Descendants of William Sims dedicate pavilion

Published 9:24 am Monday, July 20, 2015

Sunday morning on a knoll overlooking a pond on land he bought in 1896, the descendants of William “Bill” Sims, former slave, Civil War veteran and farmer, dedicated a pavilion in his honor with prayer, hymns and gospel music as part of their annual reunion breakfast.

The dedication and breakfast were the final events of the two-day reunion that brought about 400 descendants to the Vicksburg area.

“This is going to be named the Freedom Pavilion,” said June Hardwick, a Jackson lawyer whose mother, Velma Sims Hardwick is a direct descendant.

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“We’ve been doing this, off and on, since 1982, and we started doing it every year in 2001 (on) the third week in July,” said descendant Bahati Sobukwe. “We have chapters in Houston, Texas, Chicago, Savannah, Ga., and Memphis, Tenn. We’ve been rotating between those chapters, whichever one wants to take it.”

The descendants pay annual dues and are incorporated as the Bill Sims Foundation, a nonprofit organization that does charitable work and presents two $250 scholarships annually to college students. This year the scholarships went to Ashton Sneed, a University of Southern Mississippi student, and Sydney Michelle Green, a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.

Sobukwe said the 10-acre property off Heather Lane is the remaining tract of the 100 acres Sims bought in 1896.

She said on May 24, 1941, 45 years after he bought the land, a quitclaim deed covering 90 of the acres was filed in the Warren County Courthouse. The names of three surviving children were typed on the deed without signatures or an X to indicate that they knew the land had been quitclaimed.

She said the family members use the property for activities and work to improve it.

“We have two ponds here. One is stocked with fish, and some of our family come fish every day,” she said. “Men come and clean the property 3 to 4 times a year. We envision building a deck on the pavilion, and we’re taking up pledges to bring electricity to the property.”

As Sobukwe described the property, family members sitting under the pavilion broke out in song as they prepared to dedicate the pavilion.

“It is an honor to pass this on to the next generation,” guest speaker evangelist Gracie Daniels said. “This goes on to the next generation to let them know how it was acquired with sweat and tears of those who went before them to get this land.”

“We stand on the backs and shoulders of those who came before us and they are praying for us,” Hardwick said during the libation ceremony, a custom of pouring a liquid to honor their ancestors and others who have died.

“Bill Sims didn’t know how to read or write, but he embraced freedom and he also valued land,” she said. “That land is preserved in our family.”

Sims was born in 1839. He served with the 3rd U.S. Colored Calvary in the Union Army during the Civil War and fought at Miliken’s Bend.

He bought his property in the Freetown community and he and his wife Judie had seven children. He died in 1930.

Sobukwe said the participants in this year’s reunion came from across the country. One of those was Dorothy Pilate Peaches, a former Vicksburg resident who moved to Chicago in 1960.

“My mother’s side of the family has 160 acres on Oak Ridge Road, but I’m afraid I don’t know where it is,” she said. She said the family name came after the slaves were freed, and a relative declared the family would not take their owner’s name as was the custom at the time.

“He looked in the Bible and stopped on Pontius Pilate,” she said, adding she always wondered why he chose that name, “but then I remembered he (Pilate) washed his hands saying he could find “no guilt with this man (Jesus).”

“Vicksburg has changed so much, she said. Peaches said she was glad the property developed in honor of Sims.

“It’s fine. I think that is very good.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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