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).