office, or were employed by the town or county.
The overwhelming presence in Shuqualak was the huge and extremely busy lumber planing plant. One report suggested the average individual (per capita) income was between $12,000 and $13,000 a year, with a typical family income of around $21,000. The poverty remind me of what I saw in parts of Gary, Indiana, in Chicago and East St. Louis, Illinois in the 1960s.
I was told a lovely young Shuqualak woman was on a NBC’s television singing contest – The Voice – a few days earlier. The person who told me about the singing contest was surprised to find Shuqualak on my 1000 small towns web site. A native of Mississippi, this woman executive had never heard of the community, but had been looking at my website in her office as we talked.
I discovered later the singer was Briar Jonne Blakley, a student at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. I can only hope and pray Briar does well. It would, in my view, give hope to all the others struggling to survive in little Shuqualak.