Sharkey – People/Persons

Rosenthal, Sam

Sam Rosenthal was the Jewish mayor of Rolling Fork, MS, county seat of Sharkey County. He served uncontested from 1924 to 1969. As mayor, he modernized the town’s electricity and improved the library and school systems.

Institute of Southern Jewish Life

Alexander, Sidney

Sidney Alexander and his wife Fanny were natives of Sharkey County and rights activists. In addition to serving as an administrator for anti-poverty programs, Alexander was active in voter registration efforts and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

In 1967, Alexander was a co-plaintiff in the Willis v. Carson suit. Willis v. Carson challenged the state of Mississippi’s systematic measures designed to prevent women and African-Americans from serving on juries.


“Lillie Willis and Sidney Alexander, Plaintiffs, v. Joe Carson et al., Defendants.”Accessed through LexisNexis on September 7, 2007.

“Sidney Alexander.”Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Collection. Howard University.

“Willis v. Carson.”Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute Archives: The Bancroft Library. University of California at Berkeley.

McInnis, Hattie V.J.

McInnis was the first music teacher of Leontyne Price and the first minority columnist for the Laurel Leader-Call (then known as the Laurel Daily Leader). She and her husband owned a funeral parlor on Meridian Avenue in northeast Laurel. Her weekly column “News for the Colored Reader”ranged from calendars of social events to essays critical of the treatment of the black community. “In a 1950 entry, she reacted to racist demagogues in the political arena: ‘The time has come for candidates to solicit votes on their own good merits, not by arousing prejudice, hatred, or ill-feelings toward another candidate or race group. We do not appreciate anyone using us (the black community) as an open wedge to their office holding.'”In another article she called for equal pay for minority teachers, as well as equal treatment in other areas. “We all want better pay for our teachers, sewage and good streets for our home, decent consideration in our courts and lights and fewer open ditche[s] in our neighborhood. We want all these things because we help pay for them.” McInnis died in 1976 and was buried in the Nora Davis Cemetery.


Laurel Remembrances by Cleveland Payne published in 1996.

Decell, Hal

Hal Decell was the editor, publisher, and co-owner of the “Deer Creek Pilot”, Sharkey County’s newspaper of widest circulation, for thirty-nine years, including the civil rights era. The “Deer Creek Pilot”is based in Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Decell and his wife, the daughter of newspaper owners, bought a portion of the “Deer Creek Pilot”in 1949.

In 1955, Decell served as then-gubernatorial candidate J.P. Coleman’s press director.

On May 2, 1956, Decell was hired by Governor J.P. Coleman to serve as the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission’s first press relations director for $7,294.41 per year. The Sovereignty Commission was established with a $250,000 appropriation and a two-year mandate to protect Mississippi’s “way of life,”namely, segregation.

By March of 1958, Decell had grown disenchanted with the Commission. Following an attempted investigation into a chapter of the NAACP and an unfavorable report by the State Auditor on the Commission’s use of its appropriations, Decell resigned.

In 1961, Decell won the prestigious Golden Quill Award given by the International Conference of Weekly Newspaper Editors for an editorial criticizing Governor Ross Barnett and the White Citizen’s Council. Decell’s wife and partner, Carolyn, also published editorials. Throughout the 1960s, Decell was critical of Mississippi’s leadership, particularly on the Legislature’s practice of allegedly appropriating money to the White Citizen’s Council.

During the push for public school integration, Decell was active in promoting stability and maintaining open schools while Mississippi’s legislature was considering closing some schools to avoid integration.

In 1966, Decell won the Silver Em Award presented by the University of Mississippi Department of Journalism for the journalist “whose career exemplifies the highest ideals of American journalism.”


“Hal DeCell.”Garrett Ray. International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors Biographies. 1986.

Skates, John R.

John Ray Skates was a noted political and military historian born in Sharkey County in 1934. He served as a professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and President of the Mississippi Historical Society. His “Mississippi: A Bicentennial History”includes coverage of the civil rights era.


Boelens, Peter

Peter Boelens was an activist who, following graduation from medical school, moved to Cary, Mississippi, in Sharkey County and established a health center in 1972. The Cary Christian Center health center went on to expand into health cooperatives across Sharkey County. He told this story in Delta Doctor, written with Maureen Rank.


“Mississippi on the Mind and Cuba.” W.T. Whitney, Jr. People’s World.

“Remembering Dr. Peter Boelens”.