Jackson, Mississippi – In observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center honored four recipients during the 28th Annual “For My People” Awards Luncheon. Margaret Walker Center Director Robert Luckett, Ph.D., spoke about the importance of honoring the living activist and contributors of the Civil Rights Movement.
“We can celebrate them and lift them up and we must understand that the Civil Rights Movement is a living history. It is ongoing, and it never ended,” expressed Luckett. “These people are still here, their children and grandchildren are still here, and the movement is still going. So, the fight continues.”
Journalist and Civil Rights Activist Charlie Cobb, who keynoted this year’s annual MLK Convocation, was an award recipient. In the 1960’s, during his time as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Cobb originated the proposal for Freedom Schools, which became a significant part of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project.
During his extensive journalism career, Cobb became the first Black staff writer for the National Geographic Magazine. He is a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).
“It’s especially good to get some recognition from Mississippi,” said Cobb, a 2008 inductee to the NABJ Hall of Fame. “I tell people all the time, the roots of who I am are found in Mississippi. That’s movement, that’s family, and my grandparents moved to D.C. from Mississippi.”
Award recipients Eunvester Simpson and Tiyi Morris, Ph.D., are a mother and daughter duo who serve as Civil Rights activists in their communities. In 1960, Simpson became an activist at the early age of 14 when she joined the youth chapter of the NAACP while living in Racine, Wisconsin.
When she learned about the Freedom Rides in Mississippi, Simpson returned to her hometown of Itta Bena, Mississippi during the winter of 1963. Upon graduation from Amanda Elzy High School in Greenwood, Mississippi, she served as a field secretary for SNCC. She spearheaded voter registration and voter education workshops. On June 9, 1963, she was arrested in Winona, Mississippi along with Fannie Lou Hamer for being in a “white only” area. The two shared a cell before being released days later.
Simpson remained involved in civil and human rights and served on numerous boards, including the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Commission, and Mississippi Action for Community Education. The mother of five was overcome with joy to be honored alongside her daughter.
“This was really important to me because, it tells me that my daughter was paying attention to the lessons that I tried to pass on to them,” Simpson shared. “I’m so proud of the work that she’s doing. She’s upholding the tradition of women lifting up the community and lifting up the race. This is the most wonderful award that I’ve ever received.”
Morris, a scholar, author, activist and Simpson’s daughter, received the “For My People” Doris Derby Legacy Award. This award recognizes recipients for their dedication to continuing in the tradition of activism, broadly defined, and honoring their families’ legacies.
Morris is an associate professor of African American and African Studies at the Ohio State University at Newark and director of the Ohio Prison Exchange Project. She believes her role as an educator is to dismantle systems of oppression by liberating the minds of students and empowering them to challenge the oppression they face and/or perpetuate.
The professor is also a Civil Rights historian who studies Black women’s social and political activism and is the author of “Womanpower Unlimited and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi.”
“This is the most important award that I’ve received, partially because I am being honored with my mother and I see my scholarship as a way to uphold and shine a light on the work that allow me to do what I do,” explained Morris. “For the work of my mom and her comrades during the Civil Rights Movement to be recognized is very important to me.”
The Margaret Walker Center’s very own Angela Stewart also received the “For My People” Doris Derby Legacy Award. She serves as the archivist providing archival support to major grants from the Mellon Foundation and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Stewart is also the founder and facilitator for SANKOFA Reading Group and hosts a monthly podcast, ‘History Matters,’ for the Women for Progress Radio Network. Her mother, the late Dorothy Stewart, is a 2012 “For My People” honoree.
“It is so emotional and humbling. Dr. Luckett mentioned that as Dr. Derby was dying, she thought of me and Tiyi Morris and said we should be honored,” expressed Stewart. “For a phenomenal woman like Dr. Doris Derby to tap me for this award, and to know I’m following in my mother’s footsteps is just unbelievable and satisfying.”