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Two local educators inducted to Unity Park

 

Two new Unity Park honorees, Rosa Stewart and Sadye Wier, were unveiled in a ceremony in the park on Douglas L. Connor Drive in Starkville after an annual march that drew hundreds of people.

Two new Unity Park honorees, Rosa Stewart and Sadye Wier, were unveiled in a ceremony in the park on Douglas L. Connor Drive in Starkville after an annual march that drew hundreds of people. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Starkville locals came together for the Oktibbeha County Branch of NAACP March and Rally in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

Starkville locals came together for the Oktibbeha County Branch of NAACP March and Rally in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Mississippi State University freshmen business majors Jackson Chloe Owens, left, and Destiny Smith volunteer their time picking up fallen limbs around Odd Fellows Cemetery on University Drive in Starkville Monday.

Mississippi State University freshmen business majors Jackson Chloe Owens, left, and Destiny Smith volunteer their time picking up fallen limbs around Odd Fellows Cemetery on University Drive in Starkville Monday. "We wanted to spend Martin Luther King Day wisely since he gave back. We wanted to do a service for the community," Owens said.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Vance Smith, 10, helps fill a wheelbarrow with dirt while volunteering during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at Mississippi State University's community garden Monday. Vance is the son of Kelly and Dean Smith of Starkville.

Vance Smith, 10, helps fill a wheelbarrow with dirt while volunteering during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at Mississippi State University's community garden Monday. Vance is the son of Kelly and Dean Smith of Starkville.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Alex Holloway

 

 

The Starkville community gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday and to recognize the inclusion of two new honorees at Unity Park. 

 

Monday's ceremony saw the inclusion of Rosa Stewart and Sadye Wier on a new plaque at the wall. The honorees were unveiled in the park on Douglas L. Connor Drive after an annual march that drew hundreds of people.  

 

The two women are the first of what Unity Park Advisory Committee chair Jeanne Marszalek said the committee hopes will be many local contributors to civil rights progress in Oktibbeha County. She said the committee hopes to add new honorees every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

 

"We hope to continue this into the future," she said, "to a time when I won't be here, but it'll go on and on. I hope it will encourage other people to work hard to get something done in this community -- to keep moving it forward so we can all enjoy life together." 

 

Marszalek said the committee received six nominees in the fall. Of those, they unanimously decided to add Stewart and Wier to the park. 

 

 

 

The honorees 

 

Stewart was an English teacher at Oktibbeha County Training School, according to information the committee distributed to supervisors after selecting the two new inductees in December. 

 

She retired from her post as head of the English Department in 1968, as the schools were facing integration and African-American residents were protesting hiring practices. Stewart participated in protest marches and spent three nights in jail. 

 

Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District's campus for grades 2-4 -- Henderson Ward Stewart -- is partially named for her. 

 

Stewart was also the first African-American to run for a seat on the Starkville Board of Aldermen, and lost her seat when the state changed the process for electing aldermen from the ward system, where each ward votes for its alderman, to an at-large system. She successfully sued the city and the state of Mississippi. A federal judge found the state's change to the election system, which plaintiffs contended was a "purposeful device to invidiously discriminate against black voters in municipal elections by diluting black voting strength," unconstitutional. 

 

Wier taught at Oktibbeha County Training School for 13 years, and in 1943, joined the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service to become the first African-American home demonstration agent in Newton County. She further served in Winston and Lowndes counties before retiring in 1970. 

 

In her time with Extension, Wier worked to expand opportunities for African-American youth. She was the first to get permission to allow African-Americans to display their work at county fairs. Wier also helped create home improvements, including running water, indoor plumbing and painting, in the communities where she worked. 

 

During her retirement, she went to the Ball Company in Indiana to learn how to run a cannery and helped set one up in Macon. She also worked for three summers with the Neighborhood Youth Corps in 21 counties. 

 

To be nominated, someone needs to have lived in Oktibbeha County for part of their life; been deceased for at least five years; have made a significant contribution to civil rights in Oktibbeha County; and advanced community unity in Oktibbeha County. 

 

 

 

Other events 

 

Monday's ceremony at Unity Park was just one of several events in Starkville to honor Martin Luther King Day. Events started Sunday night with a unity service at Trinity Presbyterian Church, and continued into Monday morning with a unity breakfast at the Mill at Mississippi State University, headlined by former District 38 Rep. Tyrone Ellis. 

 

The march and unveiling ceremony followed in the afternoon. Chris Taylor, president of the Oktibbeha County chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, said he was pleased with the day's events and with the support they drew from the community. 

 

Taylor noted he was especially impressed with attendance from the community's younger members. 

 

"If you look around, the number of young kids -- that's from pre-school all the way to high school and not even counting my Mississippi State (NAACP) chapter students," Taylor said. "They came out to support us. And it was a nice crowd--black and white."

 

 

 

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