By Ida Brown / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
For Meridian's observance of Women's History Month, resident Ruth Jones not only plans to recognize a local trailblazer, but also hopes it will be the start of something greater toward her honor.
Jones, who has served as the National Women's History Project's statewide coordinator since 2010, is commemorating civil rights activist Polly Glover Heidelberg for this year's local observance.
"I think she best exemplifies the national theme for 2014 – 'Celebrating Women and Girls of Character, Courage and Commitment,'" Jones said of the woman affectionately known as "Miss Polly."
During the civil rights movement, Heidelberg played an active role in voter registration, picketed for jobs for blacks, served time in jail for demanding equal rights and made numerous sacrifices on behalf of the community's black population.
Heidelberg also had a close connection with the three civil rights workers murdered in Philadelphia – James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael "Mickey" Schwerner.
"Which makes it so right to honor her at this time – the 50th anniversary of the three civil rights workers' murders," Jones said. "It's also fitting because this is the anniversary of when the kids came down South to establish the Freedom Schools. All of these events occurred when Miss Polly was most active during the civil rights movement."
While she acknowledges many other local women are also deserving of recognition, Jones said Heidelberg has not been given due respect.
"Miss Polly is an international trailblazer. She is, as Obie Clark and others in the past have said, she's our Fannie Lou Hamer. And, very few people know why," she said.
Jones already has received a proclamation from Mayor Percy L. Bland and the Meridian City Council designating March 2014 as Women's History Month. She also is coordinating the Miss Polly Glover Heidelberg Read-Aloud/Read-In – Meridian, Mississippi, and Beyond, which begins March 16 and ends March 31.
"During that time, we encourage everyone to read research material about Miss Polly, including articles previously published in The Meridian Star and one in The New York Times Magazine," Jones said.
Copies of the articles have been distributed to local schools, as well as to city and county officials and other organizations. They also may be found at Meridian/Lauderdale County Public Library on Microfilm.
Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed a resolution which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week." Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as "Women’s History Week."
In 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed a resolution which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month." Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month.
Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating March as “Women’s History Month.”
"I'm hoping that we can observe Women's History Month locally each year and recognize many of our local women for their contributions to our community," Jones said. "But for this year, we're focusing on Miss Polly because we need to recognize her and make sure those who remember her don't forget, and those who don't know about her learn the many unselfish contributions she made to this community."