Dr. Wilma E. Mosley Clopton was the March featured speaker at the Clinton Career Women Luncheon. She spoke about the diversity and strength of Mississippi women, and how these women have worked to blur lines while moving forward with a growth and vision for our State. She mentioned several examples of these women, their stories being told in “Mississippi Women: Volume 2,” a book edited by Elizabeth Anne Payne, Martha H. Swain and Marjorie Julian Spruill.
The Clinton Career Women gather once a month at a luncheon for the purposes of networking their businesses.
Here is the speech that Dr. Clopton gave in its entirety:
Celebrating Mississippi Women
March is “Women’s History Month” and there is no better way to celebrate than sharing stories about Mississippi women. Mississippi women are the constant cadence of change. We flow with a surge of strength and courage like the Mississippi River, carving out a space for new lands, new sights, new visions; and, whether we were in the cotton fields or, the big house, it is our strength upon which this State was built.
Mississippi women are as diverse as the flowing beauty of our state itself. We are of African, German, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Biloxi, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Houma, Natchez, Ofo, Quapaw, Tunica, Vietnamese and Korean descent. It is our blending of these cultures which continues to create a space and place called Mississippi.
You can tell the strength of a group by the forces which try to carve it up, divide it, by setting up artificial walls to separate it. Some of these walls have been created by governments, others are self-imposed. You know what they are – Are you a Republican? Are you a Democrat? What ethnicity are you? What school did you attend? Where do you live? Who are your parents? And yet, even when the intent was to divide, clear thinking Mississippi women have always managed to blur the lines. They have bumped and pushed, like the steel Magnolias they were, against the elements of time that would limit our growth and vision for our Mississippi; and now, history is slowly beginning to tell their stories. “Mississippi Women: Volume 2”, a book edited by Elizabeth Anne Payne, Martha H. Swain and Marjorie Julian Spruill, is one such example of this storytelling. Let me share some of these stories with you:
The Mississippi Native American populations which lived in the forests, bottomlands and coastal areas, encountered Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1798, most of the area that would become the Mississippi Territory was dominated by the Choctaws and Chickasaws. Because of the power and structure of tribal laws, women of these tribes owned the land. Without these women, who first raised maize, corn would not be one of Mississippi’s most important agricultural crops. Women’s property and divorce law in Mississippi is also traceable to a Chickasaw woman named Betsy Love who won a Mississippi supreme court battle which decided that her property, a slave, could not be used to settle her American husband’s debts because she owned property before their marriage.
Prior to the Civil War, Natchez was a bustling town of whites, enslaved blacks and 214 free people of African descent, 59% of whom were women. They worked as seamstresses, washerwomen and cooks. A few of the wealthier free black women were married to prosperous free black men, such as William Johnson, and August Mazique, who owned property and/or businesses. These women continually defied the odds and expectations and prevailed during a time when black was associated with slavery and white with freedom.
Women also played a pivotal role in the development of the church in Mississippi. The Baptist and Methodist churches were the first Protestant churches in Mississippi; established in the 18th and early 19th century. With no physical structures in which to meet, women often open their homes for worship. The first Baptist church in the Mississippi Territory met in the home of Margaret Stampley and the first Methodist conference was held in the home of “Mother White”. In a few cases, women also organized churches.
Even the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi was also facilitated by Mississippi Women. Wednesdays in Mississippi was an activist group during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the 1960s. The film “Wednesdays in Mississippi” attempts to chronicle their story. Northern women of different races and faiths traveled to Mississippi to develop relationships with their southern peers in an effort to create bridges of understanding across regional, racial, and class lines. By opening communications across societal boundaries, Wednesday’s Women sought to end violence and to cushion the transition towards racial integration. Wednesdays in Mississippi became Workshops in Mississippi; an ongoing effort to help black women and families, and poor white women and families, achieve economic self-betterment.
I shared these stories with you because they tell us that as women we have the strength to survive and the tenacity to thrive. We are audacious! We are bodacious! Despite what our government tells us when we apply for contracts and provide information to fill some unfilled mythical quota, know that we are all women, regardless of our ethnicity or origin. Together we continue to shape our Mississippi into a place where all of us can live without fear. We have a legacy to continue. We are the hands that rock the cradles. We are Mississippi.