Unity Park adds two new honorees in 2018

Unity Park in downtown Starkville (Photo by Mary Rumore, SDN)
Staff Writer

Rosa Stewart and Sadye Weir are the 2018 honorees for Unity Park chosen by the Unity Park Advisory Committee for their contributions to civil rights in Okitbbeha County.

Unity Park, located on Dr. Douglas L. Conner Drive in Starkville, was created to honor people who have contributed to civil rights and unity in Oktibbeha County in previous years and the years to come.

“The committee came up with the names of the people who are honored there now, then we decided to continue adding honorees each year,” Unity Park Advisory Committee Chair Jeanne Marszalek said.

The Unity Park Advisory Committee began accepting nominations for 2018 in October, and the committee selected Rosa Stewart and Sadye Weir to be honored in 2018 with a brass plaque with their names, dates of birth and dates of death.

The nominees must have lived in Oktibbeha County for a portion of his or her life, must have been deceased for at least five years, must have made a significant contribution to civil rights in

Oktibbeha County and must have advanced community unity within Oktibbeha County.

“What stood out is the fact that these women spent their entire adult lives improving the lives of African Americans in their communities,” Marszalek said. Rosa Stewart, who had a teacher’s certificate from Rust College, began teaching in 1922 at the Oktibbeha County Training School and retired as Head of the English Department in 1968 during integration when African Americans were protesting hiring policies.

Stewart spent three nights in jail after jointing the protest. Stewart was the first African American to run for city alderman, which she lost after the election process was changed from the ward system to voting at large. Stewart sued the city of Starkville and state of Mississippi and won, and the federal judge’s ruling impacted Starkville and 42 other communities in the state.

Stewart’s awards include 1967 Star Teacher, 1981 Volunteer Service Award, 1974 Alumna of the Year from Rust College and the George Evans Award in 1982. In 1978, the eighth grade building at Henderson Jr. High School was named the The Rosa Stewart Building.

Stewart was a member of Griffin United Methodist Church, National Federation of Colored Women’s Club, NAACP, Oktibbeha County Cancer Society, American Association of Retired People and the first black poll worker in Starkville as a part of the Democratic Party. Stewart was born Dec. 8, 1904, and she married Thomas Stewart and has three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

She died Sept. 7, 2004.

Sadye Weir taught at the Oktibbeha County Training School for 13 years and was in charge of the library, taught music and directed student minstrel shows. In 1943, the joined the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service and served as the first black home demonstration agent in Newton County. She also served in Winston and Lowndes counties before her retirement in 1970. She was tthe first to get permission to allow African American adults and 4-H members to display their works in county fairs, and she kept written and photographic records of the community improvements she instigated,
including installing running water, plumbing and painting in homes.

“Whenever she wanted something done with the city, she would woo them with cakes and pies,” Marszalek said. “She was a fantastic baker.”

Weir was a member of the NAACP, American Association of Retired Persons, Odd Fellows’ Cemetery Association, Oktibbeha County Library Trustee, Black Culture Committee, Chamber of Commerce and Second Baptist Church.

Weir was born Dec. 3, 1904 and was married to Robert Weir.

She died Aug. 17, 1995.

The two 2018 Unity Park honorees will be recognized on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Unity Park.