In 1976, three years after Murella Powell started working at the Biloxi Public Library, she was asked to take over responsibility for a certain department.
“Local history and genealogy are going to be big in the future,” the head librarian told her, and Powell’s new responsibility would be to bolster the library’s small collection of local history documents as local history and genealogy librarian.
At the time, Powell wasn’t sure her interests lay in that area, but as she began adding to the collection, learning more about Coast history and genealogy, she found it fascinating. Thus began a deep, abiding relationship that continues.
While Powell retired in 2005 after 33 years of service to the Harrison County Library System, she continues to write the weekly “Flashback” column for Sun Herald.
On Friday, the genealogy area at the Biloxi Public Library will be dedicated as the Murella H. Powell Local History & Genealogy Collection, with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. at the library, 580 Howard Ave., Biloxi.
“It’s really a re-dedication,” Powell said. In 1984, the genealogy room had been dedicated in memory of Blondie Broom Hartmann, who had retired in 1976 from the Biloxi Public Library after 20 years of service and had been instrumental in creating the library’s collection.
That room was in the library that Hurricane Katrina destroyed in 2005, which happened to be the year Powell retired. At the time, there were plans to name the department after Powell. Those plans, of course, were put on hold while the Harrison County Library System and the rest of the Mississippi Gulf Coast recovered and rebuilt.
Powell began writing her “Flashback” column in 1995, when she was asked to fill in for Sun Herald columnist Kat Bergeron, who was attending University College Cork in Cork, Ireland, as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.
“They asked me to take over the column for her,” Powell said. Powell searched old photos at her disposal in the ever-growing collection and wrote short background stories on the photos themselves or their subjects. It’s a technique that continues today, presenting a literal snapshot of a long-ago Coast. Recent topics have included a schooner built around 1918 still in operation and a variety of bottling operations in Gulfport and Biloxi in the early 20th century.
She also works with the City of Biloxi, providing information for the Biloxi Visitors Center and the Mardi Gras Museum.