Mary Pember: Phillip Martin helped Choctaws grow

"Phillip Martin, former chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, was not a perfect man. He did, however, lead his people out of devastating poverty on their hardscrabble reservation near Philadelphia, Mississippi. After his recent death, February 4, at age 83, it is appropriate to look back at his remarkable life. How did Martin help make his tribe one the major economic players in the state of Mississippi?

I visited the Choctaw reservation in 2000, working on a story for another publication, and met with Chief Martin. Choctaw is located in Neshoba County, just west of the town of Philadelphia. Readers will recall that Philadelphia was the site of the infamous 1964 shootings of civil rights workers by white supremacists.

I was unprepared for the empire that lay just outside of town on the Choctaw reservation. On those scrubby hills lay an extravagant hotel and casinos that have since been expanded into the Pearl River Resort that includes a water park and golf club.

While covering Indian Country, I have had opportunity to see many tribally owned casinos and surrounding communities. The Choctaw, however, stood apart. They had leveraged their casino income into businesses that employed members of the tribe and surrounding community. Much of this growth was accomplished under Phillip Martin’s leadership."

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Phillip Martin: Casinos and Choctaw Baskets (The Daily Yonder 2/23)

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