The Hon. Constance Slaughter-Harvey addresses NAACP gathering in McComb
By Monique Armstrong
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
The Honorable Constance Slaughter-Harvey was the special guest speaker in McComb, MS, on July 30, 2011, at McComb’s local NAACP’s Annual Freedom Fund Banquet, where civil rights activist, Robert (“Bobby”) Talbert received the C.C. Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award. The event was held at S.W. Regional Medical Center and brought together civil rights leaders, politicians, judges, attorneys, ministers, community leaders, NAACP members, and the general public. The theme of the program was “Courage for Change.”
Ms. Slaughter-Harvey, who has received several NAACP Awards for dedication and commitment to the continuing struggle for legal justice, told audience members that if they ever talk about C.C. Bryant, “you know you have to talk about change and courage.” “It’s courage that makes a man a man and a woman a woman,” she said. “It takes courage to tell the truth. All you have to do to sustain the momentum you need to get through is to know that what you are doing is right.” She gives credit to her parents and the village that raised her for the fact that she has accomplished so much with her life. “My parents taught me that right is always right,” she said.
“Right is right today. Right will be right tomorrow, and right will be right the day after tomorrow.” Ms. Slaughter-Harvey’s speech occurred three days before elections in Pike County, MS. More African American candidates were running for office than had ever run before in history. It did her heart good, Ms. Slaughter-Harvey said, to see so many African Americans stand and announce their candidacies. The majority of candidates present running for office were African Americans. “If you lose,” she said, “run again, and keep on running!” She told the audience to insist on honesty from elected officials. With regard to those in office who are not considering the interests of African Americans, she urged the African American community to “Be Real,” adding that they had a right to be critical of anyone who was not doing their job.
Ms. Slaughter-Harvey, who received the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Award, previously served as coordinator of the Mississippi State Democratic Party responsible for all Democratic candidates in the state. She was also assistant secretary for State Elections and a member of the Board of Directors of the Election Center. She founded the National Association of State Election Administrators (NASEA). In 1991, she was elected the first female and first black to serve as President. She told the audience that “The ballot must continue to be utilized because it empowers. The ballot changes … it took courage for individuals to insist on the ballot. If we lose the ballot, we are back where we started!” “The ballot is so important, because it empowers. It’s powerful!”
In an interview, Ms. Slaughter-Harvey said she was more determined to be a civil rights attorney after losing a case she should have won, Burton v. Williams, where Jackson State students were killed by State Patrolmen in 1970. Fresh out of law school, she took a Rankin County court case representing 24 young students, State v. Adams. During a court proceeding, the judge called her a “n—-r” from the bench, indisputably abusing the privilege he had been given to judge cases indiscriminately. The incident left a lasting impression. She thought, “Now he can call me a ‘n—-r’ 24 hours a day, but I’ll be d–n, if he calls me a ‘n—-r’ from the bench!” She wondered if she had dared him to call her a “n—-r” again, if he would have actually been hateful and ignorant enough to do it. That was his last term. Ms. Slaughter-Harvey has joined the procession of influential women who have taken a strong stand for civil rights and equal justice under the law.
She urges African Americans to turn from a life of apathy to one of intimate personal involvement to reignite the stagnated struggle, especially in southern cities, small towns and communities, where racist ideology thrives in spite of all that has been done to prevent it. She is a “no-nonsense” civil rights fighter, a tough advocate, a woman of power. She has the courage needed for continuing change. We cannot define her as an essentialist “female” in terms of our cultural norms. Her educational and career accomplishments are phenomenal and compel us to acknowledge her as a critical agent for change—space traditionally dominated by the male species as a right of birth.
Yet, at the same time, we see shining through the tough “Here I Take My Stand” lawyer, the civil rights fighter, the tough advocate, those aspects of womanhood we have long valued and would not be without. She brings us the best of both worlds. Constance Slaughter-Harvey, who has received numerous honors over the years, is the former Assistant Secretary of State/General Counsel and is presently Scott County’s Youth Court Prosecutor, and a private practitioner with Slaughter Harvey Law Office, Forest, MS. She is the recipient of the American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Award, the Mississippi Bar Association’s Susie Blue Buchanan Award, and the 2001 Mississippi Women Lawyer. She was the first female African American to serve as a Mississippi judge, Scott County Chancery Court (1975.)
Other previous employment includes staff attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (1970-72), executive director of Southern Legal Rights Association (Lay Advocacy Program) (1972-78), executive director of East MS Legal Services and one of the founders (1978-1980), Fair Hearings officer under Governor Cliff Finch’s administration (1977-1979), executive director of the Governor’s Office of Human Development (William Winter’s administration – 1980-84), assistant secretary of State of Elections and Public Lands/General Counsel (1984-1996 under Dick Molpus’ administration), executive director – MS Democratic Coordinating Committee (May, 1996-December, 1996), and Private Practitioner (1996-present). Ms. Slaughter-Harvey is a 1967 graduate of Tougaloo College, where she was elected President of the Student Government Association, becoming the first female to serve in that capacity. On January 27, 1970, she became the first African American female to receive a law degree from the University of Mississippi.
She was a former Tougaloo College adjunct professor (Pre-Law) for 36 years and a former member of the Tougaloo College Board of Trustees. She is also a member of the Tougaloo College Hall of Fame. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a Presidential Scholars Commissioner. Ms. Constance Slaughter-Harvey is one of the founders of the National Black Law Student’s Association at Rutgers University in New Jersey, 1969. In 1998, the University of Mississippi’s Chapter of the Black Law Student Association was named in her honor. Attorney Slaughter-Harvey is past President of the Magnolia Bar Association and recipient of the prestigious R. Jesse Brown Award. Ms. Slaughter-Harvey is the mother of Constance (James) Burwell and the grandmother of James Arthur Emmanuel Burwell, III, a/k/a Tre’.