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Birney Imes: Fall color evokes memory of a memorable woman


Birney Imes



To the mindful, nature gives glimpses of sublime beauty in unexpected moments. On the way back to The Dispatch from Helen's Kitchen recently, I happened to drive by Cindy Rood's family home on North Eighth Street. The red of a Japanese maple along with its red aura of leaves on the ground below caused me to catch my breath. 


Cindy's mother, Virginia Hooper, planted the tree. 


Virginia was one of those people any community could use more of. That's not to suggest Virginia Hooper could be replicated; she could not. Virginia was a politician in the best sense of the word. She loved people. She loved the political process. She loved this town. 


For 16 years Virginia was the Republican National Committee Woman from Mississippi. In addition to a state chairman, the GOP has one male and one female national committee member from each state, who meet in Washington to hash out party business. 


After her time as a GOP bigwig, Virginia was elected to the Columbus city council in 1985. She died in 1993 near the end of her second term. 


"She loved everybody," Cindy said about her mother. 


Cindy said passersby have been known to stop their cars, get out and admire the tree. 


"I think about mother every time I look at it," she said. 


At one point during her tenure, the city council voted to name the alleyway around the Trotter Convention Center for Virginia. I'm not sure if it was a spelling mishap at the street department or Mayor Fred Hayslett's sense of humor, but the first sign that went up read, "Hooker Alley." Virginia was delighted. 


Virginia served during a time when blacks were first making their entrance into local politics. An at-large system of voting had excluded them from city office until Curtis Austin filed a lawsuit challenging the system in 1978. In 1980 Joe Edwards, Columbus' first black city councilman, was elected. In those days blacks had every reason to be distrustful of white politicians, including a Republican woman. 


In a column published in this newspaper in the mid-1990s, Attorney Wil Colom wrote about Virginia: "She was a unique political figure, being a white person elected to the board of the Columbus-Lowndes Voters League, and she was considered the political mentor of many elected black officials, including Supervisor Leroy Brooks. 


"This writer counts himself among the many black supporters of Virginia Hooper. 


"There was an unwritten rule among black political leaders: The seat was 'Miss Virginia's' as long as she lived (She fought a protracted battle with cancer.); after that it would be taken." 


Wil wrote his column, "The role of race in Columbus political history," after defeated black candidate Barbara Brandon supported white candidate Howard Williams and thus helped him defeat a black opponent. 


About the resulting white-majority city council, Wil wrote, "If they act wisely and succeed, Columbus will be the fist Mississippi city to extricate itself from the exhausting and ultimately destructive cycle of racial politics. 


"Let us pray together for this." 


Good advice then, good advice now.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment walter commented at 11/20/2011 5:55:00 PM:

Wil, as usual, was right. Now, if only we can find a way to extricate the state from a "destructive cycle of racial politics."

When more than 35% of the population within the state is African American, the fact that the state did not vote for our current President, is a great mystery (well, not really) to me, Birney.

Rome was built in a day and I suspect we simply have much work to do before we become the best that we can become, as Mississipians, Blacks, Whites and all others...citizens, period.


Article Comment walter commented at 11/20/2011 5:57:00 PM:

For the purists, of course Rome WAS NOT, built in a day.


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