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Civil rights monuments could be unveiled in August

 

Part of an effort spanning back to 2011, the Unity Park memorial in downtown Starkville, donning plaques covered since being erected, could soon see new life.

Part of an effort spanning back to 2011, the Unity Park memorial in downtown Starkville, donning plaques covered since being erected, could soon see new life. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff

 

Carl Smith

 

Tarp-covered plaques honoring champions of civil rights and education could soon be removed and officially dedicated in a late-August ceremony, supervisors said Monday. 

 

County board members discussed recommendations Monday presented from a group of citizens concerned over the still-covered plaques at Unity Park. The green space, located between Mugshots and the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department, was constructed as an aesthetic enhancement in tandem with the county education building in 2011. 

 

Four engraved plaques honoring national civil rights figures and another displaying a timeline of important local dates in the fight for equality have remained protected from display since the project's completion. Two other blank plaques are included in the park. 

 

District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams, who has led the informal park discussions, said the group wants to formally open the park in late August. A date has not yet been scheduled, but supervisors said they wish to invite former Gov. William Winter to the ceremony. 

 

The group recommended honoring an early Oktibbeha County NAACP leader, A.D. Johnson, and physician Douglas Connor by engraving the two blank plaques with their likenesses. Engraving, Williams said, could cost about $800 per plaque. 

 

A third plaque honoring the 1963 "Game of Change" between Mississippi State and Chicago's Loyola University was suggested as a future dedication. 

 

The board was hesitant to take any action beyond accepting the group's suggestions since supervisors said they do not want to get drawn into the politics of picking between potential local honorees and because funding sources for improvements have not been developed. 

 

"I'm still under the belief that we should choose a committee to make those decisions," District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard said. 

 

Overtures were made about funding options with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Williams said, and will continue in the future. 

 

"We hope they move forward with funding, but we just don't know if they will," he said. "I think these are three good recommendations. When things start to happen, people will start to make more contributions." 

 

Informal discussions on Unity Park's future began in January and carried through the next month. Supervisors authorized Williams to gather concerned residents for brainstorming sessions, but the group does not function as an official county sub-board. 

 

 

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch

 

 

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