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Unity Park group eyes January opening


William “Brother” Rogers

William “Brother” Rogers



Carl Smith



Unity Park committee members hope to unveil a redesigned public green space on Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- Jan. 19, 2015 -- that provides more acknowledgements to local and state-level civil rights pioneers. 


Speaking on behalf of the group, William "Brother" Rogers, a Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership member, brought forth new Unity Park proposals, which include removing several plaques in favor of new ones honoring area civil rights efforts, to Oktibbeha County supervisors Monday. 


The park, a public green space located between Mugshots and the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department, contains seven plaques meant to honor national figures who championed race relations and educational efforts during the last century. Five of those plaques are already engraved with pioneers' likenesses, but they have remained covered from public view by tarps since the Oktibbeha County education building opened in 2011. Unity Park was part of the $2 million project that led to the building's construction. 


By re-designing the park and re-focusing its vision, the green space could become a showcase piece for local civic pride, Rogers told supervisors. 


The group recommends retaining plaques honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and former Miss. Gov. William Winter, while replacing those bearing A. Philip Randolph's, President John F. Kennedy's likenesses with installations commemorating Medgar Evers', Douglas Conner's and Fannie Lou Hamer's contributions. 


Another plaque honoring the historic "Game of Change," when the Mississippi State University men's basketball team defied the governor by stealing away to play an integrated Loyola University team in the NCAA Tournament in East Lansing, Mich., in 1963, was also proposed Monday. 


Historians will also review an already-installed plaque outlining the timeline of local civil rights events for potential omissions, Rogers said. A smaller plaque honoring Dorothy Bishop, the first female leader of the Oktibbeha County NAACP who envisioned the park, is also expected to be installed in the future. 


Supervisors have previously been wary of pledging any financial support for plaque replacement, but Rogers Monday said private donations are expected to cover the plaques honoring the "Game of Change" and Conner. Each plaque costs an estimated $800. 


The group also proposed reconstructing the park to allow more public access and space. Large brick planters currently take up much of the park's space. Rogers said the group will speak to a landscape architect about formulating a new plan to maximize space and encourage public events. 


Unity Park Committee members could seek in-kind services from the county -- access to its vehicles and inventory -- to help demolish and construct any approved changes. 


Rogers also said the county education building's wall could be used as a mural associated with the park. 


Supervisors took no official action on the report beyond confirming the group as an official county committee. 


Committee members are expected to continue discussing criteria for future Unity Park inductions.


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



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