Unita Blackwell, Mississippi's First Black Female Mayor, Dies at 86
Unita Blackwell, the first black woman ever to be elected as Mayor in Mississippi, has passed away at age 86.
Unita's son, Jeremiah Blackwell Jr., revealed to CNN that his mother has passed away last Monday due to the buildup of fluid in her heart and lungs, which came after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Unita Blackwell made history in 1976 after she was elected as Mississippi's first black female mayor. This historic day came 12 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Born on March 18, 1933, she first began as an activist for equal rights for African-Americans, but she ended up becoming a pioneering force in changing the course of history for her race.
"Being black and in this country, you learn a great lesson, and this is how to overcome… It’s that power to move in the midst of opposition.”— Adam Ganucheau (@GanucheauAdam) May 13, 2019
Unita Blackwell, civil rights pillar and first black woman mayor in Mississippi, dies at 86.https://t.co/KH2B0SBsIF pic.twitter.com/y4qwri4LQP
Blackwell was an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which helped African-Americans register to vote. She was also a part of the group that traveled by bus from Mississippi to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to pressure the 1964 Democratic National Convention not to accept the all-white delegation from Mississippi.
Just confirmed some very sad news: Unita Blackwell, the civil rights pillar who became the first black female mayor in Mississippi and advised six U.S. presidents, passed away this morning at age 86. pic.twitter.com/ES5MbtmlQ1— Adam Ganucheau (@GanucheauAdam) May 13, 2019
Throughout her span of civil rights activism, she has been jailed numerous times. After the Civil Rights Act was passed, the activist and politician advised six US presidents, including Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.
Of humble beginnings
The Blackwell family was a family of sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta town, Lula, where she was born and raised. Her mom was illiterate, but she was hopeful and determined to have her kids be educated. However, since Unita was not allowed to study in Mississippi, she lived with a relative named "Aunt Big Eighty" in West Helena, Arkansas.
Our statement on the passing of former Mayersville Mayor Unita Blackwell. pic.twitter.com/hWbUfCFdhi— MS Democratic Party (@msdemocrats) May 13, 2019
When Blackwell wasn't in school or church, she was in the fields picking and chopping cotton. She would even pick up 300 pounds a day. This continued until she finished going to school.
In 1964, the Freedom Riders arrived in Mayersville, where Blackwell lived. The Freedom Riders is a group that takes buses challenging Jim Crow laws and segregation. Before the group came to their town, Unita had no idea that she could vote. However, when the Riders held a meeting, Blackwell and several others were convinced to register to vote. Unfortunately for them, they were told that they didn't pass the registration exam as at the time, the board could choose to fail anyone they wanted.
“Politics is not just about voting one day every four years. Politics is the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the road we walk on.”— Stuart Williams (@CaprockDemocrat) May 14, 2019
-- Mayor Unita Blackwell pic.twitter.com/xDSy8qDwyC
12 years after this rejection, the people of Mayersville elected her as mayor. She ended up serving multiple terms over two decades and was considered one of the most influential women in Mississippi.
Rest In Peace, Unita Blackwell.