By Jackie Hampton,
Attorney Constance Slaughter-Harvey was the first African-American woman to graduate from the Ole Miss School of Law and soon after graduation filed a suit that would enable blacks to serve as troopers in the State of Mississippi when at the time there were none.
In an interview with The Mississippi Link, Slaughter recalled the days when seeing a state trooper brought fear and anger to her and other African Americans. She said many troopers were members of the Ku Klux Klan(KKK) and when stopped, blacks had to endure insults and name calling. She remembers thinking, “they should not get paid for insulting people.” It was this behavior that inspired her soon after graduating from law school, to file a law suit so that brave blacks could also be state troopers. She said “I was committed to making a change. “The change she fought for became a reality when R. O. Williams, Lewis Younger and Walter Crosby became the first African-American state troopers in 1972.
On July 30, former troopers, for whom she fought in that law suit, held a press conference in her honor at the Masonic Temple in Jackson. Williams, who was the spokesman and an organizer for the press event, said, “We are here to say thank you to Connie for her years of service and dedication. He went on to say, “We refer to her as Mother Pearl because It was her tenacity, skills, dedication and her dislike of the HWY Patrol that made us who we are today.”
Charles Jackson, a retired trooper from Missouri, on behalf of the troopers, presented Slaughter-Harvey with a trophy bearing the Eagle Mascot of her Alma Mata, Tougaloo College. He said, “It’s because of what you did here that opened the doors for us in Missouri and across the nation; and if it had not happened here, I’m not sure whether any of us would be standing here today.”
Jackson later told The Mississippi Link, “It is no telling how long it would have been before black troopers were hired in Mississippi, had it not been for Attorney Slaughter-Harvey. He said, “We need to always honor those who paved the way for us.”
Lewis Younger said the original plan was to honor her with a banquet July 28 but due to Covid-19 they decided against it. He said they still wanted to move forward in honoring her 50 years after the law suit was first filed and therefore planned the press conference. Younger recalled the original law suit was lost in state court in 1970 but Slaughter-Harvey won it in the Federal Court of Appeals June 28, 1972 and thus the three, Williams, Younger and Crosby, graduated and became state troopers September 1, 1972.
Slaughter in her comments said, “I found I was an instrument of God to start the change but it was the troopers who executed the change.” She said they accepted the call during the days when the highway patrol represented the state arm of the KKK. She went on to say, “These guys didn’t stop with their graduation as patrolmen. They continued by mentoring young people.” Slaughter said she was humbled to be honored but also was left with feelings of déjà vu as she thought about what happened with the murder of George Floyd and other African Americans that have been wrongly killed at the hands of officers. She said she was getting flash backs of the fear and anger she felt 50 years ago.
Slaughter-Harvey was also presented with a letter from Helen Sims, C.E.O. of The Rev. George Lee and Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights Museums expressing their beliefs that the retirement of the confederate uniforms worn by highway patrolmen would be one of the greatest moves towards racial reconciliation. In this letter, they asked for the help and support of the same attorney that paved the way for African Americans to become state troopers when there were none.