By Janice K. Neal-Vincent
During its Sixth Annual Back in the Day Black History Month celebration, New Hope Baptist Church (5202 Watkins Drive, Jackson, MS), February 9, recognized four prominent citizens who are impacting the lives of many.
Alice M. Scott became the first African American and female to be elected as mayor of the city of Canton; Robert Smith, MD, has served the Mississippi Medical community for many years as a general practitioner; Barnie A. Robinson McGee, long-time educator in the Canton and Jackson Public Schools, served as state president of a national sorority; and Hollis Watkins, is one of the founders of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations.
In their own words, the living legends shared their stories amidst the New Hope family and friends. “Standing on the shoulders means you give others credit for stepping out to do what they didn’t do but wanted to do,” said Scott. The former educator and principal explained that she was part of five films while she was mayor “but the one I’m most proud of is “A Time to Kill.” Scott, instrumental in bringing the NISSAN plant to Canton, made it clear that as an advocate and humanitarian she strives to deal fairly with people by acknowledging their dignity and self-worthiness.
When Smith recognized those among the huge audience whose shoulders upon which he stood, the majority rose to their feet with thunderous applause. Reflecting on the Civil Rights Movement, the founder of a number of community medical facilities in Miss. mentioned his role as one of few African-American physicians who would treat injured civil rights workers. “Following the assassination of Medgar Evers, I went crazy. Two weeks later we picketed the American Medical Association. Most people don’t realize changes in Medicare and Medicaid, which extended life expectancy by twenty years, came about because of the Civil Rights Movement,” he said. McGee recalled being educated in a one-room school that was heated by a pot belly stove. “We cut sugar cane and made our own molasses. We had mules to pull our ploughs and wagons. It was rare for a black family in those days to have such means. We went from greatness to nothing because envious neighbors ruined our home and all our possessions. We ended up sharecropping. We landed in a place called Black Jack in Starkville.”
Inspired by Medgar Evers, she participated in boycotts and was jailed in the early 60’s at the Coliseum Fairground in Jackson. McGee remains a dedicated Civil Rights advocate. “I found out that I was poor when I first enrolled as a student at Tougaloo College. My parents only made $700 a year. When I told the students, they laughed and said that I was really poor.” Watkins explained that many African Americans who had made significant strides and gains were not mentioned in books. “So I wrote to put the truth out there,” he said. “We wanted the movement to be called the Human Rights Movement. There were more women involved than men. The main thing that caused me to get involved in the struggle was thinking about what my father said, “Always stand up for what is right, even if you’re the only one.” The dirt roads saved our lives because when the white folks chased us, the dirt rose up and they couldn’t find us.” To the young people, Watkins said, “This is your time. You can do things today that I can’t do. Trust in God. He is all powerful and He will see you through.”
Watkins ended his talk by leading the crowd into a freedom song to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s familiar Banana Boat song. Jerry Young, New Hope Baptist Church’s pastor, noted: “It’s unthinkable for us to be under the blood, sweat and tears of those in the struggle to not have the initiative to go on. There’s going to be an election in 2018. If you don’t like what you’ve got, you change it in America. Go vote to help chart the course of the future. The heritage and history of our honored legends give us hope.”
Jackson Metropolitan Retired Community Chorale courted the listeners with Moses Hogan’s arrangement of Ain’t That Good News and Uzee Brown Jr.’s Travelling Shoes. International artist, Sebronette Barnes-Aborom, accompanied by Anita Jackson, retired JSU professor of music, mesmerized the crowd with the Negro spiritual, Swing Lo Sweet Chariot, Margaret Vaughn’s arrangement of Hold On and I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.
Remaining events at New Hope Baptist Church are slated for February 16 and 23 at 6 p.m. in he Family Life Center gymnasium. This official bicentennial project was made possible by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, through support from the Mississippi Development Authority.
For further information contact Flonzie Brown-Wright, coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 937-470-0627.