Unita Blackwell was the first African-American woman elected as Mayor in Mississippi.
Mayersville is a town of less than 500 in sparsely populated Issaquena County at the south end of the Mississippi Delta. But Blackwell had big plans for the small town and worked to bring electricity, public sewer and water to an area blighted by poverty.
Her work led to a ‘Genius’ grant in 1992 from the MacArthur foundation, and with it a $350,000 gift.
Blackwell worked in the 60’s as a member of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) which helped lead the drive to register people to vote. Both Blackwell and her husband lost their jobs after attempting to take the voter registration test. It was the event Blackwell often recalls as a ‘turning point’ in her life and what fueled her decision to become fully involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
Blackwell left school in the eighth grade, but later, she worked to get her high school diploma and then at 50 went to Amherst in Massachusetts to earn her Master’s in Public Planning.
Thursday, she was remembered by her friends, family and peers at a service on the grounds of Tougaloo College. She was 86 years old.