The Legacy of Unita Blackwell
There's no job too big to benefit from a small town person's perspective, I discovered, just as there's no town too small for thinking big.
The legacy of Unita Blackwell, like the legacy of many women of the Civil Rights Movement, is neither boisterous nor loud. We do not laud our woman heroes as fervently as we do our men.
The home of civil rights icon and assassination victim Medgar Evers is now a National Park Service National Park Service monument, but the humble shack of Unita Blackwell, who challenged the segregated Democratic National Convention in 1964 and later became Mississippi’s first Black female mayor and brought modern water infrastructure to the town of Mayersville, is in ruins and in need of renovation.
Unitablackwellhistory.org seeks to uplift Blackwell and the other hard-working women who sacrificed time, sweat and health to drive the Civil Rights Movement. We would show the world that many different hands molded this nation into the democracy that it long aspired to be.
About the Project
The Unita Blackwell Legacy Project is spearheaded by the team at The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects; a minority-owned provider of leadership development for Black girls and women.
Our non-profit offers mentoring, storytelling and communications, workshops, social emotional learning, cultural education, and research.
Unitablackwellhistory.org is made possible by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, a private nonprofit funded by Congress through the National Endowment for the Humanities.
We wish to give considerable thanks to former SNCC press secretary Mary King, retired University of Georgia history professor James Cobb, former Issaquena County Alderman and civil rights worker Willie Bunton, Congressman Bennie Thompson, and the countless residents of Mayersville, Mississippi, who remain proud of Blackwell’s accomplishments.
Born to sharecroppers in 1933, Unita Blackwell, moved to Mayersville, Miss. in 1957 and became a leading figure in the civil rights battle in Mississippi. She was a project director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a founding member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Blackwell also helped cultivate the Head Start program in the Mississippi Delta. As mayor of Mayersville, Miss., she led efforts to incorporate the town and brought major improvements to the city's sewage and water infrastructure.
Blackwell served as an advisor to several U.S. Presidents, including Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.
In 1992, she received a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" for her lifelong work in promoting Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Civil Society and Community Organizing.
The work of Unita Blackwell and heroes like her is far from complete. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did eventually drag Mississippi and the South into authentic democracy, but these laws and others like them are now under relentless attack by anti-democratic elements.
Gerrymandering and vote restrictions still plague our democracy, and the wealth disparity between Black people and white people remains at historic levels, years after the tenure of our nation’s first Black president.
In addition to providing a resource for research and information unitablackwellhistory.org will soon feature news and media in the spirit of Blackwell’s enduring struggle for freedom.
Our history section pulls information from state departments of archives, history websites, and published books and reports, as well as staff interviews of people who contributed directly to the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. We’ve chosen to present our material in a familiar news-style format, complete with hyperlinks to original sources, which we hope is accommodating to modern web users.