A monumental occasion

TUPELO – When the blue tarp was pulled from the 7-foot marble monument on the Lee County Courthouse lawn, tears rolled down Mary Ann Johnson’s cheeks.

Even though dozens of people cheered and rejoiced behind her, Johnson remained in her own world. The 72-year-old woman couldn’t take her eyes off the rock in front of her. After more than 72 years of living, Johnson said she thought she’d never see a day like this one.

With everything going on around her, the only words Johnson could get out came in a whisper.

“Thank you, God. Thank you, God.”

Johnson was one of about 250 people who witnessed the unveiling of the state’s first civil rights monument on the lawn of a courthouse. People of all races piled on the courthouse lawn in anticipation of the event that many called present history.

The longer the ceremony went on, the more anxious people became to see the blue tarp removed from the 7-foot-tall and 5-foot-wide monument. Only a small portion of the marble monument was visible.

“Man it’s big,” some people commented as they tried to sneak a peek before the unveiling.

After more than an hour of ceremonial formalities, what everybody had come to see was finally revealed. As the crowd started to count down from 10, anticipation grew with every descending number.

As soon as the number one had passed through everyone’s lips, off came the tarp and out came the cheers, tears and hugs.

“This is what it was all for,” said Cecil Mitchell as he hugged his friend Brian Richardson. “Everything we went through in Lee County as a people doesn’t matter anymore. This is a good day for everyone.”

The placement of the monument on the Courthouse lawn was a hot topic in early 2008. The Coalition 4 Change, spearheaded by the Rev. James Hull, got the ball rolling on the idea.

After months of debate, the Lee County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to let the monument be placed at the courthouse.

Dedicated help
Hull said he couldn’t be happier to see the hard work and dedication of so many people come full circle.

“This monument is a testament to those who went through the civil rights movement in Lee County,” said Hull. “This took a lot of hard work by the coalition and by the community. We hope to have 81 more days like this.”

Hull said the coalition has plans to have monuments placed at courthouses in all of the 82 counties in Mississippi. The group is currently working on getting them in Clay, Monroe and Chickasaw counties.

District 4 Supervisor Tommy Lee Ivy said having the monument unveiled means Lee County is looking toward the future.

“This day is about the human race as a whole and not divided,” said Ivy. “This is going to bring us closer together.”

After the cheers died down, blacks, whites and Hispanics held hands with one another for a closing prayer.

Even though he said he realizes that we have a long way to go, resident Vincent Jefferson said this is a big step in creating a colorblind society.

“It’s not going to happen today or tomorrow or maybe not even 20 years from now,” said Jefferson. “But one day skin color won’t matter. This is the first day of change for our county and we’re going to keep building on it.”

While the crowd was still rejoicing, Johnson just admired to the huge stone.

“I’ve lived here a lot of years and have seen a lot of things, but never nothing like this,” she said. “No matter what anyone says, Lee County is a good place. All the counties in the state, and it took us to get the ball rolling.”

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/Daily Journal