At 102, Bessie Dillard honored with street naming for accomplishments

Published 4:52 pm Thursday, March 24, 2022

Wednesday afternoon, a small group of family, friends and city officials gathered on Hannah Avenue in Marcus Bottom to honor an amazing lady and ensure that her name will be remembered by future generations through a simple act.

At a brief ceremony, Hannah Avenue, the street where 102-year-old Bessie Richardson Dillard has lived a total of 54 years, was renamed Bessie Richardson Dillard Avenue to recognize her accomplishments in her community and as an educator in the Vicksburg Warren School District, where she taught for 23 years.

But Dillard’s story is more involved than being a teacher. It’s the story of a woman who, as the mother of 10 children went back to school in her 40s, graduated from Alcorn State University at age 45 with a bachelor’s in elementary education and went on to receive a master’s degree and specialist degree in elementary education.

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“How doubly honored we are to be here to name this street after a phenomenal young lady who just happens to be 102 years old,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “Today, we’re not trying to rename but enhance the name of a street.”

Dillard’s story, he said, “Is something young people may not ever get a chance to read in the history books.

“It’s about a young lady who started her career in education at the age of 40-something and with 10 kids and she went off to matriculate at college to get a bachelor’s degree to get a master’s degree and then a Ph.D. The only thing that was short about this lady was a dissertation.

“Let nobody leave here today not understanding or undermining the importance of education,” Flaggs said.

Former Vicksburg Mayor Robert Walker, who grew up in Marcus Bottom, said Dillard “is a historical icon. Over the years she has conducted herself in such a wonderful way and raised a beautiful family. I don’t know what I would have done in public service had it not been for Mrs. Dillard and her whole family.

“This is certainly one of the major things in this community to recognize someone who has lived on this street by naming the street after them. This really a testament to the progress that has been made in this city and the wonderful job this administration has done,” Walker said.

“The occasion today is to honor the longest-living resident on Vicksburg’s Hannah Avenue in historic Marcus Bottom,” her son James Dillard said. “To name a street is a universally accepted way of publicly honoring that person’s achievement.

“Bessie Dillard, at 102 years old, has achieved in the area of public education and had a desire not to be deterred in realizing a dream to complete her education in spite of having reared 10 children along the way.”

But Dillard said the ceremony was more than just an honor for his mother. Talking about growing up on Hannah Avenue, he said there were other families who made their mark in the neighborhood.

“This is also paying homage to those who have lived on this street,” he said.

The Rev. Linda Sweezer, Dillard’s youngest daughter, said the street dedication “was something that was a surprise.

“The mayor and I talked about it when mama turned 100 and to see it realized two years later it’s just amazing,” she said. “Everybody dropped everything they were doing in order to be a part of this great celebration. This is what you would call a ‘no way to explain. Words can’t explain the way we feel today for the city honoring our mom.”

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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