South Mississippi Strong: Biloxi historian shines light on city’s rich history

South Mississippi Strong: Biloxi historian shines light on city's rich history
Bill Raymond has served as Biloxi's historical administrator for the past 14 years. (Photo Source: WLOX)
Bill Raymond has served as Biloxi's historical administrator for the past 14 years. (Photo Source: WLOX)

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Coast has a rich history that dates back centuries, full of triumphs and tragedies. Preserving that history and teaching about it is the job of Biloxi historical administrator Bill Raymond.

Bill Raymond says his love for history is in his blood. "My love of history I think really goes back to my father, who as born and raised here on the Coast. I'm the fifth generation of people that live here," he said.

A lot of that history is centered at the Biloxi lighthouse, which has stood tall for 170 years, even through Katrina. "It was vital that this lighthouse survive because it showed that we as a people could survive. Everyone was in total agreement that we had to repair the lighthouse and get it back in service as soon as possible," Raymond recalled.

A cemetery on Porter Avenue shows just how old the Coast really is. He stated, "This cemetery that we're in here right now is actually a French colonial cemetery, which is actually the oldest French colonial cemetery in the United States, with burials back to the early 1700's."

Katrina wiped away much of the Coast's history. All that's left are markers indicating what once was there. That left Raymond shattered. He continued, "I think I really went into shock and I was heartsick for months. Because of all the work that we had to do in trying to save what we could, it really wasn't time to mourn. That hit me about a year later. Like this building we're in now, the White House Hotel, goes back to the turn of the century and really does tell the story of the development of tourism, modern tourism along the Coast."

The seafood industry can never be forgotten, according to Raymond. "Seafood is still an important economic driver along the Coast. But it really did help Biloxi to grow significantly in the early part of the 20th century," he said.

World renowned artists have called the Coast home. "Art is another way of telling the story of the Coast. You can tell through art. And that's one of the things that makes our area unique is the type of art that was generated."

While much of the Coast's history has become famous over time, full of lore and amazement, some of that history has become infamous for all the wrong reasons. It's important to remember those times as well, Raymond explained. "The civil rights wade-in's were actually able to bring issues such as beach desegregation to the courts to make that final decision, and to be able to move forward with more equality in this area."

Moving forward with education is at the heart of everything Raymond does. "That love of history and that love of the Coast, I'm able to use it every day in what I do for a living. And they're paying me to do something that I'm really passionate about."

That passion shows every time he steps outside to take a look around. Raymond has served as Biloxi's historical administrator for the past 14 years.

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