The Issaquena County town of Mayersville recently honored one of it’s bravest citizens, former mayor Unita Blackwell, with a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker dedicated to her.
The marker was unveiled during a ceremony that attracted a gathering of local residents, as well as regional, statewide, and national leaders at the Mayersville Multi Purpose Building. Blackwell was the first female African-American elected mayor in Mississippi.
In addition to serving as mayor for 27 years, Blackwell was active in the Civil Rights Movement, Head Start and the Democratic Party for nearly five decades. In 1993, she was awarded a Genius Grant as a MacArthur Fellow. Since 1973, she has been a part of 16 diplomatic missions to China.
“The notion is that somebody from very, very humble beginnings cannot only rise to be the mayor of her community, but to take delegations all over the world as a goodwill ambassador, to work for childcare, work for better education, is a statement that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s where you’re going,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson, U.S. Representative for Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District.
Blackwell was born in Lula, Mississippi in 1933. Her parents Virda Mae and Willie Brown were sharecroppers. She married Jeremiah Blackwell in 1958, and in 1960, they moved into a shotgun house in Mayersville inherited from Jeremiah’s grandmother. It was here that Blackwell became involved in politics, civil rights and a life of building a stronger community for all.
“She just kept on going and learning and experiencing new things,” said JoAnne Prichard Morris, who assisted Blackwell in writing her autobiography “Barefootin’: Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom.” “She was quite simply the most courageous, most creative, most inspiring, smartest, funniest person I’ve ever known.”
The Mississippi Freedom Trail was created in 2011 to commemorate the people and places in the state that played a pivotal role in the American Civil Rights Movement. The first Freedom Trail markers were unveiled in conjunction with the Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation’s 2011 reunion activities for the 1961 Freedom Riders. The Blackwell marker is the 22nd placed in the state, and was supported in part by partnership development funds from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area in conjunction with support from Visit Mississippi, the Town of Mayersville and Mississippi’s Lower Delta Partnership.
“The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is about telling significant stories here in our region, and the story of Unita Blackwell truly is a significant story,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, Director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, the management entity for the MDNHA. “The fact that the MDNHA could support this marker being installed here for ages to come so that the people of Mayersville – particularly the youth – can learn about her story and her legacy, truly is a great asset to the community and to our region.”
The MDNHA includes 18 counties that contain land located in the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta: Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, DeSoto, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, Washington and Yazoo. The MDNHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at www.msdeltaheritage.com.
The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place On Earth” workshops. For more information, visit http://deltacenterdsu.com/.