Unity Park Committee names educator, businessman 2019 honorees

Unity Park Committee names educator, businessman 2019 honorees

SDN Editor

Two deceased locals received posthumous honors on Monday for their contributions to the civil rights of others in Oktibbeha County on Monday as part of the county’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations.

Unity Park Committee Chair Jeanne Marszalek introduced the committee, who then unveiled a new plaque honoring longtime teacher Adelaide J. Elliott and business owner Wilson Ashford Sr. — both charter members of the Oktibbeha County Chapter of the NAACP.

Marszalek said 2019 marks the second year that honorees were added to the park and praised the work of those on the committee, along with public officials, who made the effort possible.

“We are so proud of this facility and the great opportunity it offers use to be able to gather for great programs like today,” she said.

Each of the honorees were nominated and those who submitted the nominations were on-hand to speak to the qualifications of each of the notable leaders.

Walter Conley nominated Elliott, who he referred to as “Miss Adelaide.”

Elliott was a public school teacher for over 40 years, but spent part of her life on the front lines of the civil rights movement, participating in marches, protests and boycotts.

“She was a pioneer and played a leading role in many things,” Conley said. “She was an activist. She was active in civil rights marches, protests that eventually led to opportunities for African-Americans in this community. She was a leader. She would go if she had to go by her self.”

Elliott died in 2010, leaving a legacy that inspired many to participate in the NAACP and take a more active role in their communities, including Conley, who said she was like a mother figure to him.

Conley said looking back, he would remember Miss Adelaide as a woman you did not want to get in front of when she had her mind set on something — a trait that made her an effective leader.

“She was the real deal,” Conley said. “She was a genuine person. What you saw was what you go — a legacy and imprint on this community that will stand the test of time.”

The daughter of Wilson Ashford Sr. — Annette Ashford Johnson — spoke as her father was honored among the other leaders depicted at Unity Park.

Ashford owned an auto mechanic business and was a charter member of the local NAACP chapter who worked alongside other notable leaders such as Dr. Douglas L. Conner as the county worked toward integration and equal rights for African-Americans.

One story she recalled came when Conner went around the community soliciting help for several people who had been arrested protesting laws against separate accommodations in a restaurant.

She said her father was the only one to help Conner, and caught backlash from white customers as result.

“They were arrested and someone called Dr. Conner and told them about it,” Johnson said. “Nobody stepped up but Dad. Those days were dangerous times.”

She said Griffin Chapel at First United Methodist Church held the first NAACP meeting, with the church opening its arms to those fighting for equal rights.

Ashford also served on the Starkville School Board — a position his daughter and others said highlighted his compassion for students of all races.

“My Daddy did not favor color, a person is a person,” she said. “He stood by all people. I’m thankful those two people are up there together on that plaque.”