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Mississippi Black History Makers: Catalysts of Change

By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.,

Contributing Author,

Congressman Bennie Gordon Thompson, Attorney Constance Iona Slaughter-Harvey, Judge Tomie T. Green, Dr. Robert L. Smith, and Dorothy Stewart Samuel

The creators of black history in Mississippi are standing tall and touching the lives of many beyond their horizons. Visionaries, motivators and risk takers, they reject the status quo by going in opposite directions to improve the world around them.

Congressman Bennie Gordon Thompson, attorney Constance Iona Slaughter-Harvey, Justice Tomie T. Green, Dr. Robert L. Smith and Dorothy Stewart Samuel were influenced by civil rights activists Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and others. They have stood the test of time as stimulators of positive change.

Mississippi’s longest-serving African-American elected official and the only Democrat on Mississippi’s congressional delegation, Thompson has fought his entire life for the rights of all people. An effective problem solver, he is a passionate public servant. As a civil rights activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he organized voter registration drives in the Delta for African Americans while a student at Tougaloo College. A former teacher, the politician has served as the U.S. Representative for Mississippi’s 2nd congressional district since 1993. A former mayor and alderman of Bolton, his hometown, he was a founding member of the Mississippi Association of Black Mayors and an elected county supervisor of Hinds. He authored legislation creating the National Center for Minority Health and Health Care Disparities, which later became law.

Forrest County attorney Constance Iona Slaughter-Harvey accused the Mississippi State Highway Patrol of Ku Klux Klan practices.

“Their mission was to keep us in line,” she said. Therefore, in retaliation, she changed Mississippi’s course in state trooper hiring practices when she sued six months after graduating as the first African-American woman in college. of Law from the University of Mississippi in 1970. Two years later, the first black soldiers in the state: Walter Crosby, Lewis Younger and RO Williams were hired.

This new normal has produced startling public stares for years amid shattered racial barriers. Now, 50 years later, Slaughter-Harvey, Mississippi’s first black female judge, said, “They never got the recognition and appreciation they truly deserve.”

Despite this observation, Williams argued that working to ensure public safety and enforce traffic laws on state and federal roads, highways, and highways is a “dangerous but good profession.” “I just wish Walter Crosby [who died Dec. 8, 2021 at age 71] could be here today.

“My goal is to improve the accessibility, efficiency, and accountability of the criminal and civil justice system…for fairness, respect, dignity, and fairness,” Justice Tomie T. Green explained. Green is the first African American and first woman to serve as a senior judge of the Seventh District Circuit Court (Hinds County) of Mississippi.

In 2003, Green, Court TV, local ABC affiliates, NBC and CBS aired television coverage of a multimillion-dollar state negligence case that originated in Green’s courtroom. . The story went down in history as it was the first time Court TV or local networks had aired full coverage of a trial in Mississippi. The judge initiated investigations into the Hinds County Detention Center by the Hinds County Grand Jury, the Hinds County Board of Supervisors and the U.S. Department of Justice to limit jail riots, constitutional violations and inmate injuries and deaths. Additionally, in the Mississippi Legislature, Green is promoting training, certification, and increased benefits for court personnel.

Terry native and longtime Jackson resident Dr. Robert L. Smith was exposed to medicine at the age of 10 by a white Jewish doctor who, when he retired, gave him a set of medical books. Years later (1961), he graduated from Howard University, and while preparing to accept a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology, he was called to practice in Mississippi. In 1962 he had a harsh awakening of discrimination and inequality. He joined the civil rights movement.

“I put myself in danger several times for health reasons,” he said. Smith worked closely with Medgar Evers and other members. After Evers’ assassination, he continued to treat civil rights activists injured in protests. During James Meredith’s 1966 Walk Against Fear, Smith was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal physician.

He became the first medical field director in the South and founded the Medical Committee for Human Rights to train northern doctors who traveled south to render service to civil rights workers during the summer of freedom in Jackson in 1964. He was adjunct professor at Tufts University (Boston, Mass.), Meharry Medical College (Nashville, TN), and Jackson State University. In Providence, Rhode Island, Smith was professor emeritus in the Department of Community Medicine at Brown University. He is committed to aligning the pre-health curriculum at Tougaloo College. The civil rights veteran received the Medal of Valor Award from the American Medical Association in Honolulu on November 13, 2017.

Smith admits that while improvements have been made in Mississippi, “we still have a long way to go to improve population health for both whites and blacks.”

“If you are proud of yourself, you will pretty much respect yourself and demand respect from others, and you will provide for your people. It’s up to us to create for ourselves,” said Dorothy Stewart Samuel.

Gone since July 6, 2018, but not forgotten, Stewart Samuel graduated from Holy Ghost Catholic School, studied at Jackson State College (now JSU), attended Universidad Nacional de Mexico as a Fulbright Fellow, attended the University of Mississippi, Mississippi College, Clark University (Worcester, Massachusetts) and San Francisco State University. Samuel retired from the Jackson public school system after 30 years of teaching and founded Women for Progress of MS, Inc. in 1978. The Clinton native brought her lifelong skills to the organization that promotes community awareness and change. As co-hosts, she and Willie Jones, president of Women for Progress Radio Broadcast, presented important community issues and discussions about how people can empower themselves. The show continues every Wednesday on WMPR, 90.1 at 7:30 p.m.

These pioneers tapped into their values ​​to make Mississippi a better place to live. Influenced by the civil rights movement, they have learned that their place is wherever it is necessary to make a difference.