City & county folks


City & county folks

1. Sam Calvert and Roger Cooperwood were Aberdeen’s first black aldermen, both elected in 1980. Another black alderman, Wilchie Clay, has been serving since May 1984.

2. Albert Gordon was the first black alderman in the town of Ecru. He took office July 1, 1985, and served through the end of June 1989. He ran and was re-elected again in June 1993 and is still in office.

3. Terry Chewe, Pontotoc’s first black alderman, began serving in that office on July 1, 1985. He still serves as a city alderman.

4. Robert Swinney was Booneville’s first black alderman. He came on board in July 1985 and served for two terms.

5. Tommie Beasley, elected in 1993, is New Albany’s first black city alderman.

6. Boyce Grayson was Tupelo’s first black alderman. He served from July 1, 1977, to June 30, 1993.

7. Eddie Lee Smith was Holly Spring’s first black alderman, elected in 1977. He is also the city’s first black mayor, elected in 1989. Previously, he worked 31 years in the state’s educational institutions, including 25 years as an administrator at Rust College.

8. Edward S. Bishop was Corinth’s first black mayor. He was in office from Oct. 19, 1989, to Nov. 7, 1994. He also served as alderman from October 1974 to October 1989.

9. Charles Penson was the first black personnel director for the city of Tupelo, working in that position from May 26, 1980, until Aug. 14, 1987.

10. Ernest Kennedy, now deceased, was the first black person on the New Albany Park Commission. He was chosen for the position in March 1976. Kennedy was a former coach at B.F. Ford High School and Daniel High School.

11. Eugene Steward was Benton County’s first black supervisor, elected as District 1 supervisor in 1992. He served one term.


12. Thomas C. Guido is the first black man to serve as fire chief in Chickasaw County. He was fire chief in the Buena-Vista community from January 1990 to January of this year. During his administration, the department grew to include six certified firefighters, three emergency medical responders, a staff of 15 volunteers, a new building, a 1995 International pumper and four other trucks.

“Most of all, we were able to pull the community together,” he said.

He took office Jan. 2 this year in Chickasaw County as District 1 supervisor, one of the first black men to be elected as a Chickasaw County supervisor since Reconstruction.

13. John Clanton was the first black firefighter for the city of Tupelo. He began work there Oct. 1, 1973, and continued until April 26, 1995.

14. Bernard Hobson was the first full-time black fireman employed in the Pontotoc City Fire Department. He began Jan. 2, 1995.


15. E.J. Bobo is Calhoun County’s second black deputy sheriff. He was appointed March 15, 1985, and still works in that position.

16. George Warren was the first black policeman for the city of Tupelo. He joined the force Oct. 15, 1966, and served until June 30, 1991.

17. Osborne Bell was Marshall County’s first black sheriff. He was elected in January 1980 and served as sheriff until he was killed in the line of duty on May 7, 1986. He was the first black person elected as sheriff in Mississippi since Reconstruction.

18. Bobby Jones was Booneville’s first black acting police chief, appointed for an interim term of April to June 1988. He was also the first black assistant police chief, appointed in the fall of 1988 and serving until his retirement in Feb. 1990.

It’s in your court

19. James Griffin was the first black justice court judge for the north post in Benton County, elected in 1988. He resigned during his second term to run for supervisor, 2nd District (a post that he won).

20. Marjorie Jimmerson was the first black person on the county payroll in the Benton County chancery clerk’s office. She began working there in May 1988 and remains as deputy chancery clerk, assistant purchasing clerk and youth court clerk.

21. Bobbie Davis, elected in 1995, is Clay County’s first black circuit clerk.

22. Bennie Mae Buford Freeman was the first black youth court counselor in the 18th Chancery Court District of Mississippi. She retired in 1987 after eight years as youth court counselor.


23. Walker and Turner, formed in 1972 in West Point, achieved distinction as the oldest black law partnership practicing in Mississippi. (The name has changed: One partner left, effective Dec. 1 of last year; the firm became Walker and Associates on Jan. 1, 1996.)

24. James Ford was the first black attorney to practice in the Lee County area. He began his Tupelo law practice on July 1, 1973. Previously, he had practiced in Oxford with the North Mississippi Rural Legal Services for three years.

25. Reuben Anderson was the first black graduate of the University of Mississippi’s School of Law in 1967. He made history again in 1985 when he became the first black justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, from which he retired in 1990. He returned to the Oxford campus in 1995 to fill the prestigious Jamie Lloyd Whitten Chair of Law and Government.


26. David High was the first black board member with the Pontotoc Electric Power Association. He was appointed in September 1993 to fill the unexpired term of Farrell Berryhill, a director who died.


27. In 1987, the first black students to attend Tupelo Christian Preparatory School were Tyrae “T.J.” Jamison, son of Tyree Jamison and Carolyn Jamison of Tupelo; Carlos Ellis, son of the late Donna Traylor and grandson of Helen Traylor of Tupelo; and Britt Stone, daughter of Nathaniel Stone Jr. and Patrice Stone of Tupelo.

28. The first recorded attendance of a black student at Blue Mountain College is the fall of 1968, when Brenda Cotton of Ripley enrolled. She attended classes for one year.

29. Joe Ferguson, who enrolled in 1968, was the first black student to attend Itawamba Community College. He was also the first black athlete to join the basketball team, the ICC Indians. Today he coaches girls’ basketball at Nettleton High School.

30. Richard E. Holmes was the first black student to enroll at Mississippi State University, enrolling on July 19, 1965. Today he and his family live in Birmingham, where he is an emergency room physician serving several hospitals. In 1991, MSU named its Cultural Diversity Center for Dr. Holmes.


31. Leonard Holland was the first black attendance center principal for Vardaman Attendance Center from 1986 to 1990. He was also the first black principal for Calhoun City Attendance Center from 1990 to 1993, until the school system reorganized. He is now principal at Calhoun City High School. Previously, he served as principal at Calhoun City Middle School (1978 to 1983) and Bruce High School (1983 to 1986).

32. Charles Harris, appointed in 1983, was the first black person appointed to the New Albany school board.

33. William G. Anderson was the first black school board member for the Booneville school district. He began in 1979 and served for one year before it was determined that his position as a city policeman might be a conflict of interest. His wife, Betty Anderson, was appointed to complete the four-year term.

34. Dr. Bernard Hamilton is Clay County’s first black school superintendent. He began serving in 1994.

35. Debra Mabry was the first black instructor at ICC. She was an instructor with the associate degree nursing program in the late 1970s. She also served later as the program’s interim director.

36. Arzell Wilson of Amory was the first black administrator at NEMCC. Wilson, who came to Northeast in 1973, has been serving as guidance counselor for the past 22 and one-half years.

37. James L. Jones of Corinth was the first black instructor at NEMCC. He was a biology instructor from 1977 until retiring in 1992.

38. Dr. Louis Westerfield is Ole Miss’ first black dean. In 1994, he assumed his post as the dean of the University of Mississippi School of Law.

39. Dr. Lucius L. Williams Jr. of Oxford was the first black administrator at Ole Miss, starting in 1975. At the time of his death in September 1990, he was assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs, associate dean of education, director of the summer session and professor of educational administration. In 1991, the Learning Center (which he almost singlehandedly organized and directed from 1976 to 1984) was renamed in his honor.

40. The National Black Graduate Student Association Inc. is currently headquartered at Mississippi State University. The national administrative offices will be housed there at least until 1997, when the affiliation will be routinely evaluated. Founded in 1990 at the University of Michigan, the association is a not-for-profit student organization devoted to improving the status of black students seeking graduate or professional degrees.


41. Ben Williams was Ole Miss’ first black football player. Williams, who now owns a construction company in Jackson, was a defensive lineman from 1972 to 1975 and a three-time All-SEC performer. He was named to Churchman’s Sports Hall of Fame All-American Team in 1975. His fellow students chosen him as Colonel Rebel, the University’s highest elective office for a male student. After graduating in 1976, he pursued a pro football career with the Buffalo Bills and was an all-pro performer in 1982. He was named to the Bills’ Silver Anniversary All-Time Team in 1984.

42. Frank Dowsing Jr. of Palmetto (now deceased) was the first black football player at MSU and the only black Mr. MSU (to date). In 1967, he became one of the first group of black students at Tupelo High School under the state’s Freedom of Choice integration plan. That same year, he was one of the first three black athletes to play football in the previously all-white Mississippi public schools. He enrolled at MSU in 1969, played defensive back and was later selected All-SEC and All-American. He graduated with honors in 1973.

He worked as a district manager with AT&T in California before illness forced his retirement. He enrolled at Memphis Theological Seminary and became active in Palmetto CME Church, then died in 1994 at age 43. He was instrumental in starting a scholarship program, which the Tupelo-Aberdeen CME District named after him before his death.

43. Willie T. Jackson is the first black football coach at Thrasher School. He began in 1980 and, although he is now semi-retired, he still teaches and is active in coaching.


44. Mississippi State University elected Steven Cooper as the university’s first black student body president in the spring of 1989. (It was his second bid; he ran unsuccessfully in 1985.) The honor also earned him the distinction of becoming the first black person elected to lead students at any of Mississippi’s historically white public universities.

His vice president was also a black student, Kelvin Covington. Covington moved into the leadership role the next year, when he became MSU’s second black student body president in 1990.

45. Timothy Southward of Tishomingo was the first black member of the Northeast Hall of Fame at NeMCC in 1989.

46. Ophebia High of Baldwyn was the first black homecoming queen at NeMCC in 1989, the first black Miss Northeast (elected by the student body) in 1990 and the first black Miss Northeast to compete in the Miss Mississippi Pageant, also in 1990.

47. Kimsey O’Neal of Carthage was chosen as the University of Mississippi’s first black Miss Ole Miss in the fall of 1989. It was during her fourth year at Ole Miss and her first year of pharmacy school. It was also her fourth year as a member of the Ole Miss Lady Rebels basketball team, on which she served as starting center. The Miss Ole Miss title is the University’s highest elective honor for a female student. She is the daughter of Silas and Helen O’Neal of Carthage.

48. Ole Miss elected its first black student as Most Beautiful in February 1996. She is Debbie McCain of Batesville, a graduate student and the daughter of Charles and Ernestine McCain. She also won Homecoming court honors as a junior and senior at Ole Miss, as well as the titles of Miss Northwest Community College and Most Beautiful at Northwest. She is the seventh in her family of 10 children to earn degrees at Ole Miss.

She received a bachelor’s degree in English in 1994, and was named to the Hall of Fame while an undergraduate. This semester she is completing a graduate assistantship in the Ole Miss Learning Center and a practicum with the Pre-Admissions Office.

Asked about going down in the Ole Miss history books with her pageant win, McCain said, “This title has its own uniqueness, but I don’t want to harp on race. I’m human first, I’m a woman and oh, I’m black.”


49. Holly Springs will soon be home to a new resource for devotees of black history. Plans are for the African American Museum to be located in the Bessie Jones’ House, now under restoration at 260 N. Randolph St. in Holly Springs. The restoration project and the museum are being sponsored by the Holly Springs Federated Improvement Club.

The residential showplace was built in the early 1800s by a slave owner and later sold to a black family in 1897. Then in 1917, the property was sold to the Bessie Jones family. The house later served as a boarding house for the Mississippi Industrial College and Rust College students, the headquarter for Universal Life Insurance Company for North Mississippi and a temporary men’s dormitory for Rust College after the old one burned in 1940. The house deteriorated over the years after the Jones family moved to Chicago in the 1960s and sold all the other property. To offer contributions or receive more information, call Leona Harris at 252-5348 or 252-2687 or Bennie Freeman at 252-2579.


50. Black genealogy research got a high-tech Internet boost recently at MSU. An African-American mailing list and a related Web site, AFRIGENEAS, was recently moved to MSU from North Carolina A&T University. The mailing list focuses on genealogical research and resources in general and on African ancestry in particular. The list address is: The list moderator, Valencia King Nelson of Anniston, Ala., may be contacted via e-mail at The wed address is: For more information, call Donald J. Mabry, associate dean of Mississippi State’s College of Arts and Science, at 325-7095.

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