/Bobby Cleveland’s wish Rename Ross Barnett Reservoir

Bobby Cleveland’s wish Rename Ross Barnett Reservoir

Bobby was a long-time friend and colleague who knows Bobby well. He wished that Mississippi’s most famous lake would be renamed. Longtime journalist and sportsman, Bobby died in April at the age of 67. He spent hours researching how to change its current name to honor former Governor. Ross Barnett is a stubborn segregationist, whose racist history from his time as an officeholder in the 1960s reads deeper than the lake. Bobby called many of his close friends at high places, including some who fished the same waters as him. They all shared the same truth for years: It would be almost impossible to navigate the politics of changing the name of the reservoir. On paper, it seems simple enough. A majority vote by the 14-member board for the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District can change the name. This state agency oversees everything Ross Barnett Reservoir. It is not an easy task because of the composition of the board. The Mississippi governor appoints five members of the board, including the president. Each of the five supervisors from five counties that border the Pearl River, Rankin Madison, Hinds Scott, Scott, and Leake, receives one appointment. Four of the four other appointments are made by state agencies. Nearly all 14 members of the board are appointed by conservative white politicians or entities that answer mostly to conservative white constituents. Only one of the board members is Black. This same board was responsible for the 1963 adoption of Barnett’s name on R.M. Hederman was the segregationist publisher of Clarion Ledger newspaper, who collaborated with Barnett to stop the University of Mississippi’s enrollment of James Meredith in 1962. The board named the lake after Barnett despite a 1961 resolution passed by the Mississippi Legislature that requested the lake be named Mary-Lynda Lake in honor of Lynda Lee Meade and Mary Ann Mobley, Miss Americas. The Mississippi Legislature could amend the name of the lake without the board’s approval. This is a political uphill battle that many feel feels unfairly difficult. Bobby’s wit and humor were perhaps at their best when he was ripping into racist politicians with his family and friends. He didn’t like the idea of having to change the name. Bobby’s brother Rick Cleveland, longtime sportswriter, said that he always said that if I can’t change its name (of the reservoir), then I can try to rebrand the reservoir.” Liz Cleveland, Liz’s wife, recalls, “He always said that ‘If it can’t be changed the name (of the reservoir),'” she said. Bobby was one of the many young Mississippians who enjoyed the rowdy nightlife on the lake in the 1980s. There were waterfront bars like The Dock and On the Rocks where the booze flowed, and the bands played late. Bobby started referring to the lake as “The Rez” by the kids in newspaper articles. He published the “The Rez” nickname as a headline in Clarion Ledger on April 28, 1991, 31 years before his death. The nickname became more popular. Bobby was a long-serving member of “The Rez”, serving the community for many decades. Bobby organized fishing tournaments and cook offs that attracted national attention. He also worked to raise funds for a playground for children with special needs. For many years, he was the Pearl River Water Supply District’s spokesperson. Bobby, who was still adamant about the lake’s name came up with another idea. Numerous Mississippi charities have raised money through vanity license plate sales. Bobby wanted to support the Barnett Reservoir Foundation which raises funds for local projects. He thought it would be cool to see “The Rez”, on cars all over the state. In 2012, state lawmakers approved Bobby’s idea for license plates. Bobby Cleveland was the first to receive “The Rez” in 2013. He proudly displayed the #1 number on his truck until his death. Bobby is responsible for the tag fees that flow annually to the reservoir foundation if you see one of the over 2,000 “The Rez” license plates in the state. Bobby was killed in a car accident on April 28. Bobby had driven to Lakeshore Park that morning to set up for a sunset concert at Lakeshore Park. He was right on The Rez’s banks. Bobby was a legendary storyteller and chef. He left a lasting impression on many people. One thing that he didn’t achieve was changing the name the lake. Within hours of his death, hundreds of people started working together to fulfill his dream in a way that even he wouldn’t believe. A petition has been started online to rename the lake “R.H.” There are hundreds of signatures for the Cleveland Reservoir petition. Name the lake after Bobby would be an appropriate tribute to the man who dedicated his adult life to The Rez. Todd Macko, a reservoir resident, said that Bobby was the heart and soul behind the reservoir foundation. Brian Broom is a long-time outdoor writer at The Clarion Ledger. “He has basically, for the past decade, served the entire community continuously. Bobby suggested that the lake be named after prominent Mississippians when he discussed renaming it. Bobby called it the “Welty reservoir”, referring to Eudora, a legendary author. He was supportive of the idea of naming the lake after a Mississippi civil rights pioneer like James Meredith. Meredith was denied entry to the University of Mississippi as the first African American student in 1962, by former Gov. Ross Barnett. People who knew Bobby well say that he would not care about the new name of the lake, as long as Barnett’s legacy and name were no longer associated with the place he loved the most. It’s unlikely that Bobby Cleveland would be chosen to be the lake’s new name, which is due in good time.