A couple of miles south of the Missouri border in Arkansas, a small traffic sign on Highway 67 indicates that Success lies to the left while St. Louis is straight ahead.
What is an ambitious person supposed to do?
Presumably, that sign, or its predecessor, has been tempting travelers ever since Success was established in the late 19th century. The town was officially incorporated in 1903. By then, it already had a post office.
In contemporary terms, that’s like having a Dairy Queen. It is a signal that you have attained a certain level of urbanity. Bear in mind that Highway 67 was a major turnpike for the Great Migration of the early and mid-20th century, in which African Americans left the Jim Crow south and headed north. Thousands upon thousands traded what they had known for what they had heard of.
In this Great Migration was a family of three — William “Big Bill” Teer, his wife, Minnie, and their 5-year-old son, Marvin. They left Mississippi and headed north in 1917. One of Big Bill’s brothers had been lynched. Imagine that.
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The year the Teers came north happened to coincide with a boom in Success. The population in 1910 had been 379. By 1920, it was 436. It has dropped slowly but steadily every since. The 2020 census reported a population of 98.
Admittedly, 436 is not a metropolis, but small towns used to punch above their weight. They were centers for much larger areas. On its heyday, when there was a timber industry and a railroad to haul that timber, Success had a sawmill, two banks, three doctors and two cotton gins.
A man who was willing to work might settle there. Of course, just about everybody heading north had relatives or friends