In 1963 Winson Hudson finally registered to vote in Leake County, interpreting part of the state constitution by saying, “It meant what it said and it said what it meant.” Hudson, born in the county’s hill country in 1916, had made her first attempt in 1937. Hudson lived her entire life in Harmony, a five-thousand-acre rural all-black community where families owned their land and homes and were highly protective of both.
Winson Hudson and her sister, Dovie, also filed the first lawsuit to desegregate the public schools in a rural Mississippi county, and in 1964 Debra Lewis entered first grade at the previously all-white grammar school. She was escorted to the school by Jean Fairfax of the American Friends Service Committee and Derrick Bell, the attorney from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund who had filed the lawsuit. Both groups continued to support Winson Hudson and her work in the county.
Hudson had helped to establish the county NAACP chapter in 1962 and served as its president for thirty-eight years. Her work included voting rights, school desegregation, health care, government loans, telephone service, good roads, housing, and child care—all intertwined with the black freedom struggle. She helped to welcome and house the young volunteers who came to work in Leake County during the 1964 Freedom Summer. She perceived current challenges and faced them individually or through the NAACP chapter, and in the closing years of her life she tried to convince young people about the importance of education and avoiding the fast track to prison, particularly for young black men. She had been heartbroken in 1978, when one of her early Head Start students, Earl Johnson, was executed at Parchman Penitentiary at age eighteen. She also stressed the importance of “saving our people’s land and houses. There will be people, buildings, and cars and things going to the moon and people living on another planet, but there won’t be no more land.”
The role that Hudson and other African American women played in the civil rights movement at the local level in black communities is sometimes overlooked. She was friends with another Mississippi freedom fighter, Mae Bertha Carter, of Drew, and recalled with pleasure a visit to the University of Virginia where the two of them met Max Kennedy, Robert Kennedy’s son, and sang to him, “Has anyone here seen my old friend Bobby?” Hudson received many honors and awards, including the NAACP Freedom Award for Outstanding Community Service. She died in April 2002.
- Winson Hudson and Constance Curry, Mississippi Harmony, Memoirs of a Freedom Fighter (2002)
- Brian Lanker, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America (1999)