(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- Bolstered by support from the Mississippi County Commission and a local state representative, a group seeking commemoration for a historic sharecropper protest will present their case to the Missouri Legislature Aug. 8.
Following a program conducted in front of the county war memorial outside of the courthouse, the commemoration's proponents met with county commissioners during their regular meeting Thursday
Reading from a proposed resolution, Willie Jarrett of Charleston, a local minister, recalled how on Jan. 10, 1939, around 1,100 sharecroppers "took a heroic stand against injustice" in a protest along U.S. Highways 60 and 61 near Sikeston that "would reshape the landscape of Southeast Missouri and change government policies forever."
The sharecroppers were protesting their eviction by landowners after a New Deal program gave farmers subsidies to take land out of production to reduce supply and bring farm product prices up.
"The demonstration was unprecedented for its time and in many ways was a prologue to the modern civil rights movement," Jarrett said. He noted this non-violent demonstration took place about 15 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus.
Also presented was a petition to honor the roadside demonstrators along with Owen Whitfield, an African-American minister who organized the protest, and Thad Snow, a prominent Mississippi County landowner who opened up his land to aid the sharecroppers after they were removed from the roadside by government officials.
The petition is seeking a historical marker erected near Snow's Corner in Charleston. In addition to the markers, Jarrett said they would like to see Jan. 10 declared as an official day of remembrance.
"It has great social significance for our county," said state Rep. Steve Hodges, 161st District, who noted he is the descendent of a sharecropper. "I'm a great advocate of history."
Hodges said there are things that need to be worked out such as how much historical markers will cost and where the money for them will come from.
As for designating Jan. 10 as Owen Whitfield and Thad Snow Day, "I think it would have a lot more significance at the state level," Hodges said.
In approving the resolution, Commissioners Homer Oliver said he is not opposed to the historical markers or other efforts at commemorating the event. "It's history and I think it's a good deal," he said.
Hodges said the historical markers could be a draw for tourists as it was "a changing point in history in Mississippi County." He said it is possible funding could be sought through the Mississippi County Historical Society.
Malcolm Jarrett, a former resident of Mississippi County who now lives in Pittsburgh, said this is not just a local effort.
Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg said he has lived his entire life in Mississippi County and did not know the history of Snow's Corner or who Thad Snow was.