Shero Peggy Jean Connor was instrumental in the fight to end gerrymandering in Mississippi

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Peggy Jean Connor (pictured in the middle) at a MS Freedom Democratic Party meet-ing in Hattiesburg, MS. (Photo courtesy of USM Special Collections: Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs)

By DeAnna Tisdale Johnson

Jackson Advocate Publisher

Editor’s Note: On the heels of what we dis-cussed last week, it is important to chronicle the fight to end gerrymandering in Mississippi because it helps us understand the political makeup and history of the city of Jackson. A major proponent of this fight was civil rights activist, Peggy Jean Connor.

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that each citizen is entitled to equal representation at the statehouse or the nation’s Capitol, also known as “the one-man, one-vote principle” in the case of Reynolds v. Sims. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  The iconic photo of President Johnson greeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the bill is readily conjured when this historic moment in time comes to mind.

That time period mobilized everyday peo-ple like Hattiesburg beautician and owner of Jean’s Beauty Shop, Peggy Jean Connor, who morphed into a civil rights activist focused on registering Black people to vote. Those who knew Connor recall her quiet strength and determination. That fortitude led her, along with Victoria Jackson Gray Adams and J.C. Fairley, to co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) because, at the time, not many Black people were not allowed into the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.

Connor, who became the executive secre-tary for MFDP, was also a member of COFO. She taught citizenship classes for SCLC and was once arrested while protesting for voting rights in front of the Forest County Courthouse in 1964. Also that year, she joined other MFDP members in Atlantic City, New Jersey for the Democratic National Convention where Fannie Lou Hamer gave her famous speech on being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

That convention persuaded Connor and oth-ers to file a lawsuit that opposed gerrymander-ing in Mississippi. In 1965, she, along with other Freedom Democratic Party members including Henry Kirksey, filed that lawsuit (Peggy Jean Connor et al. vs. Paul B. Johnson, Jr. – the governor of Mississippi at the time) which challenged the methods of electing state legislators through district apportionment at that time.  The lawsuit stated that the current district apportionment “establishes irrational, invidious, discriminatory, and unequal dis-tricts which have in the past and presently” de-nied Black people their Constitutional rights. The group alleged that the MS Legislature had unlawfully created three districts in the Delta instead of one. This separation made it near-ly impossible for an African American to be elected to office. 

We’ll delve into this case and its importance in next week’s editorial.

DeAnna Tisdale Johnson has stepped into the role of publisher of her family legacy, the Jackson Advocate. Since March 2020, she has led the publication to once again become an award-winning newspaper with a new logo and website to boot. She is a Jackson native, graduating from Murrah High School and Tougaloo College. She is also classically trained in vocal performance, and, though she’s never broken a glass, she’s known to still hit a high note or two.

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Shero Peggy Jean Connor was instrumental in the fight to end gerrymandering in Mississippi

By DeAnna Tisdale Johnson
March 25, 2021