Friday, November 4, 2016

Remembering Luther Latham, A Man Worthy of a Highway

Mathiston, Mississippi
August 6, 2016

memorial: something (such as a monument or ceremony) that honors a person who has died or serves as a reminder of an event in which many people died.
(Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary)

On my way home to Texas from Kentucky, I was traveling along the Natchez Trace Parkway and making small detours to find Natchez Trace monuments placed by the Mississippi Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 20th century. I found one placed in Mathiston along US Route 82, but what caught my eye was the marble sign next to it. It simply read:

Luther Latham
Memorial Highway

Webster County
1928 — 1931

I did not see any highway signs stating this was the Latham Memorial Highway or any nearby historical markers about the man. Just this marble sign on two concrete posts sitting on top of a sloped bank facing the highway. So who was Luther Latham?

Like the sign tells us, Luther Latham was a senator in the Mississippi Legislature representing Webster County from 1928 to 1931. However, you will not find a Wikipedia article on Mr. Latham, and other online sources are scarce. The Webster Progress-Times published a couple of articles in 2015, one titled “Remembering Eupora’s Luther Latham”, with most of his biography coming from his granddaughter Nancy Dandridge Patterson who lives in Senatobia, Mississippi.

Here’s what I have been able to glean about this memorial highway and the man it memorializes:
  • Luther Floyd Latham is born on November 7, 1887 in Webster County in Eupora to James Lawrence Latham and Martha Belle Norwood Latham. The Latham family were pioneer settlers of this area of Mississippi.
  • He receives a Bachelor of Laws degree from the Cumberland School of Law in Lebanon, Tennessee.
  • Latham serves as secretary to Representative Thomas Upton Sisson of the United States House of Representatives. (T.U. Sisson served in the House of Representatives from 1909 to 1923.)
  • Returning to Eupora, Latham practices law in Webster County and marries Renna Bell Morris.
  • The Lathams build a home on the southeast corner of West Roane Avenue and South Joliff Street in Eupora. The home is still there, seven-and-a-half miles west of his future memorial sign.
  • Alexander Fraser McKeigney and Latham establish the McKeigney & Latham law firm in Eupora. The firm was counsel to the Board of Supervisors of Webster County from 1913 to after the death of Latham. The firm also represented clients in front of the Supreme Court of Mississippi.
  • On July 30, 1920, the Lathams welcome a daughter Marjorie. They also have a son James Morris.
  • In 1928 Latham is elected as state senator representing the citizens of Webster County in the Mississippi Legislature. He serves a four-year term.
  • A portrait image of Luther Latham.
  • In early 1938 Latham begins his campaign to be elected as judge in the Fifth Circuit Court District. While campaigning, he dies on May 12th in a drug store in Noxapater, Winston County, 40 miles from his home in Eupora.
  • Luther Floyd Latham is buried in Eupora Cemetery near his parents, brother, and sister.
  • In 1940 State Senator B.H. Loving guides a bill through the Mississippi Legislature to designate the segment of United States Route 82 that traverses Webster County as "the Luther Latham Memorial Highway". State Senator Loving occupies the senate seat once held by Latham.
  • Some time later a marble sign set on two concrete posts is erected along US 82 near the old Natchez Trace informing passersby of the Luther Latham Memorial Highway. 
  • Construction on a Works Progress Administration project for a new high school for Eupora is underway when Luther Latham dies. When the high school is completed in 1940, the school auditorium is dedicated as the Latham Auditorium. The school and Latham Auditorium still exist and are used as the offices for the Webster County School District.
  • A tragic incident recently marred the Luther Latham Memorial Highway. On October 23, 2013 Corporal Keith Crenshaw of the Eupora Police Department was killed in the line of duty as he tried to block the escape of three bank robbers. The Mississippi Legislature in 2014 designated the segment of US Route 82 at Eupora for this fallen officer. The highway between the easternmost and westernmost intersections of Mississippi Highway 182 is now known as the Luther Latham Memorial Highway and the Keith Allen Crenshaw Memorial Highway.   
With the expansion and improvement of US Route 82 that has taken place since 1940, the Luther Latham Memorial Highway sign most likely had been moved and re-installed, but it remains. It remains 76 years later to tell people curious enough to stop and read that this highway was dedicated to the memory of Luther Latham. The sign now has this accompanying record for those curious enough to stop, read, and learn more of Luther Floyd Latham, a man worthy of a highway.
"The last 15 years have witnessed a great change for the better in Webster County. The improvements our people have made educationally, economically and morally are obvious. And much of this good work can be attributed to Luther Latham."
(From a 1938 editorial of the Webster Progress-Times)
"He was a man of honor and personal integrity. All of his dealings with his fellowman were based upon his idea of right and justice, of ethics and forbearance."
(From his obituary in the Webster Progress-Times)

Web Links

The Luther Latham Memorial Highway sign on the right
To the left is a 1933 DAR monument marking the Natchez Trace

Webster Progress-Times articles on Luther Latham
From the July 1, 2015 edition of the newspaper, on Page 10 there are two articles: "New book brings personal history to life" by Nancy Dandridge Patterson (Latham's granddaughter) and "Remembering Eupora's Luther Latham".

Hill v. State of Mississippi
The decision of the Supreme Court in this July 8, 1918 case. McKeigney & Latham represented the defendant Hill.

Looking west on US 82, the Luther Latham Memorial Highway
sign is visible to the right on top of the cut bank
Freedman's Aid & Southern Education Soc. v. Scott et al.
The decision of the Supreme Court in this April 4, 1921 case. McKeigney & Latham represented the appellants Freedman's Aid & Southern Education Society.

Luther Floyd Latham - Eupora Cemetery
Grave site on Includes a photo of Mr. Latham and a photo of his headstone.

Luther Latham Photo Album
From the Webster Progress-Times Facebook page related to the July 1, 2015 articles. Includes an old photo of the Latham home.

The Luther Latham Memorial Highway sign overlooking US 82
ODMP Remembers ... Corporal Keith A. Crenshaw
From the Officer Down Memorial Page.

The Luther Auditorium next to Eupora High School
Google Street View (©2016 Google Street View), July 2013

The Luther Home in Eupora today
Google Street View (©2016 Google Street View), July 2016

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