GUIZERIX: International Women’s Day brings Vicksburg’s female leaders to mind

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2022

International Women’s Day was Tuesday, and throughout the day, I thought of all the strong women who came before me and paved the way for other women to follow in their footsteps.

In Vicksburg, we are proud to include in our ranks a number of notable women. From the Sisters of Mercy who brought faith, education and care to the city during the Civil War, to Myrlie Evers-Williams and so many in between, our city was built through the strengths of its women.

Consider women like Emma Balfour, the celebrated “Diarist of the Siege of Vicksburg,” whose chronicle of the siege and its impact on civilians is celebrated as one of the most accurate accounts. Imagine on Christmas Eve, when it was announced right in her ballroom that Sherman’s forces were nearing the city. She could’ve retreated; instead, she committed to telling the truth.

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Fannie Willis Johnson is another historic female figure in the River City. She gave of herself more than anyone knows, from acts of service to funding organizations and buildings. However, most of her charity work was conducted in secret — so much so that a portrait of Johnson is hard to find. Such a trait is admirable for people of today.

Civil Rights pioneer Myrlie Evers-Williams was born in Vicksburg. To have endured the threats and tragedies she was subject to in the civil rights movement and to keep fighting anyway is a remarkable feat. I was lucky enough to see Evers-Williams during the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. Her words, her poise and her grace were that of a triumphant hero.

Vicksburg is proud to claim women who accomplished big things, such as Dr. Jane McAllister, the first Black woman to get a Ph.D. from Columbia University in education, and one of the first women in the U.S. to get a Ph.D.

It’s also proud to claim women who accomplished seemingly small things, such as Mahala Roach, who installed the first indoor Christmas tree in Mississippi at her home in Vicksburg.

Vicksburg’s women are descended from their foremothers who overcame all odds to cement their roles in history and culture. Take Vicksburg-born actress Beah Richardson, the daughter of a seamstress and a Baptist minister. After a lengthy acting career, the Dillard University graduate died at age 80 in Vicksburg, just four days after winning her second Emmy award, for an appearance on the show “The Practice.”

The above-mentioned women are just a few in a long historic line of women accomplishing great things with Vicksburg as their backdrop. Others include Caroline Russell Compton, who organized the Vicksburg Art Association in 1961 and opened Vicksburg’s Firehouse Gallery in 1971; Ida Louise Jackson, the first Black woman certified to teach in California and the child of a former slave; Mary T. Washington Wylie, the first Black woman in the United States to become a certified public accountant.

We should look up to these women on International Women’s Day, and every day. The battles they faced, the benevolence they possessed, the efforts they made to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them, it’s all to be admired.

I know I look up to them.