ABERDEEN – Like Mississippi history mirrors many small towns throughout the state, there’s been a lot to move pass since the days of slavery and racial equality.
Intertwined with the oppression came success throughout the years even in the midst of those controversial etches in time. Local author Lynette Stark has researched extensively to highlight some of the little known African American success stories that came out of Aberdeen.
“It’s all part of a book about great things in our corner of North Mississippi. It’s amazing how many leaders and great people of all types hailed from Aberdeen. They’re in every direction you look,” Stark said.
Along with her research, Stark expressed how she would love to see historical markers set up to honor those she is proud to talk about who were each innovators in their own regards.
“People don’t realize how many treasures we have here and everything we have to offer. It’s great to bring this information to light and the bottomline is that it can help provide for more unification of the community,” Stark said.
The three main subjects Stark recently discussed were similar by race, hometown and drive for success.
In the heat of slavery, Fredrick McGhee was born on the Walker Plantation in 1861 to Abraham McGhee and Sarah Walker. His father taught him how to read and he eventually went to attend Knoxville College in Tennessee, where he received a law degree in 1885.
After beginning his law career in Chicago, McGhee soon came to be the first African American admitted to the bar association in Minnesota, where he represented mainly white people. Stark’s research pins him as the first African American lawyer in Illinois, Tennessee and Minnesota.
McGhee was better known for social equality while being a forerunner for civil rights.
“He is credited by William Du Bois for forming the Niagara Movement, which was the precursor to the NAACP,” Stark said.
Dr. William Du Bois was a civil rights activist, author, sociologist and historian, who was chosen as director of publicity and research during the second meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on May 30, 1910.
McGhee also was chosen to attend the Republican National Convention as a representative until he wasn’t given a seat. He eventually switched parties, becoming one of the first prominent black Democrat in a time when most African Americans were Republicans.
Originally of Baptist faith, McGhee converted to Catholicism and convinced Catholic Archbishop John Ireland to support the struggle for equal rights.
Three years after the NAACP was founded, McGhee died at age 50 in 1912.
*Dr, James McMillan
Born in Aberdeen in 1917 and relocated to Chicago at age 5, Dr. James McMillan later in life became the first African American to join the University of Detroit’s football team and not only the first black dentist in Nevada, but also the first dentist in the state to introduce and perform dental implants.
Already passionate about civil rights, McMillan became president of his local NAACP chapter and pushed for equal rights in Las Vegas.
“He brought about integration peacefully and quietly in Las Vegas and was well respected,” Stark said.
McMillan’s threats to march and boycott on Las Vegas’ famed Strip gave way for blacks to support and work in the casinos in more positions than just porters and maids.
While in Las Vegas, McMillan also helped organize the Black Chamber, now known as the Urban Chamber of Commerce.
So many articles and timelines of the history of golf make mention of Ann Moore-Gregory. Born in 1912 in Aberdeen, she was raised by a white family as a servant after her parents died while she was at a younger age.
Although she was interested in golf and tennis when she was young, she wasn’t allowed to use the sports facilities in town. After she married in 1939, her husband introduced her to playing golf. While he was overseas fighting in World War II, she focused more time to her golf game.
In 1950, she won six of the seven black golf tournaments she entered, including the National United Golfers Association. She won four UGA championships in her career.
In 1956, she played in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in Indianapolis, signaling the first time an African American woman had ever played in a national champion held by the United States Golf Association.
By the time she retired, Moore-Gregory had won more than 300 championships across the world. In 1989, months before her death, she won a gold medal in the U.S. Senior Olympics. Her reputation in the sport gave her the designation as the “Jackie Robinson” of golf.
In 2000, the Urban Chamber of Commerce of Las Vegas, the same organization partially founded coicidentally by Aberdeen’s own McMillan, began the Ann Gregory Memorial Scholarship Golf Tournament, which lasted seven years.
She was inducted into the United Golf Association’s Hall of Fame in 1966, the African American Golfers Hall of Fame in 2006 and the National African American Golfers Hall of Fame in 2011.