In my senior year at W.A. Higgins High School in Clarksdale, I served on the yearbook staff. A classmate, Viola Yarbrough, was the editor. She handed me her Brownie Hawkeye camera and almost ordered me to take photos. That was the real beginning of my love of photography.
My interest in photography increased later while I was a student at Jackson College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson. Someone saw me carrying a camera and asked if I was willing to take student ID photos and get paid for it. A quick “Yes!” followed.
Later, after graduating, I began taking pictures at proms, debutante cotillions and other social events, including weddings.
After working as executive director of Coahoma Opportunities, Inc., the local community action agency, an opening occurred at The Clarksdale Press Register. Larry Liddell recommended me for the photographer’s position to replace well-known photographer Kenneth Bush. Larry has become one of my good friends and I am so thankful for his true friendship.
I still wonder why the publisher, Joe Ellis, Larry and Kenneth recommended me for such a high-profile job. Oh, I had a few of my photos of social events I had taken in the past published while Ellis was publisher. Steve Stewart was the publisher who succeeded Ellis.
One thing that stands out is the dedication to a high-quality newspaper by Stewart.
The CPR once was a daily paper, including Sunday. Everyone in the newsroom received a copy of the daily to proofread before it was printed in-house
Then it was sent to Stewart for the final proofing. Every single time, despite the checking for errors by all those eyes, Stewart would return the pages with red marks all over the paper. The only thing I could do was marvel at how errors would still remain after so many “smart” people with good eyes and intelligence missed the same thing every day.
That has to be part of the reason The Clarksdale Press Register has always been respected across the state and beyond.
When I started working at the paper, digital photography was not around. The CPR had in-house film processing in a real darkroom using special lights and dangerous chemicals.
Fortunately, I had included a complete darkroom in the plans for an addition to my home in 1967. Thus, I had no problems with developing film and printing black-and-white prints.
I am so happy about that. It helped make me a valuable asset to the CPR since Bush had retired.
Oh, but I was so happy when digital cameras became the norm! And my wife, Shirley, was so happy as well as that darkroom soon turned into her dream laundry room with running water, outlets everywhere, an exhaust fan and a little extra storage space.
I have worked with many quality people in the newsroom. Some have become real friends and maybe one or two who left have not.
There is a phrase I use often: “When you are dealing with people, don’t be surprised at anything.” Life has been better because of this as I went out on assignments.
I have found out that there are some very good people in Clarksdale, Coahoma County and the state of Mississippi. I have been welcomed into homes of people of various race, creed, age and color while on assignments. Never had a problem!
Hopefully, it has to do with proper discipline and teaching demanded by my parents, Troy Catchings, Sr. and Ester Mae Catchings. I thank them for that!
Shortly after beginning my tenure at The CPR, an editorial column appeared in the paper that had been written by Wyatt Emmerich, owner of The Clarksdale Press Register,
The column, which had first been printed in The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, centered on the lack of state funding to properly meet the needs of state colleges and universities. Emmerich appeared to make a case to reduce funding for then Alcorn State College, Jackson College and Mississippi Valley College. I immediately reacted to it because those were predominately black colleges. As my friend and civil rights activist Reuben Smith would say, “That struck a nerve!”
Later, upon meeting Emmerich for what may have been the first time, in the CPR newsroom, I voiced my disappointment in his opinion, especially since it involved my alma mater, Jackson State University. We had a little chat. He listened. Everything was cool. From that point on, I looked forward to being around him.
I thank you, the readers and subscribers, for your support over the years.
While on assignments, I have been treated fairly and with dignity by more than 99 percent of the people I have met.
The staff has been so supportive.
What can I say? It has been a pleasure just working with you all. I can truly say that I have been treated fairly and with dignity.
As for the treatment from customers of all race, color and creed, keep working together. May God continue to bless each of you.
He has certainly blessed me.
Troy Catchings is retiring from The Clarksdale Press Register after 19 years as a staff photographer.