Jackson Advocate Woman of the Year 2024 Constance Slaughter-Harvey: She gets there ‘first’ only to hold the door open for others 

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By Alice Thomas-Tisdale

JA Publisher Emerita

In a 2020 article in the Jackson Advocate, Publisher DeAnna Tisdale Johnson wrote, “Constance Slaughter-Harvey is a name that needs no introduction. It is a name that rings of truth and justice for Black and Brown people in Mississippi. It is the name that cuts through the cloak of racism and white supremacy in Mississippi. It is the name of the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Mississippi School of Law and the first African American woman judge in the state of Mississippi.” Slaughter-Harvey’s fight for civil rights in Mississippi, including the battle she won that allowed the first Black men to become a part of the all white highway patrolmen in 1970, is among the first examples of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) within the state. She was leading the charge even then.

Therefore, the Jackson Advocate has chosen The Honorable Constance Slaughter-Harvey, whom the entire state of Mississippi claims as their own, and rightly so, as our 2024 Woman of the Year. There is no single person more than this frontline soldier who has fought for and achieved equity, diversity, and inclusion on behalf of everyday citizens.

Slaughter-Harvey has filed more than 200 legal actions, including the aforementioned lawsuit desegregating the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the lawsuit against the state and city of Jackson for the wrongful deaths of students James Green and Phillip Gibbs at Jackson State in 1970. She is one of the original attorneys in the Jake Ayers lawsuit and has filed many voting rights and redistricting cases. She also has extensive experience in nursing home and personal injury lawsuits. 

She has accomplished these feats through the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, institutions of higher learning, grassroots organizing, business partnerships, and the nonprofit she founded over a decade ago, Legacy Education and Community Empowerment Foundation, Inc., headquartered in her hometown of Forest, MS. “I’ve tried to dedicate my life to racial justice,” she said. Tried is an understatement.

Although Slaughter-Harvey is best known for becoming the first African American female graduate at the University of Mississippi School of Law (1970), she credits her undergraduate studies at Tougaloo College for shaping and molding her, along with her parents, siblings, and mentors. 

However, Slaughter-Harvey’s impact at The University of Mississippi remains throughout the campus. Among her imprints there are the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) named in her honor (1998), receiving the law school’s public service award, the first woman and first African American to be so honored, and being named the law school’s Alumna of the Year in 2022, becoming the first African American female to receive the recognition.

After graduating from the University of Mississippi, Slaughter-Harvey joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as a staff attorney and worked there until 1972 when she returned to Forest and established her private law practice.  She served as Executive Director of Southern Legal Rights and later became Director of East Mississippi Legal Services and became the first Black female judge in Scott County in 1975.

In 1980, she joined the staff of Governor William Winter as Director of Human Development.  A few years later, in 1984, she became Assistant Secretary of State for Elections and Public Lands with Secretary of State, Dick Molpus.

For more than 36 years, she was an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Tougaloo College (where she was the first female student government president in 1966). She is the past president of the Magnolia Bar Association, Catholic Charities Board, Central Mississippi Legal Services, Forest Rotary Club, and National Association of State Election Directors, where she was the first woman and first African American.

Slaughter-Harvey is the recipient of the American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Award and Mississippi Bar’s Susie Buchanan Award, which are the highest honors bestowed on female attorneys. She has received countless awards and honors, including an appointment under President Jimmy Carter as a Presidential Scholars Commissioner (1978). 

She is a life member of Girl Scouts of America, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Magnolia Bar Association/Foundation, National Bar Association, American Bar Foundation, Mississippi Bar Foundation, NAACP, National Federated Women, and Rotary International (Paul Harris Fellow).

In 2000, she was inducted into Tougaloo College’s Hall of Fame, following National Bar Association (2010), University of Mississippi School of Law (2013), and the University of Mississippi (2016). She is featured in the documentary “Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders,” which received honors and recognition at the Kennedy Center in New York in 2004. 

Slaughter-Harvey received the 2016 Heritage Award from Mississippi Power and The Rabbi Perry Nussbaum Civil Justice Award in 2016 from Millsaps College, Two Rivers Gala 2017 Tougaloo College Honoree, Women of Distinction – Laureates for Greater Mississippi Girl Scouts in 2017, and the Women For Progress of Mississippi Dorothy Stewart Leadership Award in 2019. 

The following year, she received the JSU For My People Award, which recognizes individuals for their contributions to African American history and culture. Named after Margaret Walker’s classic poem “For My People,” past recipients of the award include James Meredith, Unita Blackwell, Andrew Young, Reena Evers-Everette, and Lottie Joiner.

A constant message Judge Slaughter-Harvey leaves with her audience is, “Always remember who you are, whose you are, and upon whose shoulders we stand.”

She has received countless awards and honors, including an appointment under President Jimmy Carter as a Presidential Scholars Commissioner (1978). Another first was within her reach, U.S. Attorney General under the Obama administration, but she declined consideration to work full time with youth in her community.

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Jackson Advocate Woman of the Year 2024 Constance Slaughter-Harvey: She gets there ‘first’ only to hold the door open for others 

By Jackson Advocate News Service
April 1, 2024