Writer Laurel pays homage to the city’s history through her books

LAUREL, Miss. (WDAM) – For WDAM’s latest special report for Black History Month, we feature an author from Mississippi.

The Laurelite is a former Jones County Schools educator and has written numerous books on the history of City Beautiful.

Cleveland Payne is the author of 18 books including biographies, novels and stories.

I grew up here,” Payne said. “I grew up in a city that was special, not just in athletics, special in academics.”

Payne says many of his books are about the town of Laurel and the school he attended, Oak Park Vocational High School, now known as Oak Park Elementary School.

“Oak Park was just a special place and people could see it,” Payne said.

Payne graduated from Oak Park in 1957 and talks about this special place in his first book, published in 1988, “The Oak Park Story: A Cultural History.”

“We were expected to learn at Oak Park, I think that’s important,” Payne said. “It wasn’t a choice to learn, we were expected to learn, and we had good teachers because Wallace B. Rogers kind of, you know, made sure in those early years and he was at every graduation.”

The Oak Park star athlete also wrote about Rogers in another book called “A Portrait of the Man and His Times: Wallace B. Rogers.”

“No person, early in Laurel’s story, black or white, was more beloved by the black community in town than the man they respectfully called, Mr. Rogers,” Payne said.

The 84-year-old also provided historical research and information about Laurel City Hall.

“What I did in writing the history, I went back to 1882 when Laurel was founded, and I took it back to 2014, and then using the mayors, I moved forward,” Payne said. “Every mayor in Laurel’s history is mentioned in this book.”

In addition to writing about Laurel’s story, Payne has also written numerous novels about her main character, Slim McCall. The first was released in 2000.

“Slim McCall, it’s what he sees, it’s what he feels, it’s the things he describes, the things he doesn’t carry the story of, but he’s there,” said Payne.

Payne’s later works constitute a six-book novel series entitled “The Adventures of Slim McCall”.

“I deal with the human element,” Payne said. “Man’s feelings for another man, for humans, because I was trained in the humanities, in the social sciences. I was trained to watch people, to watch the best in people.

The retired educator says his next book could be a biography. He just doesn’t know who it will be. One thing he is certain of is that he plans to continue as a novelist.

“A special type of writer who writes, who writes about people’s feelings and that’s enough,” Payne said.

Payne’s books can be purchased at a kiosk inside Sawmill Square Mall in Laurel.

Copyright 2022 WDAM. All rights reserved.

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