By CARL SMITH
Monuments honoring key national figures who championed race relations and education remain covered by tarps at the Oktibbeha County Education Building, but supervisors say they are working to not only remove those in the future, but also add plaques honoring local civil rights advocates.
Following an initial interview Saturday with Oktibbeha County Supervisor Joe Williams, the District 5 representative said he will present a list of potential county residents who could be honored at Unity Park, an action he said could lead to the monuments’ full public unveiling.
Williams said he will present that list at a future county board meeting. Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer confirmed the group will not hold its recess meeting Tuesday due to a lack of business to warrant the meeting.
The board of supervisors approved construction plans for Unity Park in 2011. The outdoor green space was a portion of the plans slated for the almost-$2 million county education building located between Mugshots and the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Annex on West Main Street. Construction of the education building finished in 2011.
Seven plaques honoring national figures including President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Phillip Randolph were placed but covered by tarp. Two of those plaques, architect Roger Pryor said, were left blank and can be engraved to honor others in the future if the county chooses to do so. One plaque presenting a timeline of Oktibbeha County civil rights events and other key dates was placed in the center of the arrangement.
A visual inspection by Starkville Daily News Saturday confirmed five of the seven plaques are engraved. A cost estimate for removing, engraving and replacing an individual plaque was not available at press time.
It is unclear who gave the order to keep the plaques covered since their placement, but Williams said in an initial interview Saturday individuals in the community want more local representation in terms of the monuments before the park’s full unveiling. Williams stepped forward during a fall board meeting to work with residents to meet their needs for the park.
“There was citizen outcry pertaining to the fact that proper representation was not taking place (in regard to the plaques) with local grassroots individuals. Many felt Oktibbeha County citizens were under-represented,” he said in the initial interview. “We’re now gathering a committee of individuals to try and make some decisions in terms of what would be sufficient to go on at least one of those plaques.”
When first asked if the tarps covering the completed plaques could be removed now and if future dedication ceremonies honoring local civil rights advocates could be held in the future, Williams said that “has not been the wishes of individuals” he has contacted.
“They wish to have more local representation added and then (unveil every Unity Park plaque) at the one time,” Williams said in the initial interview. “The situation is … we’ve had many delegates of service. If they know what’s (locally) there (on the plaques), they have motivation to come back and bring their children and family (for an unveiling ceremony).”
Williams’ announcement of possible future monuments and a potential future unveiling came after SDN interviewed him and former Oktibbeha County NAACP President Dorothy Bishop. Williams and Bishop spoke following the separate SDN interviews Saturday.
Bishop, the first female leader of the county organization, approached the board last year asking for additional local representation at the park and also general progress with its unveiling. Bishop served for more than a decade as youth adviser for the county’s Youth NAACP chapter before becoming the main entity’s first female president in 1993. She has earned numerous NAACP honors, including the 1994 Fannie Lou Hamer Award.
Bishop initially said the board should unveil the park’s plaques and continue to add more local representation. Keeping the plaques covered for more than a year since the education building’s construction, she said, does not make sense.
“… I’m just tired of it all,” Bishop said referring to the park’s delays during the initial interview. “(Unveiling Unity Park) on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday would be the perfect time to do so, and if they’re not through with adding plaques, they can continue to do that in the future.
“Sixty something years I’ve been fighting (for equality), and they couldn’t even put my name up there,” she said during the initial interview before speaking with Williams Saturday. “It needs to be unveiled for MLK; it needs to be unveiled for everybody. I’m not through fighting for this.”
When contacted, other supervisors deferred specific questions about the park’s unveiling to Williams.
“We’ve really put this issue on the back burner, but we need to go ahead, take action and finalize it,” Trainer said. “To go forward without Mrs. Bishop’s support, in my mind, would be an insult to her. We need to see if we can generate her support and also receive support from our citizens to move forward. I don’t know many others in the public who have as much passion about this issue as Mrs. Bishop does.”