A 1929 Mississippi Miracle Revived By Social Media

A tornado ripped through the tiny town of Duncan, MS. in 1929, "wiping it off the map," according to one newspaper account.  At least 35 deaths occurred including everyone in the Fong grocery store family, save a 4-year old boy, William Joe Fong, who miraculously survived.  Several Chinese grocery store families came to the rescue and helped raise him.  He attended and lived at the Chinese Mission School in Cleveland, MS., went on to serve in the Navy, and settled in California where he married and started a family.  After a successful career as a pharmacist, he enjoyed his retirement in Sunnyvale, CA. until he died in 2007.

Now out of the blue, a long-time Delta resident, Linda Gatewood Bassie,* posted on Facebook the photograph below that was found on the street after the 1929 Duncan tornado.  I was familiar with the story of the orphan Chinese survivor of Duncan from prior research and knew it had to be William Joe Fong. As seen in the chain of posts below, Chinese who grew up in the Delta confirmed the identification and filled in details. Eventually, Carol Fong, William's widow, was informed of the discovery of this photograph, which she gratefully acknowledged, noting it was one that her family had never previously seen.

Facebook has many criticisms, some of which are valid, but here is one example of a positive outcome that was generated through it that would not have otherwise likely to have occurred.

* Linda Gatewood Bassie is the same sharp-eyed person who located, and posted on Facebook,  the 1924 Rosedale School 3rd-4th grade photograph showing Berda and Martha Lum, who were denied admission to a white public school, as described in an earlier post on this blog, an incident that led to the 1927 Gong Lum v. Rice U. S. Supreme Court case.


  1. very interesting!

  2. I should have noted that the U. S. Supreme Court ruled against Gong Lum in favor of Mississippi's segregated schools so that he moved his family across the river to Arkansas where Chinese could attend white schools.

  3. I also knew William and Carol. I would visit them whenever I was in California. It shows how history can be so interesting and informative.


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