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An ‘awakening’ in the Delta

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell
  • Published in News
Louise Linzy won her seat on the bench and a coveted place on the pages of Tunica County history. Two other African-American candidates also became history-makers with unprecedented victories on August 2. The 2007 elections in Tunica County were brutal for Louise Linzy. She took on incumbent Ellis Darby, who had served as Justice Court Judge for the Southern District for nearly two decades.

 
 Louise Linzy

Plans for a grand celebration were underway in Linzy’s camp because “God had answered the prayers of so many.” But it was not to be.

Six votes gave Darby the win according to the final count. Linzy sat in stunned silence as Darby supporters cheered. Tears of disappointment marked the “death of a dream.” Charges of voter fraud swirled in the African-American community. Linzy filed a legal challenge, and a new election was set for the following December. With nearly half of the county’s registered voters staying home, Darby won again – this time by 83 votes.

Linzy thanked her supporters for their hard work, adding, “I will always keep fighting; I will never give up.”

She kept her word. Four years later, Linzy won her seat on the bench and a coveted place on the pages of Tunica County history. She is the first woman ever elected as Justice Court Judge. Two other African-American candidates also became history-makers with unprecedented victories on August 2.

 
Justice Court Southern District Judge Ellis Darby (center) on Monday reviewed the votes cast in the election he lost to Louise Linzy (left) on Aug. 2. (Photo by Andrew Rome Withers)

 
In the Aug. 2 election, guidance counselor Rechelle R. Siggers (center) defeated Wealthia “Susie” White, the longtime Tunica County Chancery Court Clerk. (Photo by Mardis Jones)

 
Steve Chandler (center), the youngest candidate ever to win a primary election for Superintendent of Education in Mississippi, let alone Tunica County, beat out four opponents, including incumbent Supt. Jerry L. Gentry, who has held the position for almost 30 years. (Photo by Mardis Jones)

Rechelle R. Siggers, an educator and guidance counselor in Tunica County Schools, was elected Chancery Court Clerk, the first African-American woman to hold that office. Steve Chandler, a 27-year-old principal in Memphis City Schools, garnered the Democratic nomination for schools superintendent. He will face a Republican and Independent candidate in November. If elected, Chandler would become the youngest schools superintendent in the state’s history.

“You might say we’re a winning combination,” said Linzy. “The Tunica Trifecta of new leadership. This past election represents a movement, a new awakening for our people. We can participate in the governing of our own communities and schools. Black folk are breaking away from the ‘plantation mentality’ that has held us in bondage for so long. Things will never be the same in Tunica County.”

What sparked this ‘new awakening?’

Is there really a new awakening from “plantation mentality?” Or, is that some political ploy Linzy used to get more votes?

Nakita Dean, the Tunica County Sheriff’s Director of Public Relations, says Judge-elect Linzy is dead-on.

“I grew up right here in Tunica County. We lived in Sugar Ditch, and I always noticed as a child that white people always lived in the nice houses while black people lived in run-down shacks,” said Dean. “The poverty, social oppression, and racism had kept Tunica County that way for so long. I would hear, ‘Mr. So-and-So has been so good to us ’cause he lets us work on his land for a place to live.’ That was our way of life, and that’s all we knew,” said Dean.

“Whites had everything, and we had nothing. Blacks got the crumbs from their table and happy to have that. I went off to school at Jackson State University. I decided that I would come back home and be a part of the fight for change. We had to return and help educate our people.

“We are a part of a new movement in Tunica County,” said Dean. “A young, educated, middle-class is emerging, and status quo is just not an option any more. Our parents and grandparents sacrificed to give us a good education. We have returned home to give them a better life. All the citizens of Tunica County deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their education level and occupation.”

Dr. Leslie B. McLemore, executive director of the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute at Jackson State University, blames “ignorance” for the political and social oppression that is “characteristic of Tunica County.”

“Tunica County has been predominantly black since the early 1940’s, said Dr. McLemore. “It has always been that the minority white ruled over the majority black. To the casual observer, it would appear that the majority should have united long ago to elect their own consensus candidates to office. But you have to understand the context of this majority.”

When people have limited exposure to other places and things, there is nothing to which they can compare their way of life, McLemore said.

“White incumbents have continued to dominate the elections because that’s just how life in Mississippi has always been. Of course, you would still get a significant number of African-American voters choosing a white candidate. Judge-elect Linzy’s 29 votes over incumbent Ellis Darby was a landslide.”

The new faction now evident represents a new spirit in Tunica County, he said.

“Political savvy, higher education levels, and desire for social reform and change has made a tremendous difference in how many voters think. Older voters are taking their cues from these younger, more sophisticated thinkers. I believe we witnessed a very significant moment in Tunica County history on August 2.”

Attempts to contact Darby were unsuccessful. County voting officials in Tunica County declined comment.

Prayer ignited ‘desire to serve’

Rechelle R. Siggers has been an educator and guidance counselor in Tunica County Schools for nearly 37 years. She had never run for office or even harbored the desire to enter politics.

“I started thinking about entering the race during the early part of this year,” said Siggers. “But before I did anything, I prayed about it because I really wanted this to be God’s will for my life. When I got a peace about running for court clerk, I discussed it with my family and entered the race. We thank the Lord for this victory.”

Henrietta Hayes has been a polling official in Tunica politics since the 1980’s.  God, she says, “has blessed us with a new day.”

“I have seen whites do so many underhanded things,” said Hayes. Linzy’s 2007 loss to Darby was not the first election they stole. There have been many, but God is helping us now. We have always been led along by whites in leadership. But our eyes are opening now. I’m just happy that the Lord let me live to see it.”

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