JONESTOWN—Black History Month in February is known for recognizing individuals whose achievements are known nationwide, but there are those who have achieved much, too.
Tasheena Galmore recognized many African-Americans have made a difference in Coahoma County and felt their accomplishments have been overlooked. In an effort to do something about that, she organized a “Coahoma County’s African-American Culture” event at her church where she teaches Sunday School, New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Jonestown last Sunday. The church’s pastor, Rev. Rodney Threatt, helped put the event together.
The first African-Americans to hold positions were recognized.
Galmore’s son, Isaiah, a freshman at Coahoma Early College High School, inspired the event.
“My son, actually, is the author of all this. Back in October, he had a project to do about African-American businesswomen,” she said. “He had a list of people. I told him go back and tell your teacher, ‘We’ve got our own.’
Christopher Turner spoke about the occasion and said many have heard of African-Americans such as Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
“Today, we pause to celebrate and honor trendsetters that are present with us today,” Turner said. “Your names may not be in our history books, but to us, you are a part of African-American history. Because of your courage, you have helped to open opportunities to help us to be the police chief, the next mayor, the next chancery clerk, the next attorney, the next sheriff and the next superintendent of education and so many more. And, for that, we thank you.”
Tyree Irving, who was recognized for being the first African-American law clerk for the Supreme Court of Mississippi, is a retired judge for the Mississippi Court of Appeals and spoke about “African-American Litany” and the struggles he faced.
“I grew up on a plantation in the middle of the Delta seven miles north of Highway No. 7 and I just retired a year ago from the second highest court in the state,” Irving said. “That’s what my God could do. Prior to that, I practiced law for about 23 years.”
Irving said he was the city attorney for Jonestown in the late 1970s.
Mary Smith-Galmore, currently the Jonestown town clerk, was also the town’s first African-American postmaster. Jasmine Burton introduced her.
“I’m not a politician, so I’m not going to stay long,” Smith-Galmore said. “I just want to say thank you to my family, my friends and the Mary Bethel family and especially Tasheena Galmore.”
Gregory Neely III presented Greg Hoskins, the first African-American police chief in Clarksdale from 2006 to 2012. Hoskins said Henry Espy gave him his first summer job and the opportunity to be police chief.
Hoskins told a story about Nelson Mandela in law school and the way he dealt with a racist Professor Peters.
“He was a racist and he didn’t like Nelson, so one day Nelson decided that he was going to sit with the professor at lunch,” Hoskins said. “When he sat down beside the professor, the professor said, ‘Birds don’t eat with pigs.’ Mandela, being as smart as he was, said, ‘I guess I’ll fly away.’”
Jacqueline Ewing presented Demetria Jackson, who is in her second term as Coahoma County circuit clerk.
“Thank you everyone and God be glory,” Jackson said.
Lillian Galmore presented Brenda Mitchell, who is in her third term as the 11th circuit district attorney. Mitchell knew her job would not be easy, but she accepted the challenge.
“I know this is a job that is not popular, but it is a job that must be done,” she said. “It must be done by someone who is fair, someone who is honest and someone who will have compassion when required.”
Carolyn Parham is in her second term as Coahoma County Chancery Clerk. Jordan Turner presented Parham.
Parham said she appreciated being elected.
“I also appreciate you all taking us and accepting us into this community,” she said. “I don’t know if everybody knows we are not originally from Coahoma County. We are from Oxford, Miss., but we have spent our adult life here.”
Former tax assessor/collector Hattie Shivers, with three generations of family members on hand, was presented by Ann Williams, who currently holds the position.
“I appreciate you all, your votes and allowing me not to be served, but to serve you,” Shivers said.
Current Sheriff Charles Jones presented former Sheriff Andrew Thompson.
“Over the years, I’ve watched you,” Jones said. “If you served in this capacity as a law enforcement officer, as a sheriff in the 80s, I can only imagine what you went through in the 80s. With what I’m going through right now, I can only imagine what you went through in the 80s.
Thompson was Sheriff from 1988 to 2009. He began his career in 1975 as a deputy sheriff under former Sheriff Tom Hopkins.
“I was working for the county and I was talking to different people in the county,” Thompson said. “One day I was at the corner of Sunflower and First Street and Sheriff Tom Hopkins, who I started my law enforcement career under, said one day there will be a black Sheriff in Coahoma County. I think at that point I was anointed to become the first black Sheriff in Coahoma County.
Curtistine Neely was the first black town clerk in Jonestown and Coahoma County. Pearline Johnson, who served as town clerk in Jonestown for 41 years, introduced Neely.
“I want to thank the organizers for this award,” Neely said. “I feel so humbled now. I’m in a room with a lot of people here. I want to thank everybody in here. I want to thank my family, friends and God.”
Otis Griffin, the first African-American sheriff in Panola County, served in a predominately white community. He went on to work for the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Office and talked about the importance of getting involved.
“You can’t go in and be just like anybody else,” Griffin said. “They look at you differently. They want you to do a little bit more. They want you to really shine, but our biggest problem always comes from us.
“You’ve got to pave the way for somebody else. Power comes in numbers. We have to be smart enough to realize, know and understand.”
Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy presented his father Henry Espy, who was the first black mayor in Clarksdale.
Chuck opened by acknowledging how Jonestown helped start his political career at age 23 in 1999. That was the first time he ran for state representative.
“Thank God my opponent didn’t come to Jonestown,” Chuck said. “We were going neck-and-neck. I was getting beat by six points here in one box, 15 in another, like a trend was starting to emerge by a hundred and some votes. I was losing. And then nobody knew where the box was from Jonestown.”
Chuck said he carried 80 percent of the votes in Jonestown. He talked about how his father also faced struggles.
“In this man’s time, when he first got on the scene, they didn’t like him, but he said he was going to speak the truth and stand for people in our community,” Chuck said.
Henry Espy felt being mayor was a team effort.
“I accept this award only on behalf of those who prayed for me, those who voted for me and those who struggled for me,” Henry said. “My struggle was like a football team and I know the season just got over. There’s 11 men on the team.”
He said he just happened to be the halfback everyone created the hole for.
Isaiah Galmore introduced Roosevelt Lee, the first African-American to represent District 5 for the Coahoma County Board of Supervisors. Lee is in his first term and said his dad taught him how to get ahead. His family always woke up at 5 a.m. and he carried that mindset with him.
“The Lord has been good to me,” said Lee about being a Supervisor. “I never thought I’d be able to leave that kind of legacy, but I talked with the Lord about it.”