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Stewart, Weir to be honored at Unity Park


Alex Holloway



Oktibbeha County supervisors have a pair of nominees to add to the Unity Park early next year. 


Everlyn Johnson, a member of the Unity Park committee, went before supervisors Monday to reveal the nominees -- Rosa Stewart and Sadye Weir -- the committee selected after receiving nominations through October and November. 


"This was a unanimous recommendation from the committee members," Johnson said. "We received several really good nominations. We plan to keep the others in our files for coming years. We couldn't select one of these ladies over the other." 


Nominees had to have lived in Oktibbeha County for part of their life; been deceased for at least five years; have made a significant contribution to civil rights in Oktibbeha County; and advanced community unity in Oktibbeha County. 


Honorees will be formally announced in a ceremony at Unity Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Jan. 15, 2018. 


Stewart was an English teacher at Oktibbeha County Training School, according to an information sheet handed out at Monday's meeting. 


She retired from her post as head of the English Department in 1968, as the schools were facing integration and African-American residents were protesting hiring practices. Stewart participated in protest marches and spent three nights in jail. 


Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District's campus for grades 2-4 -- Henderson Ward Stewart -- is partially named after her. 


Stewart was also the first African-American to run for a seat on the Starkville Board of Aldermen, and lost her seat when the state changed the process for electing aldermen from the ward system, where each ward votes for its alderman, to an at-large system. She successfully sued the city and the state of Mississippi. A federal judge found the state's change to the election system, which plaintiffs contended was a "purposeful device to invidiously discriminate against black voters in municipal elections by diluting black voting strength," unconstitutional. 


Weir, according to the material presented at Monday's meeting, taught at Oktibbeha County Training School for 13 years, and in 1943, joined the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service to become the first African-American home demonstration agent in Newton County. She further served in Winston and Lowndes counties before retiring in 1970. 


In her time with Extension, Weir worked to expand opportunities for African-American youth. She was the first to get permission to allow African-Americans to display their work at county fairs. Weir also helped create home improvements, including running water, indoor plumbing and painting, in the communities where she worked. 


During her retirement, she went to the Ball Company in Indiana to learn how to run a cannery and helped set one up in Macon. She also worked for three summers with the Neighborhood Youth Corps in 21 counties. 


Unity Park was formed in 2014 in an area on Douglas L. Connor Drive beside the courthouse annex. It features plaques honoring Martin Luther King Jr., longtime physician and Starkville civil rights leader Douglas L. Connor, former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, Fannie Lou Hammer, Medgar Evers, and the 1963 "Game of Change" between Mississippi State University men's basketball team and Chicago Loyola's basketball teams -- the first time MSU played an integrated team. 


District 3 Supervisor Joe Williams said he was impressed with the recommendations. 


"I'm very pleased with those two candidates to be selected and placed in Unity Park," he said. "I think they made a big contribution toward unity within Oktibbeha County. I think the committee made a good selection in recommending them to us and I'm very pleased with those two individuals being added." 




Industrial park playbook 


In other business, Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins provided "playbooks" to supervisors for the planned industrial park near the intersection of Highways 82 and 389. 


The playbooks provide scheduling and cost information about the park, and Higgins said the LINK plans to come before supervisors roughly every quarter to update them on the project's progress. 


Oktibbeha County and Starkville leaders approved the park in May 2016. The industrial park's development slowed after property owners near the planned site challenged a rezoning decision by the Starkville Board of Aldermen. The Oktibbeha County Circuit Court affirmed the city's rezoning order, and the property owners have since appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. That legal battle could drag out, but city and county leaders moved ahead at a joint city-county meeting in July to approve a combined $14 million bond issuance for the project. 


For now, Higgins said, the project is "on schedule," with plans to start partial marketing by June 2019 and full marketing by December 2019. He noted 80 acres of the site along Highway 389 is already zoned to allow distribution centers, even in light of the court case. 


If the LINK finds a tenant that could qualify for that space, Higgins said, the LINK could prepare the two lots along Highway 389 for marketing. 


Higgins said the LINK is in discussions with the city about curbs in the industrial park. He said curbs could be an issue for the park, but the matter should be easily resolved. 


"Our thinking is a 24-foot road -- two 12-foot lanes -- with prepared shoulders to allow trucks to pull off is probably a better option in an industrial park," Higgins said. "You don't want somebody to have a flat or a truck break down and pull off over on the other side of the curb where it's not prepared to handle the weight of the truck. That could be a problem."




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