Carl Small Town Center receives public outreach, design honors for ‘Marking the Mule’ project

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State’s Carl Small Town Center is receiving two statewide awards for its “Marking the Mule” project focused on advancing citizen engagement in the Marks community.

On the university’s behalf, CSTC Director Leah F. Kemp recently accepted a 2017 Public Outreach Award from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Planning Association at its joint conference with the Alabama chapter in Birmingham, Alabama. The award recognizes an individual or program that uses information and education to raise awareness about the value of planning among communities and locales. Award criteria include innovation, comprehensiveness, holistic approach, transferability, quality, implementation and technology use.

The project also received an AIA Design Award from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects during the organization’s recent Public, Design, Community and Membership Awards Celebration at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

In July 2015, MSU’s Carl Small Town Center was awarded a $25,000 Our Town grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to create a trail and make plans for an interpretive center that tells the story of a 1968 Mule Train, a program of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Poor People’s Campaign.”

The yearlong public outreach campaign project engaged local residents, historians, architects, planners and state tourism and historic preservation officials. The integrated planning process created a vision for a cultural trail and interpretive center focused on events surrounding the Mule Train.

Documentation of oral histories, outreach at a local blues festival, a hands-on design charrette and multiple feedback loops culminated in the design of an interpretive center and trail, as well as construction of a trailhead marker doubling as a welcome sign at the intersection of Mississippi Highway 6/U.S. Highway 278 and M.L.K. Jr. Drive in Marks.

Kemp said the “Marking the Mule” project gave the Carl Small Town Center and Marks residents the opportunity to have a meaningful impact through the development of a tangible project in the Quitman County community.

“At the Carl Small Town Center, we truly enjoy engaging with communities to find the best solutions to their challenges,” Kemp said. “In the form of multimodal trails, we were able to address tourism and health and wellness, promote historical significance, and provide entryway signage for the Marks community. The resulting awards our center has received are a reflection of this successful project and partnership.”

Fred E. Carl Jr., a major Mississippi State benefactor and the Carl Small Town Center’s namesake, is a Greenwood resident who founded and served as the first president and CEO of nationally recognized Viking Range Corp. A one-time architecture major at MSU, he endowed the university’s statewide community design outreach program in 2004.

The Carl Small Town Center, a community design center at Mississippi State University, was founded in 1979 to help address issues faced by Mississippi’s small towns.