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Mississippi - Canton: Shirley Simmons Interviewee [Part 1]
Dent, Thomas C.
Tom Dent interviews Shirley Simmons in Canton, Mississippi. Simmons says she got involved in the movement in the late 1960s. She was originally from Yazoo County and does not miss it now that she has left. She explains that she got involved in Civil Rights because her children were in school in Madison County. She did not want them to go through some of the hardships she experienced growing up. She decided to run for the Board of Supervisors of Madison County and her husband ran for the County School Board. Neither of them won their first elections. She states that Blacks were not aware of the importance of electing Black officials. She attended grammar school in Yazoo County then moved with her family to Madison County and attended the public schools there. Madison County, Simmons states, had a very poor curriculum and very poor facilities. She had five children after her high school graduation and attended Tupelo College in 1980. She stayed for two and a half years. Her degree was in early childhood education. She attended workshops and lectures at Mary Holms College through the Head Start program as well. Simmons says she and her husband were well known in the area because they were active in the community. She says there is a pervasive mindset among the Blacks of Madison County that Whites knew what was best for them. She says Blacks need to break free from this mindset and do things for themselves, make efforts to be self-sufficient. Simmons says that she was successful in winning public office the second time she ran in 1979. She was elected a chairwoman in 1987. Simmons says her early efforts as an elected official were over the unequal allocation of money in the public school. It took many years for her to make progress on the issue. It required more community involvement. She states that she worked with the NAACP and Oliver Rice but had issues with his suggestion to create one, unified school for all of Madison County. She was concerned that the Canton students would have to travel too far to attend the school. She preferred to have two high schools, one in the North of the county and on in the South. Dent asks if Rice was concerned that the two school system would continue the de-facto segregation and the unequal allocation of funds. She states that the demographics of the county are divided with mostly Whites in the south and Blacks in the north. However, she states, if the students that formerly went to the third school, who are mostly Black, attended the school t to south it would help even out the numbers. Simmons says the settlement was for two schools. The school in the North is named Velma Jackson and has about 800 students the School in the south is named Madison Central and it has about 1000 students. Simmons says the breakdown for Central is about 60:40 White to Black. At Velma Jackson there are eight White students out of the 800.
African AmericansCivil rights leadersEducationLaw & legal affairsOrganizationsRace relationsUniversities & colleges
YazooCounty (Ms.)Canton (Ms.)Madison County (Ms.)Tupelo (Ms.)
Tulane University Digital Library
Box 153, Item 17, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U. S. Copyright Laws.