District would do well to honor Dillard

Published 5:10 pm Monday, February 24, 2020

Before Black History Month closes out for 2020, I’m going to seriously suggest that we advocate re-naming the Vicksburg-Warren School District in honor of Mrs. Bessie Dillard who is 100 now.

I think the formal title for all our schools should be “The Bessie Richardson Dillard Vicksburg Warren School District,” because there’ll probably never be another woman here to obtain a bachelor’s, a master’s and a specialist’s degree while raising 10 children at home and working to support them in low-paying, lunch-room jobs in schools and hospitals all the while that she was doing it.

If ever there was an example of the determination and conviction to “get an education” — or the certainty of the worth of one — or the value and necessity of one — and the joy of its achievement, regardless of the odds, it is surely the example of this diminutive black woman who rode the bus every Saturday to Alcorn for almost eight years of once-a-week and day-long classes to become a college and post-college graduate and model for her children.

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She is the one our students should know, she is the model for them and should be their inspiration for sticking to it and keeping on.

Who better?

And soon after she died in 1996, Mr. Tillman Whitley initiated the effort to have Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister memorialized on a postage stamp. At the time, though, the law required passage of a set number of years after death before anyone could be considered in this way. That term is now three years.

What is unique, though, is that Dr. McAllister’s likeness on a postage stamp will accomplish in Vicksburg and Mississippi the elevation of three African Americans — one man and two women — at the apex of accomplishment and admiration for the first time in the Deep South.

Yet our institutional fixtures, our tourist obsessions do not comport with this. We are still the antebellum South; the South of the Confederacy, Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Toms. We are not poised to acknowledge black chemists, researchers, or a woman with three degrees. We consider them anomalies, occasional occurrences of every 100 years or so, but nothing recurrent or assumed. Our tourist dollars come without them.

But not to an entire neighborhood that housed black history in this town: the house where Mr. Euphytee Williams lived who served as a surveyor to General MacArthur in the Philippines and etched his children’s initials for all time in the walkway to their home; or Mr. Henry Floyd who lived on Locust Street; or Dr. Edwards, the pioneering dentist here, and Mrs. Thelma Rush; or Dr. BJ Gardner who maintains a straight-line legacy of PhDs from her second cousin on Main Street, the legendary and historic Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister directly to her own; to Mrs. Rosa Temple and; Drs. Pinson and Owens; Drs. Dillard and Irwin, Attorney T.G. Ewing, Blues artist, Willie Dixon; Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence, and dear Dr. Bowie.

There are whole historic black neighborhoods here that tourists never see. 

There’s enough for a whole district.


Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.