Tupelo plans to honor first black leader

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Julian Carroll | Daily Journal file Boyce Grayson, left, is honored by former Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis for his years of public service in June 2001. More honors likely are coming for Tupelo's first black city leader.

Julian Carroll | Daily Journal file
Boyce Grayson, left, is honored by former Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis for his years of public service in June 2001. More honors likely are coming for Tupelo’s first black city leader.

By Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo resident Boyce “Hank” Grayson Sr. served in a racially integrated military and returned home to integrate city government.

Six years after Grayson died at age 77, efforts from the local chapter of the NAACP to recognize Tupelo’s first black elected official have gained traction in City Hall.

Jim Casey formally asked the City Council earlier this month on behalf of the Tupelo/Lee County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to designate Barnes Street as the “Boyce Hank Grayson Memorial Way.”

The request asks to place an attachment on signs along the street in the Park Hill neighborhood.

“He was the first African-American to serve on that council in a decision-making role after 112 years after the city was chartered,” Casey said.

Mayor Jason Shelton said he supports a public acknowledgment for the many who achieved a city milestone. However, Shelton said he may suggest street designation markers closer to Grayson’s home on North Madison Street.

“I’m going to push for some sort of honor or recognition,” he said.

Casey said he’s open to compromise and hopes an appropriate location can be selected soon.

Darletha Grayson, Boyce Grayson’s widow, said Wednesday she appreciates the city’s interest in a permanent, public recognition for her husband.

She recounted a cross burned near their home and gunshots fired toward Grayson during his early political career.

“He was most proud of having minorities as equal as possible with whites,” she said. “He wanted us to come together like Martin Luther King.”

After Grayson decided not to seek re-election, another black resident, Nettie Davis, was elected to the majority black Ward. In July, she made history as the first black City Council president.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com