By CARL SMITH
Local Oktibbeha County civil rights pioneers could soon be memorialized at Unity Park.
Following a public discussion Saturday on the park’s current situation — five of seven plaques honoring national figures remain covered by tarps since the park’s construction — at the Oktibbeha County Courthouse Annex, a group of concerned citizens and Supervisor Joe Williams reached a consensus to open the park as soon as possible, install two new plaques featuring local civil rights advocates and form a public committee charged with possible monument additions in the future.
Since Saturday’s discussion was only a public hearing, no board action was taken. An additional meeting will be held 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the same venue so Williams can take in more public suggestions and finalize the plan. He said he hopes to present the finalized plan to the board of supervisors during its first February meeting tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 4.
Dorothy Bishop, the first female Oktibbeha County NAACP president, suggested the county place two separate plaques — one each for men and women who fought for local equality — where blank monuments now stand. The crowd came to a consensus to honor her, Viola Johnson, Rosa Stewart, Douglas Conner, Morris Kinsey and Henry Isaac.
“Mrs. Bishop initiated much of the process of why we’re here today,” Williams said. “We are proud of the work Pryor Morrow (the architect for Unity Park and the education building) did, but we need closure for this situation.
“We were doing some of the same things (in regard to civil rights) in Oktibbeha County but were not recognized (on a national level). If you follow the Freedom Trail, you’ll come across a monument for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. Mrs. Bishop was doing the same things as she was,” Williams added, referring Hamer’s voter registration efforts across the state.
“There were brave and courageous African Americans who fought for equality and civil rights in Oktibbeha County but were never recognized. That same civil rights movement that was taking place (throughout the South) was taking place right here. We would like to lay hold to that movement. They paved the way for things like elections for George Curry (the first African American elected to the county board of supervisors).”
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer and District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard joined the crowd for Saturday’s discussion. Howard said the park’s opening was delayed by an unclear plan on how to nominate local advocates.
“I don’t think the five-man board of supervisors should be the ones who say who goes into the park or not. My (original) plan was to take a cross section of Oktibbeha County, form a committee and let it set criteria that must be met for nominations and inductions,” Howard said.
No guidelines were discussed on how to form a committee, who would serve on it or the criteria for nominations.
One attendee suggested leaving a plaque blank to symbolize the continuing struggle for equality, while another said the Bible’s Beatitudes should be inscribed on a monument, offering blessings for those who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
All agreed Unity Park’s monuments should be uncovered and publicly dedicated as soon as possible.