December 12, 2019 9:37:01 AM
STARKVILLE -- Protest was the vehicle for Dorothy Bishop's community activism, while Carole McReynolds Davis' chosen medium was art.
Both women dedicated much of their lives to bridging racial divides, and they will be honored at Starkville's Unity Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.
Bishop and Davis were the two chosen from the five people nominated, Unity Park Advisory Committee chairwoman Jeanne Marszalek announced at an Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this month. Their images will join other honorees at the park located at Washington Street.
Both died in 2014, when Bishop was 71 and Davis was 72. Their family members will speak on their behalf at the ceremony honoring them at the park on Jan. 20.
Bishop's daughter, Daril Clinton, and Davis' daughter, Elizabeth Williams, said the recognition means a great deal to both their families.
"We're honored to know all the things she did in the community and where her heart was as far as racial reconciliation, but I know if Mom was around, she'd be really touched," Williams said.
Davis was a member of the first local race relations team in the 1990s. She worked to ensure that white community members attended and participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, since it had been solely an African-American event in Starkville for so many years, Marszalek said.
Williams remembers her mother being "ecstatic" during the first MLK Day parade she organized.
"I was pretty young and walked next to my mom in it," Williams said. "She was pretty insistent and said, 'You're going to walk with me,' (because) it was important for our town and our community."
Davis painted a portrait of a civil rights leader every year and presented them at church services. The subjects of her paintings included local civil rights activist and physician Dr. Douglas Conner and Martin Luther King Jr., Marszalek said.
She also painted portraits of community members and would ask them to tell her their life story so they could get to know each other, Williams said.
"Some people say they don't see color, but my mom did because she was an artist," she said. "She loved the diversity in all the different paints and colors, and I think she was drawn to having everybody represented on her canvases."
Davis was also known for her house on Louisville Street, decorated for the seasons and featuring mannequins that each had their own name.
Bishop was the first female president of the Oktibbeha County NAACP, and one of her passions was voter registration. The area had very few black elected officials in the 1970s, and Bishop's efforts helped put more of them in office, Clinton said.
"She would pick people up at their house and carry them back (after registering)," she said. "She didn't care what community they were from. She went from door to door and asked them if they were registered to vote, and if they weren't, she would make sure they had a ride to get there."
Bishop advocated for the creation of Unity Park as a monument to the civil rights movement and approached the board of supervisors with the idea for it several years ago. Clinton said it's about time the park had her mother's name on it.
"She didn't give up, she never stopped calling, never stopped letting them know what she wanted," Clinton said. "Her dream came true. Unity (was) what she stood for, unity of the community. To see the community recognize her, it means a lot."
Bishop made headlines in 2005 for her unique way of protesting Mississippi's plan to remove the poverty-level aged and disabled category from its Medicaid program. She was on bed rest for diabetes and a thyroid condition, but she brought her bed to the Oktibbeha County Courthouse, the state Capitol in Jackson and even Washington D.C.
She also protested the all-white jury in a trial in which a black MSU student was accused of killing his white roommate in 2009.
"There's still racism out there and I have to do what I can to help this boy," Bishop told The Dispatch at the time.
Founded in 2013, Unity Park includes plaques honoring King and Conner, William Winter, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Wilson Ashford Sr., Adelaide Jeanette Elliott and the Mississippi State University's "Game of Change" with the University of Loyola-Chicago.
To be honored, a person must have lived in Oktibbeha County for at least part of his or her life, been deceased for at least five years, "advanced community unity" and "made a significant contribution to civil rights in Oktibbeha County," according to the Unity Park website.
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