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Vicksburg and Port Gibson

During Reconstruction, federal troops served as occupation forces in Mississippi until 1877. During this period of time, many blacks ventured into Vicksburg to take advantage of their new freedom. Many joined the Union Army and others started their own businesses. Some even sought employment to help rebuild the parts of Vicksburg that were heavily damaged by the Civil War. Numerous others created churches, schools, banks, and took part in political affairs. The many freedoms of blacks were short-lived when white citizens regained control at the end of Reconstruction. Black citizens endured a long, arduous wait until their equality was established by law during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950-70’s.

Sources:

http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/lroff/world_2006-2007/1145919060.html

Phelps, Marcena A.

Marcena A. Phelps participated in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi from 1960-1967. She was a member of the NAACP and SCLC. She helped register people to vote and assisted the freedom riders. When local churches used for meetings were threatened, Phelps’s home was used to hold NAACP meetings. She attended the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia as a Mississippi representative. She currently resides in Vicksburg.

Sources:

http://www.crmvet.org/vet/phelpsm.htm

First Baptist M.B. Church

Freedmen in Port Gibson founded this church in 1876. It was moved to the site that it rests on today in 1986. The church served an essential role in the Civil Rights Movement in Port Gibson. Starting in 1965, the NAACP held meetings at the church to encourage boycotts of local white merchants. The suffering white merchants filed suit over the successful boycotts, but in 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court defended the legality of the boycotts.

Sources:

“Historic Churches of Port Gibson”http://www.nostalgiaville.com/travel/Mississippi/natchez%20trace/port%20gibson/port%20gibson.htm

Lightfoot, Horace L.

Horace Lightfoot lived from 1927 to 1976. He was a tradesman, businessman, and public servant. He was a native of neighboring Claiborne County. He received his education at local schools and Alcorn A&M College. In 1960, he became the first black citizen elected to the Claiborne County Board of Education. He also successfully ran his own electrical and plumbing contracting business.

Sources:

“People of Port Gibson”http://www.nostalgiaville.com/travel/Mississippi/natchez%20trace/port%20gibson/port%20gibson.htm

Evers-Williams, Myrlie

On February 18, 1995, Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams was elected to the position of Chairman of the National Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the first woman to lead the nation’s oldest civil rights organization as a fulltime volunteer.   With the support of a strong member base of the NAACP, she is credited with spearheading the operations that restored the Association to its original status as the premier civil rights organization.

A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Evers-Williams was an honor student at Alcorn A & M College, Lorman, Mississippi, where she met and married another outstanding student, Medgar Evers.  They moved to historic Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where they embarked on business careers with Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company.  Business responsibilities demanded extensive travel in the Delta where they witnessed the burden of poverty and injustice imposed on their people.  Determined to make positive changes in that society, both Medgar and Myrlie opened and managed the first NAACP Mississippi State Office.  They lived under constant threats as they worked for voting rights, economic stability, fair housing, equal education, equal justice, and dignity.

Medgar Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963.  Evers-Williams and their three small children saw the murder at the front door of their home in Jackson, Mississippi. After suffering through two hung jury trials in the murder of her husband, she relocated with her three children to California.  Justice for the murder of Medgar Evers did not come until 31 years later.  In 1994, she was present when the verdict of guilty and life imprisonment was handed down for Byron De La Beckwith. Her persistence and faith in the pursuit of justice for the assassination that changed her life and that of her children had come to fruition.

Evers-Williams received her B.A. degree in Sociology in 1968 and a Certificate from Simmons College, School of Management, Boston, Massachusetts. In addition, she has received honorary doctorates from Pomona College, Medgar Evers College, Spellman College, Columbia College, Bennett College, Tougaloo College, and Willamette University, to name a few.

Evers-Williams has held the positions of: Director, Planning and Development for the Claremont College; first African-American woman to serve as Commissioner, Board of Public Works, Los Angeles, California; vice president, Seligman & Latz; and national director of consumer affairs, Atlantic Richfield Company. She chronicled the life of her late husband, Medgar Evers, and the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in a book, For Us, the Living.  She also anchored a special HBO production, Southern Justice: the Murder of Medgar Evers.

Her husband of 18 years, Walter Edward Williams, himself a civil rights activist, passed away two days after Mrs. Evers-Williams was elected Chairman of the Board of the NAACP.

On February 10, 1998, Evers-Williams announced that she had successfully completed her mission and would not seek another term of office but would devote her efforts to establishing the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute, linking business, government, and communities to further human rights and equality.

In 1999 Evers-Williams saw her autobiography, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be, published. In the bestseller I Dream A World: Black Women Who Changed America, Evers-Williams says that she “greets today and the future with open arms.” This credo has carried her through years of struggle and success.

Mrs. Evers-Williams spoke at the Open Doors ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi. Mrs. Evers-Williams’s speech:

Her speech can also be viewed here.

Russell, Irwin

Irwin Russell (1853- 1879) was the author of “Christman Night in the Quarters”and other poems. He won fame with his poems in the Negro dialect. A memorial located on 1055 College in Port Gibson was constructed for Russell on land once owned by Port Gibson’s founder, Samuel Gibson. Currently, it houses the Harriette Person Memorial Library, the town hall, and the mayor’s office.

Sources:

“People of Port Gibson”

http://www.nostalgiaville.com/travel/Mississippi/natchez%20trace/port%20gibson/port%20gibson.htm

http://mwp.olemiss.edu/dir/russell_irwin/index.html

Shirley, Dr. Ollye

drollyeshirleyDr. Ollye Shirley was an accomplished leader in public television, children’s programming and advocacy, civil rights activism, public education, community service, and more. She and her late husband, Dr. Aaron Shirley, were paragons of civil rights in Mississippi. (Photo: Dr. Shirley is in the center.)