10 Nov 2011
- Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell
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“History was made on so many levels. Many have pressed for this moment since the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed.”
Although election results remained “unofficial” at press time Wednesday night, Tunica County voters were celebrating a historic Tuesday election. All five county supervisors for the first time in a century will be African American.
“It has been said that ‘we did not get here on our own, but on the backs and tears from those who have gone before us,’” said Young.
Richard Taylor, noted local historian and director of the Tunica Museum, also deemed the change in leadership as positive, but he offered a different perspective, beyond the bounds of racial significance.
“I feel that Tunica County voters have just elected some fine new leaders,” said Taylor.
“While you could very well say that this election was historic, we are moving forward with progressive leadership. It is a great day for all Tunicans.”
‘Lil Sonny’ unlikely ‘historic figure’
Henry “Lil Sonny” Nickson Jr. is many things. A politician is not one of them. Unofficially the supervisor-elect of Tunica’s District 4, the 36-year-old ran his first political race at age 25, fresh out of college.
| Henry “Lil Sonny” Nickson Jr. has cultivated a community relationship that this week yielded his election as District 4 Supervisor. (Photo courtesy of Melvin Young)|
“But the only employment opportunities for a person with a degree is with the school system or the sheriff’s department. I have worked as a teacher’s aide and a jailer. Jobs were limited, and I felt that the only way that people would listen to me was through politics, so I ran for supervisor in 2004. Of course, I lost.”
Short on votes but not on potential, Nickson caught the eye of U.S. Congressman Benny Thompson, along with the Tunica Teens in Action organization.
“That very next year, I was approached by community leaders who said, ‘Lil Sonny, Ward 5 is 73 percent black, and we want you to run for city alderman. Well that race, I won.”
Nickson, at 26, had broken the racial barrier in city government as the first African American ever elected to that board.
“I want to be a role model, and I want our kids to know that they can make it,” said Nickson.
“You might lose a few rounds, but you just can’t give up. I taught GED courses at Coahoma Community College, and I also taught English as a second language for eight years. But I returned to school, passed my teacher’s certification, and I now teach U.S. history at Tunica Middle School. I’m also the football coach.”
The ambitious, aspiring, up-and-coming, “who-knows-how-far-I-can-go” newly elected supervisor will complete masters studies at Belhaven College in Memphis by May of next year.
Nickson has high hopes for Tunica’s future.
“I really want to focus on our schools, the education of our children,” said Nickson. “Our school system is segregated. Once our children were allowed in public schools, white children left for private schools and academies. I want to work for one Tunica, one people, a united school system dedicated to the betterment of all children.
“Tunica is 83 percent black, but I think it’s important for all of us to encourage diversity in every aspect of our lives,” said Nickson.
“All our citizens are important. Every individual, no matter what their race, is vital to our future progress.”
‘First African-American female supervisor’
Nickson may possibly be the most colorful figure in Tunica’s new political landscape, but Phillis Williams reflects the popular appeal of a “non-political” figure with Tunica County voters. She will represent District 3.
Williams was a basketball standout at Rosa Fort High School, winning a scholarship to Shelby State Community College, now Southwest Community College in Memphis. After completing two years, she attended Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis.
“I played basketball at both schools, but I did not graduate at that time,” she said. “I went back and completed my degree about seven years ago. Presently, I work as a deputy jailer.”
Williams sees the “all black county government board” as a show of unity and a desire to see real change come about in Tunica County.
“The casinos brought so much money to Tunica County, but what have we really done with it? We laid out golf courses and built an arena. That’s OK, but you’re talking about things (that) only benefit 20 percent of the population. Our people don’t really play golf. We need real change – improvements in employment, healthcare, our school system.”
With the employment rate at 22 percent, more than twice the national average, there is a critical need to attract new industry that will bring jobs that benefit Tunicans, said Willlams.
“The casinos have been here nearly 20 years, but our city’s growth has been almost non-existent. We want to attract more businesses and more entertainment. Tunicans don’t want their county to only be associated with casinos. We have so much more to offer.
“The supervisors may not agree on everything, but we will certainly agree that we all want to see real change and a higher quality of life for all county citizens.”
Also elected were: James E. Dunn, District 1 Supervisor; Cedric “Bam-Bam” Burnett, District 2 Supervisor; and the Rev. McKinley Daley, District 5 Supervisor.
Mid-summer elections earlier this year were also historic as Rechelle R. Siggers became the first African-American Chancery Clerk; Norma J. Anderson, the first African-American Tax Assessor and Collector; and Louise Linzy, the first female African-American Justice Court Judge, Southern District.
Election results will be certified as soon as counting issues in the District 25 State House race are resolved, according to the Tunica County Election Commission.