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Meridianites picnic filled with history

By By Penny Randall / staff writer
June 23, 2003
In 2004, the 38th Annual National Council of Meridianites Convention and Picnic will return home to Meridian.
More than 3,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event scheduled for June 23-25 of next year.
C.E. Otis Jr., president of The Meridian Council of Organizations, and about 100 other Meridian residents plan to leave Tuesday to attend this year's event in East Elmhurst, N.Y.
Otis met with The Meridian Star's editorial board last week to talk about plans for next year's convention.
The Meridian Star: How did the Meridianites Picnic start?
C.E. Otis Jr.: The first Meridian picnic was held in Detroit, Mich., following the funeral of a Meridian native who passed away in Detroit. The year was 1967.
After the funeral, the friends Steve Jackson, Lucile Kennedy Jackson, Clarice May Thomas, Annie B. Kennedy Horton, Lessie Hill Cole and Curtis Cole gathered in Detroit's Bell Isle City Park. Though on a sad occasion, it sparked the idea to initiate plans for more frequent gatherings.
The Star: Tell us a little history about the picnic.
Otis: Originally the picnic alternated between Detroit and Cleveland. Soon other cities began forming chapters consisting of Meridianites and their friends. It is important to know that members worked very hard raising funds to help pay for the festivities and there was no cost to the participants.
Chapters hosting picnics from 1970-74 added something new to the picnic idea each year.
In 1970, Cleveland added the "After Picnic Ball." In 1972, Dr. Larry V. Walker insisted the picnic come to Chicago. This started the expansion of the picnic to different cities.
In 1973, after having flown from Los Angeles to the two previously mentioned picnics, Myrtis Eason, made a request to bring the picnic to her city.
In 1973, the Detroit chapter, under the direction of Leroy C. Caffey, chartered a plane to Los Angeles carrying 209 passengers from (Cleveland and Chicago), as well as Toledo, Ohio; Minneapolis and St. Paul; and Washington D.C.
It was the Los Angeles chapter that introduced the "Fun Trip" idea.
The Star: When did you first get involved?
Otis: In 1973, I heard about the picnic and wanted to see what it was about. I flew to Los Angeles to invite the people to bring the picnic home on behalf of the Council of Organizations.
I can't explain it the feeling I felt seeing my former students, people I taught and my former band members.
The Star: What year was the picnic first held in Meridian?
Otis: The next year, 1974. There were approximately 6,000 people in attendance a substantial increase over the first picnic in 1967, where only about 20 people were in attendance.
The next year in 1975, a draft of the constitution was presented in Detroit for study.
The constitution cut out the politics and set the picnic up on a rotational basis so that everyone knows where it's going the next year. And it's up to that chapter to pick the city in their region.
The constitution and by-laws were ratified by a unanimous vote of members in Cleveland in 1976.
In 1977, the chapters were organized into regions and developed an equitable rotating plan.
On Jan. 16, 1998, the Task Force Committee successfully consummated incorporation papers for the organization by the state of Mississippi.
The Star: What do you want people to know about the Meridianites organization?
Otis: It's not just all fun and games. We give scholarships and host seminars, awards programs, teen dances and a have grand ball.
We hold an essay contest and give scholarships to one student in each region. The picnic is run like a business.
The Star: What are the plans for next year's picnic in Meridian?
Otis: A lot of people come here (Meridian) when they won't go any where else because they're coming home.
People are calling everyday now getting the dates for next year so they can plan. Every time the picnic comes home, people have to go as far as Forest and Waynesboro to find a hotel.
When they came in 74, a lot of people hadn't been home in 20 years. They were amazed, at that time, how Meridian had grown. A lot of those folks moved back here after that. It was a beautiful thing. They have the ties here and they want to keep those ties.

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