We believe in celebrating the legacies and good work of rural Black women across the South. The Southern Rural Black Women’s Hall of Fame serves to do just that: to preserve, recognize and rejoice in the accomplishments of inspiring rural Black women throughout the years. These inductees are leaders and inspirations in their communities and deserve recognition for their work for the rights and betterment of others.
Our inductees and their legacies are honored in the following categories:
Mrs. Romious was best known as the owner, along with her husband, of several successful family-oriented businesses during the 1940s to 1960s.
Ms. Holmes integrated the State Department of the Mississippi American Legion Auxiliary by becoming its first Black president. This made her the second Black person to hold that office in the United States and the world.
Ms. Hamer was the Vice Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Her most nationally recognized moment as a Civil Rights leader came in 1964 when a speech she made was televised during the Democratic National Convention. She testified before the credentials committee and asked the searing question “Is this America?” where she and others like her had to live in fear because of their quest for freedom.
As one of the organizers of the Madison County Civil Rights movement, Mrs. Devine was a major force in the formation of the Madison County Freedom Democratic Party. She represented the district at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964.
Unita Blackwell was the first African-American woman to be elected Mayor in Mississippi. She is recognized worldwide for her leadership.
Ms. Luster acted as lead organizer and “numerator” for the Mule Train.
Ms. Barnes served with the Mississippi Delta Ministry, organized a Christian Fellowship Center and provided programs for underserved youth and families.
Dr. Dorsey was a former sharecropper who fought alongside Fannie Lou Hamer. She was also a Head Start teacher, director of Tuft’s Delta Health Center, charter member of MS chapter of National Association of Black Social Workers, and an active Women’s Rights Worker.
Dr. Bowman was a Civil Rights leader and the first Black woman to receive a doctorate in Theology from Boston College. She was also an educator and member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
Her involvement with the Ayers Educational Funding Case brought millions of dollars in new funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in Mississippi. She also helped bring the Head Start Program to the state.
Mrs. Young served as a Washington County Justice Court Judge in Greenville for 25 years and spent another 15 years as a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Metcalfe, MS. In 1983, she became the first African-American Justice Court Judge elected in Washington County, Mississippi.
Ms. Pryor has always been an active advocate for voter registration. In 1967, Ms. Pryor began work at the courthouse as the first African American hired in the Washington County Court House as Deputy Circuit Clerk. She was later promoted to Chief Deputy Clerk.
Ora Bee Phipps and other low income mothers decided to organize themselves and obtain a state charter for the first Head Start program in Quitman County, Mississippi. In June of 1966, a personal tragedy struck the Phipps family. Ora Bee’s husband, Armstead Phipps, Sr., suffered a heart attack and died while participating in the Meredith Mississippi March, the “March against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. After hearing of Mr. Phipps’ death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made plans to stop in Marks, MS to conduct his eulogy.
On June 12, 1992, Nerissa Virginia Wilkerson Norman claimed her place in history when she was elected as the ninth and first female mayor of the City of Mound Bayou. Mayor Norman chose to receive only $300 a month for her service because of the city great debt. Under her leadership, the city was able to resolve old debts and deficits totaling nearly $400,000.
These two unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, Winson and Dovie Hudson, began trying to register to vote in 1937 ‘‘for the heck of it.” When the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law, the Hudson sisters led a massive registration drive in Leake County, signing up 500 new voters in one year.
Mrs. McCoy rooted her entire teaching career in the Yazoo City Public Schools where she served as Choral Director. In 1996, she received the “Teacher of the Year” award for the Yazoo City Municipal School District and became a finalist in 1997 for the statewide “Teacher of the Year” competition. In 1999 she was the recipient of the Yazoo Herald’s “Citizen of the Year Award”. In October 2002, The Yazoo Municipal School District named the new elementary school in honor of Mrs. Jevonne Keller McCoy.
Most noted for serving her community as the Tallahatchie County Election Commissioner from 1996 to 2004, Ms. Ellis was responsible for ensuring that the voter’s roll was correct. She certified elections, selected poll workers, and ensured that the election was a smooth transition. She demonstrated the importance of grass-root individuals becoming a part of the change agent process.
An industrious worker in Sharkey and Issaquena County, Hanna Obie Collins served forty-two years as a nurse midwife. She delivered hundreds of babies in the Mississippi Delta. She also mentored and provided support to many young mothers in the area. Referred to by most community residents as “Mama Hanna”, Hanna Obie Collins delivered over 15 of her own grandchildren and a number of her eldest great-grandchildren.
Public schools throughout Mississippi were desegregated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the state enacted what it called a freedom-of-choice law and used it to intimidate African-Americans into remaining in inferior Black schools. In the fall of 1965, just after Mae Bertha and Matthew Carter enrolled 7 of their 13 children in local white schools, the owner of the plantation told the Carters to withdraw them. Eventually, eight of the Carter’s children graduated from what had been all-white schools in Sunflower County; five older children graduated from local Black schools. Eleven also graduated from college — seven from the once-segregated University of Mississippi, an unmatched achievement.
She enjoyed sixteen years of teaching in the Clarksdale City School District and twenty years as the food services coordinator for Coahoma Opportunities, Incorporated (COI) Head Start before losing her hearing in 1985. During the ten years of total deafness, Mrs. Blackburn joined the Senior Olympics and won seven medals on the state level and volunteered for ten to fifteen hours a week at COI Head Start and the Retired Senior Program (RSVP).
Ms. Cummings was the first African-American woman attorney in Albany, GA and the first African-American woman to serve on the Albany City Commission and to be elected to the state legislature.
Ms. Shipp was the first African-American woman to be elected to serve on the City Council in Sylvester, GA. She is also a business woman and owner of a funeral home in Sylvester. She is the recipient of several NAACP awards.
She marched alone in front of the Coffee County Board of Education, protesting unfair hiring practices, severe and harsh punishment of African-American students and failure to teach African-American studies.
Ms. Miller was a model of courage in a terrorized county known for a sheriff who killed 5 Black men and left another for dead. When two Civil Rights activists were being bloodied by members of the KKK in Baker County on Bloody Sunday in 1965, she threw her body in front of several ax handles being used on the men, saving their lives.
She was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and was arrested at a SNCC demonstration. In 1973 Ms. Reagon founded “Sweet Honey and the Rock”, an award winning a cappella quintet that performs traditional African and African American music.
As a mother to 10 children, she gave up welfare and worked the farm to have the independence to go to jail, integrate schools, attend government meetings and travel by bus to the March on Washington to protest segregation, poverty and deprivation.
Her role as political activist encouraged many blacks to exercise their right to vote and had a lasting impact on the community encouraging others to persevere.
As the first Black woman to serve as the Director of the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services, she was the ranking female in State Government with responsibility for 5,000 employees and a $100 million budget.
Her legacy of activism lead to the election of Blacks on all county boards and commissions and two consecutive Black mayors. Her action against the City of Camilla opened the door for many Blacks to head city departments. Also lead the effort to bring the first regulated countywide Daycare Facility for Blacks, a center which is still operational.
The founder and director of one of the Nation’s first and oldest Head Start Programs dedicated her life not only to educating children, but to educating and employing parents.
In her long and effective teaching career, she has been runner-up for Teacher of the Year and has been awarded numerous appreciation plaques and certificates from grateful family members, students, parents, and community organizations. Her students have scored in the 98 and 99 percentile of the Georgia High School Science Graduation Test. She is especially effective with special needs students
Her role as political activist encouraged many Blacks to exercise their right to vote and had a lasting impact on the community.
Her husband’s tragic death was the impetus for launching the Baker County Movement, which was designed to bring social, political, and economic changes to Baker County. Her home became the unofficial headquarters for the Baker County Movement, and she became the unofficial coordinator for the off-shoot movements in the nearby communities in Mitchell, Terrell, and Lee counties.
In 2005, she was the first and only South Georgia and North Florida recipient of the National Jefferson Award for outstanding Public Service, an award founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; as well as the Georgia State Medical Association’s Community Service Award.
Though she passed literacy tests with ease, she was subpoenaed in court and, with the decision of a twelve-person jury, was finally granted the right to vote. She became an advocate for voting rights for other African-Americans in her community, teaching countless individuals to spell their names and assisting them with completing and casting their ballots.
She was the first African-American and first woman to be elected coroner in Dougherty County. A fierce, fearless, and outspoken Community Activist, Mrs. Taylor supported any efforts to rid the community of racism and injustice. She gave generously of herself and her means to these causes.
As an organizer and developer for a system of Voter Registration, including obtaining absentee ballots as needed by citizens and personally assisting with getting voters to the polls, Vivian’s work resulted in Camilla’s first African-American female mayor. She also served as a member of the City Council of the City of Camilla, served as Vice President of Mitchell County Branch of NAACP and held several local, district, and state offices in the American Legion Auxiliary.
Mrs. Rodwell’s willingness to house the Freedom Riders, feed the Civil Rights workers and to support her children and other neighborhood youth as they protested the unjust Jim Crow Laws helped to change societal norms in Fitzgerald, Georgia. Black people who were once afraid of the establishment gained courage under her mentorship.
She is pastor and founder of Jesus Christ Tabernacle of Deliverance Church and CEO of Family Visions Outreach, Inc., a local Non-profit dedicated to working with at risk youth and providing affordable housing to Sylvester, GA and surrounding areas.
Mrs. McBurrows was the first licensed cosmetologist in Wilcox County, Rochelle GA. As a cosmetologist in this small rural town, she was able to provide a much-needed service to the women of her community. She was later employed at the Wilcox Abbeville Nursing Home for fifteen years as a Nutritionist, and Certified Dietitian and first black supervisor in her department. Mrs. McBurrows was the first Black and only woman to serve on the Wilcox County School Board from 1986 -1997.
Laurena, a life-long educator across several Alabama counties, worked first as a teacher and then as an assistant principal, impacting and shaping the lives of children.
Idessa was a Civil Rights activist who advocated against discriminatory hiring and helped change the Jim Crow hiring practices in 1950’s Alabama.
As a pioneer for the childcare industry in the state of Alabama, Elizabeth helped establish the first child care center in Wilcox County.
As an accomplished jazz musician, educator and activist, Mrs. Lee was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992.
Mrs. Craig was the first woman and first African-American elected to the Choctaw County Board of Education.
At the age of 18, in October, 1955, Mary Louise was ordered to relinquish her seat on the city bus line to a white passenger. Her refusal landed her in jail charged with failure to obey segregation orders 40 days before the arrest of Rosa Parks. The action played a monumental role in setting the foundation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Thelma was a Civil Rights pioneer and remains the only surviving member of the Women’s Political Council which worked to rectify the mistreatment of blacks who rode the city’s buses and those who were unjustly interrogated when they tried to vote.
Mary donated land to “Tent City,” a refuge for Black tenant farmers thrown off their land for registering to vote, which was organized in 1965 by local residents and SNCC.
As a Tuskegee Institute licensed and trained midwife for 40 years, she delivered over 400 babies and worked for the Wilcox County Health Department and is the oldest living member of Miller Ferry Normal School.
As Interim Chief Executive Officer/Medical Director for the Jefferson County Health System, Sandra is best known for her tireless efforts to provide healthcare to underserved populations.
In the 1980s she co-founded the Southern Rural Women’s Network, an association of rural women in seven southern states. The women shared resources and expertise and supported each other’s concerns around quality of life issues.
Gwendolyn was a youth organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. As field director for the Southern Rainbow Education Project, Dr. Patton organized around multi-racial/cultural issues on the principle that grassroots people can act on their own collective behalf as advocates and leaders.
Her activism to improve the public schools and promote fairness in student testing, staff and faculty hiring, voter registration and education have had the cumulative effect of changing countless lives in Choctaw County.
As a drum major for justice active in the voters’ and civil rights movements, Arzula helped African Americans get elected to public office and she herself became a clerk in the office of Sheriff Prince Arnold, the first African American Sheriff in Wilcox County.
In 1994, she and her brother Eugene Edwards founded the Save the Youth Program. This non-profit organization provides young people with positive directions and alternatives to at-risk behavior.
Ethel brokered a land deal that procured eighty acres of farmland. The food and produce of this farm supported not only her family, but also the Sardis community at large. Discrimination kept Ms. Williams-Mahorn from voting until she reached age 65. She was a Civil Rights activist who educated others to know their rights.
In the 1960s during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mrs. Williams traveled as a NAACP coordinator of voter registration for five counties in central Alabama. Even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, white registrars in the South still refused to enroll Black voters. Many believe that it was Mrs. Williams’ letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson that prompted the federal voter registrars to come to central Alabama and register Blacks in significant numbers.
Sue acted as a champion for justice who participated in the Civil Rights Movement and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Camden, AL to protest extreme voting restrictions imposed on colored citizens of the area.
Carolyn served as the church secretary for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. On September 15, 1963 she received the fateful call that preceded the church’s bombing. Though she survived, four girls — her friends — lost their lives. McKinstry authored the book “While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age During the Civil Rights Movement.”
She was arrested in May 1951 for sitting in the front of the bus in Montgomery, AL.