Black ExperienceBlack HistoryObituary

Unita Blackwell, 86, First Black Mayor in Mississippi, Dies

Unita Blackwell, renowned civil rights activist and the first Black woman to become mayor in Mississippi, has died.

Blackwell, 86, who had suffered for years with dementia, died Monday, her son announced.

Born 1933 in Lula, Miss., to sharecropper parents, Blackwell was instrumental in the civil rights movement during the 1960s when she became a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Blackwell, winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, was one of the pioneers who protested Blacks’ exclusion from voting in regular Democratic primaries in the state. She also served as a project director and field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helping organize voter drives for African Americans across Mississippi.

Interviewed in 1986 for the documentary, “Eyes on the Prize,” Blackwell talked about what inspired her work to get African Americans in Mississippi the right to vote.

“I was only told when I started off that if I registered to vote that I would have food to eat and a better house to stay in, ’cause the one I was staying in was so raggedy you could see anywhere and look outdoors,” she said. “That I would have, my child would have, a better education.”

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