Five Southwest Georgia women headed to hall

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- Five Southwest Georgia women, whose lives were examples of courage in the face of adversity, have been selected for induction in the Southern Rural Black Women's Hall of Fame.

Daisy Newsome of Albany, Annie Jackson-Willingham of Camilla, Grace Hall Miller of Newton, Dr. Linda Walden of Cairo and Sallie Mae Coney of Pineview will be inducted into the hall at a regional ceremony in Montgomery, Ala., Saturday before being recognized at a local ceremony in Albany May 28.

Also inducted Saturday will be 10 honorees from Alabama and Mississippi.

According to a release from the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, the area inductees were selected by their peers for their "lifelong distinguished leadership in Southwest Georgia and because they have, in the face of adversity, demonstrated dignity, creativity, endurance, courage and the ability to inspire hope."

The victim of a serious heart condition, Newsome defied her doctor's orders and the law of the land by working to register voters in Southwest Georgia. Despite her poor health, she marched alongside other civil rights advocates, was jailed for her actions and even fasted and refused bail after being incarcerated.

A sharecropper's daughter, Newsome's work in the face of danger helped establish the foundation of the Albany Movement.

Jackson-Willingham, a longtime educator now retired, has never stopped her efforts to educate young people. After a career in which her students scored in the 98-99th percentile on the Georgia High School Science Graduation Test, she continues to tutor students on Saturday afternoons in the summer, teaches Sunday School at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Camilla and works with her church's youth department.

A hate crime that led to Baker County farmer Hosie Miller's death became the impetus for the start of the Baker County Movement, and Grace Hall Miller became the unofficial coordinator of the Baker movement and offshoot civil rights efforts in Mitchell, Terrell and Lee counties. Her home became the unofficial headquarters for the movement, where participants were housed and fed and where mass meetings were held and marches planned.

Miller was recently recognized by the state Board of Education for 20 years of service to the Baker County Board of Education.

A native of St. Albans, N.Y., Walden was the first African-American to graduate from the Southwest Georgia Family Practice Residency program. Since earning degrees at Florida A&M and the Mercer University School of Medicine, she has been named Physician of the Year by the National Medical Association and was the first and only South Georgia-North Florida recipient of the national Jefferson Award for outstanding public service, an award founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

A strong advocate for women educating themselves about health issues, particularly HIV/AIDS, Miller was named by then-Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes to the Georgia Medical Board, which licenses and disciplines physicians.

Coney taught for a period after earning a degree from Fort Valley State College, but she and her husband eventually decided that she should be a full-time wife and mother to the couple's 13 children. She earned the right to vote in court when, after passing a so-called "literacy test," she was subpoenaed to appear before a 12-person jury. That action in part spurred her to become a voting-rights advocate for African-Americans in her community.

Saturday's activities include a noon Hall of Fame luncheon at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel, followed by induction ceremonies at 3 p.m. at the Community Congregational United Church of Christ. Shirley Sherrod of Albany, the state director for Rural Development, will serve as guest speaker.

The local recognition ceremony will be held at Albany State University's HPER Gymnasium at a time to be determined.

The SRBWI Hall of Fame, whose first induction ceremony was held in 2005, was established as part of a Share Your Heritage workshop sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Hall's purpose is to promote pride among rural black women and their families; document and preserve local legacies, history and traditions; and recognize inductees for their accomplishments.

The Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative is a three-state multiyear collaboration sponsored by the Ford, Kellogg and Marguerite Casey foundations and is responsible for creating new economic opportunities in 77 counties in Alabama, Southwest Georgia and the Mississippi Delta. It is administered by the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education in Georgia, by the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama and the Children's Defense Fund's southern regional office in Mississippi.