More than three decades ago, when the Southern Heritage Classic was a vision of founder Fred Jones, Jozelle Luster Booker, then-vice president of the Jackson (Mississippi) State University Alumni Association Memphis Chapter, saw the potential of the event.
Early on, Booker, now president and CEO of the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum, and other former JSU students could see that Jones was on to something.
“We could see and understand Fred’s vision,” said Booker. “The Southern Heritage Classic, we felt, could grow into an economic boom for this city. So, in the beginning, the alumni association was responsible for making sure the hotel arrangements were taken care of for the team. We had a hospitality suite for gatherings because, back then, Beale Street had not developed into what it is today. Now, I am so proud of what the Classic is today.”
The 32nd Southern Heritage Classic Cultural Celebration is so much more than a game. There is the battle of the trash talkers, the tailgating, the battle of the bands and two ferocious Tiger Nations football teams meet on the field compete for mastery on the gridiron.
Jackson State University will put its team, its band and its fans up against Tennessee State University any day, say JSU fans. And, so it shall be on Saturday (Sept. 11). Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Boasting a legendary marching band with a timeless tradition of intricate formations on the field, syncopated dance moves to thrill a crowd, the “Jackson 5” drum majors, and dancing, Prancing J-Settes, the “Sonic Boom of the South” is always a formidable match for the highly praised and storied “Aristocrat of Bands,” at Tennessee State University.
JSU Tiger Nation has been waiting to debut its new, celebrity head football coach, Deion Sanders, or “Coach Prime” as he is known on campus.
Sanders, a former NFL superstar, was named head coach in September 2020. But the entire football season was a bust because of COVID-19.
The Classic was cancelled last year, giving Sanders and his team time to bond, strategize and bring home a Classic win.
“The Sonic Boom always puts on a good show,” said Immediate Past President of the JSU Alumni Association Memphis Chapter Lori Evans. “This year will be no exception. And when it comes to the game, TSU is not ready for Prime Time. They can forget about winning the game this year, but there’s always next year.”
Evans’ term as alumni president ended in June when the new president, Roshanda DeBoise, was installed.
Evans led the association through the meticulous planning for this year’s Classic Weekend, with the hope that the celebration will be one JSU fans won’t soon forget.
“It’s going to be so good to see everyone again,” said Evans. “At the tailgate, we are going to have a big party. DJ Caramu Cunning will be playing the music, and there will be room to dance.
“Of course, we will follow the safety protocols for COVID-19. But we can’t wait to get that party started.”
DeBoise said the tailgate party is actually the celebration getting started early because JSU is bringing home the win.
“Our team comes up here with the intention of winning,” said DeBoise. “Caramu is DJ Unpredictable. That is his name. Yeah, we’re starting the celebration early because we know we’re going to win this game. They said we’re going to need more than Prime Time. Well, we’ve got more than Prime Time. Eddie is not ready for this.”
Eric Jackson, a Greenville, Mississippi native, enjoys the rivalry, but recognizes that Jackson, Mississippi has strong ties, not only to Memphis, but to Nashville (TSU’s home) as well.
“When we were graduating high school, a lot of the guys I grew up with wanted to get out of Mississippi and attend college out of state,” said Jackson. “A lot of them were going to TSU. Even to play football, they wanted to go elsewhere, so many alumni attended TSU and are originally from Mississippi.”
Jackson attended JSU in the early 1980s. His mother graduated from JSU in 1954, and his godmother also graduated from JSU.
“The connections run very deeply for me,” said Jackson. “I met my wife of 32 years at the Classic game…”
Trash talking is fun, Jackson admitted, but it’s all love.
“Don’t let all that noise fool you,” said Jackson. “The trash talking is fun. The game is competitive, but we’re all one big family.”
JSU’s Sonic Boom “always puts on a good show,” says Lori Evans, JSU Alumni Association’s immediate past president. (Courtesy photo)