Columbia’s leaders gathered in a celebration of the victories of the past with an eye for the future on Sunday as the community recognized the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of 19th Amendment, granting some women the right to vote.
The ceremony, scheduled to be held earlier this year but delayed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, was held under a pavilion at Riverwalk Park as leaders of the local Callie Morton Temple, the General Federated Women’s Club and members of Columbia State Community College spoke in celebration of women who paved the way forward in the ongoing road to equality.
The leaders emphasized that the best way to celebrate the past victories in the battle for equality is to go to the polls.
Columbia Vice Mayor Christa Martin, who serves as Columbia State’s assistant to the president for access and diversity, encapsulated the evening in two short sentences.
“We stand on the shoulders of these women and many more,” Martin said. “God bless you and go vote.”
Martin called on Maury County’s women to head to the polls in the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential, county and city elections to continue to uphold the legacy that began only a few generations earlier.
“We are still working,” Martin told The Daily Herald. “It was persistence and commitment for some of the things we are still reflecting on today, we are still engaged in. We do the work now to continue to tell the story. We are setting the platform for the next generation.”
Tennessee was the state that ratified the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote,” said Janet F. Smith, the president of Columbia State Community College. “It was not done with white women alone. It was white women and Black women working together for that ratification.”
Smith saluted the work of J. Frankie Pierce, the Tennessee educator who worked to established the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls in 1923, and served as its superintendent until 1939.
Pierce, a leader of the City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, spoke at the Tennessee State Capitol encouraging constituents and lawmakers to support Black women’s right to vote.
Although suffrage efforts were mostly segregated, especially in Jim Crow south, Nashville saw the formation of an alliance between Black and white women’s clubs who stood together for a number of social issues.
“It allows us to grow and to be,” Smith said, echoing Pierce’s message.
Forty-six years after the the passing of the 19th Amendment, Tennessee’s Black women obtained the right to vote with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“It is a very special privilege that we all have,” Smith said. “It is one that we need to take very seriously and find our way to vote. Whatever our choice is, it is our right and our duty. There are too many individuals, men and women, that have worked extremely hard to give each of us that ability, that choice, that way of making our voice heard in the governance of our country, our county and our city.”
She recognized Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who leaves behind a legacy as a leading architect of the legal battle for women’s rights and a national icon as a woman leader who fought for the constitutional principal of equal stature for all.
“May we take up her mantle and each of us go out to help this world be better,” Smith said. “And may we push the United States to be its best self.”
Ginsburg died Friday age the age of 87 due to complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ginsburg dictated to her granddaughter Clara Spera.
President Donald Trump is expected to name a nominee to the post later this week after vowing that the nominee will be a woman.
E. Yvonne Joyce, the Daughter State President Tennessee Association, took the podium for the event’s formal introduction.
“We recognize and honor the years of hard work by women in the great state of Tennessee and across the nation to secure woman’s suffrage,” Joyce said. “We stand today for the record of our support in this milestone anniversary. We stand proud in the role that African American women played in women’s suffrage. We as African Americans have had more to do after that 1920 vote. Today, women go vote before Nov. 3.”
The event concluded with the recognition of Maury County’s female leaders including Annie Hardison, who died earlier this summer.
Hardison’s extensive service reached thousands of people in her life in greater Southern Middle Tennessee. As a recovering alcoholic with more than 30 years sobriety, she was the first Black woman to attend Cumberland Heights rehabilitation center in Nashville, and later played a pivotal role in the founding of Fresh Start Recovery Church in Columbia in 2016 for addicts in search of a place to get better, but also be welcomed into a community of trust, understanding and guidance. She was also a leader in bringing recovery programs to inmates at the Maury County Jail.
“Annie Hardison was a true humanitarian who worked tirelessly to improve the qualify of life for her fellow citizens in numerous capacities,” a proclamation from Gov. Bill Lee reads. “Ms. Hardison leaves behind an indelible legacy of integrity and probity in public life, compassion and loyalty in private life, and diligence and dedication in all her chosen endeavors.”
Hardison was also a lifelong member of the NAACP, and was involved in the American Legion Auxiliary, Columbia Advisory Board, Maury County Neighborhood Coalition and Maury County Democratic Women. She was also on the committee which helped rename East 7th Street as Rosa Parks Boulevard in 2015.
The event also recognized Jo Ann Williams McClellan, the county’s recently appointed historian.
Following her appointment to the position in late 2019, McClellan said she is working to create a unified history of the county and played a leading role in making Juneteenth an official holiday in Columbia.
In 2013, a year after establishing the local African-American Heritage Society, McClellan led an effort to add the names of 58 men from Maury County who fought and died for the Union in the Civil War to the War Memorial Monument at the steps of the Columbia Courthouse.
The addition included the names of 54 members of the United States Colored Troops and four white soldiers who died fighting for the Union.
“You really can’t separate our history,” McClellan said. “It’s not black history or white history, it’s Maury County history. We are all in this county together.”
Maury County Public Schools board member Natasha Hopkins, former board members Jyuana Martin, former Maury County Commissioner Frieda McClain and Kimberly Ladd of the Maury County Prevention Coalition, an organization whose mission is to destroy the stigma of addiction, create new ways to help those who are addicted and form new bonds so the community can best support those in recovery.
The nonprofit All Hands On Decknis organized under the mission is to educate the community on local issues.
The group has recently hosted a series of expungement clinics helping local residents to rid their records of former criminal charges, bringing relief to those seeking employment with a criminal record.
“It takes a community and government to make this happen,” founder Jai Lipscomb said. “This gives people the freedom that people need to reignite their life, regenerate their life and live their life to the fullest. That should not be a burden on you forever. An expungement is not a privilege. It is a right.”
Other significant female leaders who shaped local history were named.
Dr. Jane E. Pierre Francis, the first Black woman to practice medicine in neighboring Mt. Pleasant was also recognized along with Barbara McIntyre Columbia’s first female mayor.
McIntyre passed away at age 89 in August 2016. McIntyre spent her life in civil service. In 1963, she entered the hospitality industry and became the first female general manager of Holiday Inn, then the country’s largest hotel chain.
McIntyre served a total of four terms for the city. She was elected as the city’s first female vice mayor from 1974-78. She came back in 1990 and was elected as Columbia’s first female mayor, serving her first four-year term. She took a term off from office in 1994, was reelected in 1998 and served two more terms, totaling 16 years in office.
Debbie Booker Parks, a 1980 first round pick for the National Women’s Basketball League and a graduate of Hampshire Unit School was also recognized.
A 1980 Memphis State graduate, Parks was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985 after a playing career that saw her earn all-America honors each of her final three years. She set program records for games played (137), points scored (2,835), scoring average (20.7), field goals (1,203), field goal attempts (2,704) and steals (360). She also held the Lady Tigers’ single-game scoring record of 41 points for more than 20 years.
She is a 2005 inductee into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
“May we overflow with grace and let the truth light up our lives anew,” said Sharon Frierson, a local chaplain leading the event’s attendees in prayer.
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