Unita Blackwell out in Mayersville, won’t run again’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 6, 2001

[06/06/01] Mayersville Mayor Unita Blackwell, who became Mississippi’s first black woman mayor in 1976 after rising to prominence in the 1960s as a civil rights worker, lost her seat to a political newcomer Tuesday by a margin of 11 votes.

Linda Williams Short, the manager of a family business in Mayersville, the state’s smallest county seat, polled 82 votes, or 36.4 percent, and Blackwell got 71, 31.6 percent. Morristein Hunt received 58 votes, 25.8 percent, and sitting Alderman W.C. Wallace garnered 14 ballots, .62 percent.

Blackwell, 68, blamed the four-way race for her loss and said she had no plans to seek office again.

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“I’m writing a book right now about things that have happened to me in my life, so that’ll take up some time,” Blackwell said. “I just hope the new people will learn how to handle running the boards and meetings.”

Short, 34, a Mayersville native who has known Blackwell since childhood, said she will try to emulate her predecessor as much as possible.

“I hope one day I can be as great as she is,” Short said.

Short said she ran against Blackwell because she communicates better with Mayersville’s young people, whose needs she said will be her first priority when she takes office next month.

“We don’t even have a playground yet for our kids,” she said.

Born in Lula in 1933, Blackwell entered politics in the 1960s as a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, established to protest blacks’ exclusion from voting in regular Democratic primaries in the state. Blackwell and other MFDP activists won national sympathy at the Democratic convention in 1964 by mounting an unsuccessful bid to be seated as Mississippi’s official delegation.

She helped Mayersville, a town of about 500 people, win its charter in 1976 and became its first mayor later that year. Blackwell served as the town’s executive until 1993, when she did not seek another term. She returned to Mayersville politics in 1995, though, winning a special aldermanic election. In 1997, she easily won her fifth term as mayor.

Blackwell has won numerous honors throughout her time in the mayor’s office, including the American Planning Association’s 1994 elected official of the year award and a $350,000 genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 1992.

Also in Mayersville, voters selected three new at-large aldermen for the town council. Challengers Margaret Marshall, Linda Brown-Barnes and Stallard Williams won spots on the board with 141, 139 and 124 votes, respectively. Incumbent George Reynolds kept his seat with 131 votes, and sitting aldermen Annie Cartlidge and Mildred Fleming tied with 117 votes, setting up a coin toss to decide the last seat once the election results are certified. Incumbent Saul Green and challenger Latunya Gentry received 106 and 82 votes, respectively.