DeSoto County Democratic Party Executive Committee honored four African-American “trailblazers” who have made an impact in DeSoto County politics this week during a special ceremony to commemorate Black History Month.
Walls Mayor Keidron Henderson, civil rights activist and Walls Alderman Dr. Leslie Burl McLemore, Horn Lake Alderman LaShonda Johnson, and State. Rep. Hester Jackson-McCray were celebrated for making history as the first African-Americans elected to prominent political positions in DeSoto County since the 1800s.
Henderson, who is Director of Hotel Operations for Fitz’s Casino in Tunica, made history by being elected the town’s first African-American mayor in 2020.
“It was nothing that I ever sought,” Henderson said. “But I was born and raised here and in my adult years I wanted to see Walls grow. It was the reason I put my hat in the race. I love Walls.”
McLemore made history in 1963 as the first African-American to register to vote in DeSoto County, which paved the way for generations of others to participate in the political process. As a student at Rust College, McLemore was a civil rights activist and helped register African-Americans in Holly Springs in 1961.
He didn’t know what kind of reception he would get when he and his brother, Eugene, and college friend Dr. Johnny Anthony, showed up to register.
“Hell yeah I was scared,” McLemore said. “In 1963 it was dangerous for a black person to register to vote. But fortunately when we walked in the door of (DeSoto Chancery Court Clerk) Ham Ferguson’s office, he knew who I was and welcomed us. It was peaceful. As I always put it, it was uneventful.”
McLemore served on the Jackson City Council and made history again when he returned to his hometown and was elected Alderman in 2017. He said he doesn’t really think of himself as a trail blazer necessarily. He did it because he wanted to make DeSoto County, the state of Mississippi, and the country a better place.
“The heart and soul of it in my thinking is the right to vote and political participation,” McLemore said. “That is something I have been advocating all of my life.”
LaShonda Johnson, a librarian at Horn Lake Intermediate School, is the first African-American woman elected to a municipal seat in Horn lake since Reconstruction. She said she didn’t run for office with the idea of becoming the first African-American aldermen, but today views it as a great honor and something she uses as a way to inspire others to get involved in the political process.
“When I was first elected there was never a though in my mind,” Johnson said. “But now it is at the forefront of my mind all of the time of how I conduct myself. When I talk to kids at school I am constantly trying to be a role model, the person that says, hey, you can do it.”
Hester Jackson-McCray is the first African-American to represent DeSoto County in the Mississippi Legislature, and just the third African-American to represent a majority-white legislative district since Reconstruction.
“It’s a huge honor,” Jackson-McCray said. “I think as an African-American we need some representation. When I am down at the Capitol, even if I don’t get what I want, my voice is heard.”
Jackson-McCray was elected in 2019 by a slim 14 vote margin over Republican incumbent Ashley Henley in a race that was contested all the way to the legislature, who upheld her victory. She is running for re-election for the District 40 seat.
“It has been a really great experience for me,” she said. “I think I have done some things that the people of DeSoto County want from me and I am glad of that.”
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