Political memorabilia receives new home in McCain Library


John Pendergrass with his collection of political memorabilia.

The McCain Library Archives received a donation of political memorabilia on August 4. The donation came from John Pendergrass, a retired ophthalmologist and long-time Hattiesburg resident.

Pendergrass’ collection was displayed on a table and included a lot of different political memorabilia. Some of the memorabilia came from famous politicians that visited Mississippi, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. However, it also included more obscure items directly relating to Mississippi, such as Civil Rights activist James Evers’ campaign for governor or old buttons from Southern Miss.

Pendergrass said he got into collecting political memorabilia about 45 years ago. “Mainly because of my interest in history,” Pendergrass said. “I also grew up in an age where boys collected things — they collected stamps, coins and buttons — and that’s sort of how I began.”

Pendergrass said he joined a hobby organization of other political collectors and made a lot of friends with an interest in this hobby. He  acquired a lot of his items through these friends, along with scouring through flea markets, political memorabilia shows and eBay.

Pendergrass said he enjoyed collecting a certain kind of memorabilia and watching it grow and become complete. However, he also said it was important for his items to be preserved. He donated the items to Southern Miss because he knew they needed a good home, and the McCain Archives were the perfect place to do so.

“I am not getting any younger and I wanted a place that would take good care of [the collection],” Pendergrass said. “I could tell from my experience already with the library that they take good care, preserve the items and have them available for other people to use and view.”

Brandon Ball, the processing assistant at the Archives, agreed with Pendergrass. Ball said preserving these collections can save bits of history, like seeing how campaign buttons and slogans have evolved throughout the years.

“People can come in and see what life was like in the old days,” Ball said. “There was a pin that had the Confederate flag, but we would not do that today.”

Lorraine Stuart, the Head of Special Collections and Curator of Historical Manuscripts, said the Archives focus on Mississippi’s history, particularly its political history. She said Pendergrass’ collection is like the visual chronicle of Mississippi political history.

“[The collection] goes into fairly detailed, obscure races that would, I think, be lost,” Stuart said. “Except that Dr. Pendergrass has taken so much care and preserved these things.”

Stuart believes the collection is an entry way for people to stay educated on Mississippi politics as there is so much history in just one tray of the collection. 

“It is a very important collection for us as it talks about Civil Rights and the Mississippi political history, like local oriented[,] that would be lost if he had not taken care of it,” Stuart said.

“Sometimes I feel like I am giving away my own children,” Pendergrass said. “I have grown so fond of many of these items over the years.”

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