Hattiesburg is host to many within the African American community who have helped advance racial equality and made historic contributions both for the city and the nation. Here are just a few of the great Black men and women that have called Hattiesburg home.
1. Raylawni Branch
• After graduating from Rowan High School, Branch helped integrate the University of Southern Mississippi.
• She was the first African American to be hired at Big Yank Corporation.
• Branch was elected in 1965 as the Forrest County NAACP secretary.
2. Jesse Leroy Brown
• Brown was the first African American pilot in the U.S. Navy and the first African American naval officer killed in the Korean War.
• He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was also the first African-American naval officer killed in the Korean War.
• On March 16, 1972, the U.S. Navy launched the USS Jesse L. Brown Navy Ship.
3. Nicholas Brown
• Brown is currently serving his first term on the Hattiesburg City Council as the Ward 5 councilman.
• In 2009, he started a landscaping business, Brown Lawn Service, and he has also served as a substitute teacher with Hattiesburg schools.
4. Deborah Delgado
• Delgado has represented Ward 2 on the Hattiesburg City Council for five terms. She initiated Twin Forks Rising, an urban renewal overlay district.
• She is founder of the Historic Mobile Street Renaissance Festival and has taught at two universities.
5. Johnny Dupree
• From 2001-2017, DuPree served as the first African American mayor of Hattiesburg. He served as a Forrest County supervisor from 1991-2001 and also served on the school board.
• In 2011, he was the Democratic nominee for governor of Mississippi.
6. Kermas Eaton
• In 2015, Eaton was appointed as the Hattiesburg city clerk and as director of administration. He started work with the city in 1995 as a custodian.
• Prior to his appointment by Mayor Johnny DuPree, he was a deputy city clerk and a state tax officer.
7. Glenda Funchess
• Funchess is a graduate of the first fully integrated Hattiesburg public school system class. She is a civil rights attorney and teacher.
• Her efforts led to the establishment of the Hub City’s first historical marker at a civil rights site.
8. Judge Deborah Gambrell
• Gambrell was appointed as senior chancellor of the 10th Chancery District in 2011 by Gov. Haley Barbour.
• She previously served for 30 years as a Forrest County justice court judge while maintaining a law practice that opened in 1978.
9. Vermester Jackson
• In 1965, Jackson helped integrate the private William Carey College. She graduated from the college with high honors and served as a Hattiesburg educator for more than 30 years.
• In 2019, Jackson was awarded an honorary doctorate by William Carey.
10. Clyde Kennard
• Kennard, a veteran, attempted to integrate Mississippi Southern College (now USM) on three occasions. His efforts to attend school resulted in his arrest and conviction on false charges.
• In 2018, the university awarded Kennard with an honorary doctorate.
11. Joyce Ladner
• The Palmers Crossing native served as the first female leader of Howard University in Washington, D.C.
• She was appointed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton to oversee the financial restructuring of public schools in the nation’s capital.
12. Jobie Martin
• Known as the “Loud Mouth of the South,” Martin was the first Black Mississippian to host a commercial TV show, “The Jobie Martin Show.”
• A World War II veteran, Martin served as a teacher, school board member and owner of a Jackson restaurant.
13. Walter Eugene Massey
• Massey is president emeritus of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and also of Morehouse College. He is a physicist with 41 honorary degrees.
• He served as the director of the National Science Foundation under President George H. W. Bush.
14. Judge Gay Polk-Payton
• Polk-Payton took office as a Forrest County justice court judge in 2012, and she also serves as a Hattiesburg municipal court judge pro tempore.
• She is the owner of the Polk-Payton Law Office and is also an adjunct faculty member at USM.
15 & 16. The Short Brothers
• Eugene and Purvis Short led their Hattiesburg High basketball teams to state victories in 1971 and 1974. They continued their successes at Jackson State University and professionally.
• Eugene was drafted by the NBA in 1975, and Purvis followed in 1978.
17. Sharon Thompson
• As District 2 supervisor, Thompson is the first woman to serve on the Forrest County Board of Supervisors.
• A former Forrest County court clerk, Thompson is also a past secretary of the Forrest/Lamar Federation of Democratic Women.
18. Rod Woullard
• A veteran of the United States Army, Woullard was elected as the District 4 supervisor for Forrest County in 2001.
• He is the owner of R & D Contracting.
• In 2006, Woullard co-founded The ADEPT School, the state’s flagship dropout recovery school.
There was a mistake in the print edition of this article on Feb. 25, 2021. We apologize for the mistake and would like to provide more information on the accomplishments of the individuals affected through a letter from the Editor.