The McCoys: Pioneers of Black Jackson

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Dr. A. H. and Rose E. McCoy

Editor’s Note: as told to me by McCoy’s daughter, Rosaline Stribley.

Situated between Capitol, Roach, Amite and Farish streets in Downtown Jackson is  the Dr. A. H. McCoy Federal Building. Because of the efforts of Dr. Robert Smith, Dr. Aaron Henry, and former Congressman Wayne Dowdy, who introduced the legislation, it became the first federal building in the country, out of 7200 at the time, to be named for an African American. That bill was also supported by then Mississippi Congressional Delegation, Senators John Stennis and James Eastland and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Congressman Dowdy expressed, at the time, that the naming of the building after Dr. McCoy was “a symbol of how far Mississippi had come.”

Dr. McCoy, was a dentist, who was born in 1903 at the intersection of Ridgewood and Old Canton Road before it was incorporated into the city of Jackson.  His parents, Neil and Maggie McCoy, owned and operated a large dairy farm and meat market there on 40 acres of land. 

McCoy would go on to receive higher education from Tougaloo College and dental school at Meharry Medical College. In 1930, he returned to Jackson and started a practice. McCoy co-founded the Security Life Insurance Company in 1938 (the same year the Jackson Advocate came into existence) and built, owned, and oversaw the operation of two movie theaters; they were among the first to be owned and operated by a Black person in the United States. 

McCoy’s list of accomplishments is vast. He helped develop the Farish Street Business District. He, along with Dr. Sidney Redman, opened a trade school for Black veterans returning from WWII on Bailey Avenue. He was a part of the move to win licensing of WLBT and that efforted succeeded. 

McCoy would expand his parent’s property to amass 110 acres. He then developed the land, naming the first street McCoy Drive. The cattle and horses were moved to a 500-acre parcel of land that is now Kennebrew Road in Pocahontas, MS. 

Dr. McCoy was also a freedom fighter. He was State NAACP President when Emmitt Till was killed, driving to the trial everyday to stand injustice in the face. He was also the first Mississippian to purchase a lifetime membership to the NAACP.  He once addressed the National Convention with an emphatic speech, in which he exclaimed, “Give me freedom or give me death.” The crowd roared and they began referring to him as “Patrick Henry McCoy”. Jet Magazine referred to him as “Dynamite”. 

Yet, all the hard work and accomplishments of the McCoy family did not escape criticism or threats of oppression. Dr. McCoy was put on the “Three Most Wanted List” by the Klu Klux Klan (KKK). Dr. McCoy once said, “They killed the other two.” The other two were Medgar Evers and Rev. George Lee of Belzoni. 

Due to constant threats to his person and to his family,  even the threat that a violent act like the kidnapping of his infant daughter would occur, Dr. McCoy stepped down as the NAACP president. Nonetheless, his humanitarian efforts did not cease. He headed a Christmas Cheer Fund; he was a member of the Board of Trustees at Tougaloo where many social and political forums were held; he was Treasurer of the Board of Trustees and a Sunday School teacher at his church, Central United Methodist, and a devoted member of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. 

He was a family man, whose wife, Rose E. McCoy, was as dedicated to the community as he was. McCoy passed away in 1970, but his legacy lives on. McCoy’s daughter, Rosaline McCoy Stribley notes that in 2021, the beautifully ornate building is “the last symbol of Black pride” on Farish Street. She continues, “The world has  now changed because of COVID-19. Many peopel have had time to reflect. It is time for us to develoop what was ours. we have an opportunity to teach the childre Black history. We can teach about the Jackson version of “Black Wall Street”. The federal building can become a beacon for rebuilding Farish Street for new generations.”

REPRINT: October 13-19, 2011 (Dr. Rose E. McCoy was spirit behind Farish Street renewal project)

Written by: Earnest McBride

She came to teach at Jackson Teacher’s College in 1944 and almost turned and ran when she saw the conditions she would be working under at the time. But she was persuaded to stay, thanks to the intercession of a Jackson College groundskeeper, and she remained there for the next 36 years, according to the account given by the Reverend Hickman Johnson and several other speakers conducting Wednesday’s funeral services in the Rose Embly McCoy Auditorium, the building named in her honor on the Jackson State University campus. Dr. Rose Embly McCoy was born September 11, 1914, in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She died at age 97 on October 4, 2011, after full life that included overcoming an attack of breast cancer at age 80 that was first detected by her only child, Dr. Roslind McCoy Sibley, a professor of radiology at Howard University Medical School and an independent practitioner in Virginia.

If Jackson’s Farish Street district is to have a new life, a big part of the credit is due to the untiring efforts of Dr. Rose E. McCoy, said Johnson, pastor of Farish Street Baptist Church for the past four decades. Dr. McCoy and her late husband owned several important properties in the district, and for years Rose McCoy was the only person out front crusading for preservation of the once thriving business center that was slowly creeping into stages of decline and social anomie. She formed several organizations that sought to restore Farish Street to the throbbing economic fount that it had been for over half a century, Johnson added. She was encumbered by new building codes and found that each delaying tactic imposed by the city would cause a dozen or so old structures to enter the stage of ruin.

She developed the Psychology Department at Jackson State and was a “tough” teacher, according to retired JSU President John Peoples, a former student of hers and her colleague during his service as vice president and president of JSU. “She was tough for a good reason,” he said. “She wanted to make sure that her students were competent.” Jackson Advocate columnist Jim Rundles recalled his association with both Dr. Rose McCoy and her husband, Dr. A. H. McCoy, “She was a wonderful lady, a great teacher, and she was always interested in people having a good impression of what we were trying to accomplish,” Rundles said two days before the funeral services.

“She was a psychology teacher and her students were there to learn psychology. She was tough in the sense that she was determined that her students would learn psychology. That’s how they knew her here in the state of Mississippi, a very tough lady who knew her business. “I was happy just to know her,” Rundles added. “She invited a great number of well-known people from across the country to her big house on Livingston Road, and I would be invited out there. She was famous for her fund-raising parties to help her worthy political candidates.” Rundles says he was honored to have played a key role in having the federal building in downtown Jackson named for her late husband, Dr. A. H. McCoy, the strong and resolute state NAACP president for many years. As liaison to Governor William Waller, Rundles said he was able to help Mrs. McCoy in her crusade to honor her husband in some memorable way after his death in 1970. The doctor had owned two of the buildings the federal complex displaced, including the McCoy Building that housed his dental offices.

As the new federal building at the beginning of Farish Street approached its final stages of completion, their efforts were rewarded by having the building named “The Dr. A. H. McCoy Federal Building,” instead of bearing the name of the originally intended Senator James O. Eastland. It was daughter Roslind McCoy Sibley who guided the mourners through the life and adventures of Dr. Rose Embly McCoy. In her mother’s final years, she said, she had moved to Virginia to live with the Sibleys, especially to be in the company of her four grandchildren and other nearby family members. “She still had her wits about her until the end,” Ms. Sibley said, addressing the audience.

“Your outpouring of love and support has been like a geyser which has lifted me up so high that I have had little time for sadness. Your recollections of the multi-faceted petals of ‘The’ Rose have been a testament to the great and remarkable lady that she was.” Selena Anderson, wife of retired physician Dr. James Anderson, grew close to Dr. McCoy after her husband died and became a regular companion to her when she needed to drive long distances. Dr. McCoy’s eyesight was too poor for her to fly or drive a long distance, said Mrs. Anderson, who was also a member of the Doctors’ Wives club. “I would drive her to her doctor’s appointments and on many other trips that she needed to make,” Mrs. Anderson said.

“We became very close because of our many trips together. And we further cemented our relationship as members of the Mississippi Links and the Doctors’ Wives Association.” William and Carolyn Hines of Virginia, are the godparents of Jamal McCoy, the cherished final of four grandchildren Dr. McCoy drew into her loving embrace. Mr. and Mrs. Hines were both business associates and dedicated friends and admirers of the McCoy-Sibley family. “She was one of the most dedicated and tenacious people I know of,” said William Hines, a hospital administrator who worked closely with Dr. McCoy’s daughter, Roslind, and her husband, Dr. Anthony Sibley, a respected surgeon in Washington, D. C., and nearby Virginia.

“She began work on compiling her family history when she was already in advanced age. I think she was around 80 then. She kept at it and was asking family members everywhere for whatever mementos and pictures they might have. She kept at it until she finished her book that had more than 1,000 pages in all.” Carolyn Hines had a more extended relationship with Dr. McCoy through her mother. “My mother knew Rose McCoy from the civil rights days,” she said. “After Roslind and Anthony moved to Virginia, we became very close to them, since my husband was the hospital administrator where they both practiced. We were very close over the years and we became godparents for their youngest son, Jamal.”

“Anthony and I formed the first 100 Black Men chapter in Virginia,” Bill Hines added. Dr. McCoy stood just as tall and resolute as her husband in the drive toward desegregation and the inculcation of civil rights for all Mississippians. She was a lifetime member of the NAACP, over which her husband presided for most of the 1950s and remained a stalwart well into the 1960s. 

In 2004, Dr.Rose McCoy was honored when the new performing arts center was named for her, the same building in which her obsequies were conducted Wednesday afternoon. In 1972, she had been the first female to deliver a commencement address at JSU. She is survived by her daughter Dr. Roslind I. McCoy Sibley and her son-in-law, Dr. Anthony F. Sibley, of Yorktown, Virginia; her four grandchildren, Daniel McCoy White of Sherman Oaks, CA; Jasmine Rachelle, Simone Antonique and Anthony Jamal Sibley, also of Yorktown; her sisters, Dr. Clemmie Embly Webber and Mrs. Margaret Embly Evans of Orangeburg, South Carolina. Dr. McCoy has enshrined an extended panorama of her family in her compilation of The Emblys–A Pictorial History of An American Family, soon to be on display at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History. 

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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The McCoys: Pioneers of Black Jackson

By DeAnna Tisdale Johnson
February 25, 2021