At this hour, I mourn the loss of a woman who has been a part of my village and a mainstay in my life since I was a child. Dorothy Mays attended Jackson State College with my father and my uncle. She and my mother have been friends forever. Ms. Dorothy drove from Memphis to Jackson to see me jump the broom on September 25, 1998. She drove to Georgia year before last to attend my sister Evalyn’s wedding.
On March 10th of this year, she helped my husband and I find masks to protect us from this virus that had just hit the news. She told a lady, “I got my family with me. Can you give me two masks for them. They are getting ready to get on a plane.” The lady went over to a box grabbed two masks and handed them right over. On the 25th of March she picked my husband and I up from the Memphis airport. By them we had learned that hugging people you love was forbidden.
The previous month, on February 9, 2020, Ms. Dorothy’s brother drove her to attend the Jackson Book Festival at the Jackson Medical Mall, an event I coordinated. Her early learning material was a big hit. She was selling her wares. She spent her entire career working with early learners and elementary children. I can remember her saying, “when children are that age (5 – 6) they need to be hands on writing, coloring, and drawing.”
Ms. Dorothy also told me that the word ‘alphabet’ is plural and it needs no (s). Come to think about it, I learned a lot from her. I became interesting in early learners and increasing literacy in my community in recent years. But, Ms. Dorothy was working with early learners before I could hold a pencil. When I was young, I was so proud to see Ms. Dorothy on Television. Dorothy Mays Gibbs was the first black female television personality in Jackson, MS. She was hired by WLBT Channel 3 in July of 1972 to host Our Playmates.
Our Playmates was a 30-minute program which came on five days a week. Ms. Dorothy created the games and activities for the show. She hosted different groups of black and white children which was groundbreaking. In fact, at that time, blacks consisted of a mere 10 percent of the stations employees. Ms. Dorothy was shining like new money in 1972. She was a black woman with intellect who was connecting to an integrated group of children just one year after the State of Mississippi started complying with the 1954 Brown decision.
She was creative. She was a trendsetting. She was a mover. She was a shaker. She was a fly role model.
I admired Ms. Dorothy. Right now as I think about all the decades I’ve known Ms. Dorothy and her daughters who were our playmates I am happy to hold so many memories in my heart.
But, most of all, I am grateful because Ms. Dorothy told me, “Now, Meredith you write a book on your uncle for an adult audience.” She and mama had collaborated to write a book on my uncle for early learners. Their collaboration became, “A Story About James H. Meredith: A Civil Rights Leader (52 pages). Then mama (Hazel Janell Meredith) wrote My Brother J-Boy a 100-page illustrated children’s book on James H. Meredith.
Mama worked in early childhood in the 1960s and 70s too. She was a nutritionist. Ms. Dorothy set out to fill a gap because she felt it was important for children in the Memphis, TN school system to have access to books on James H. Meredith who broke down Jim Crow barriers on the college level. He also spurred black voter registration in the south. Mama asked me to write a summary on my uncle. After I wrote the summary, Ms. Dorothy say something that had never crossed my mind.
She said, “Meredith looks like you know quite a bit about J-Boy you write a book for an adult audience.” Her comment was not a suggestion it was a command so I replied, “Okay.”
Believe or not, from that day forward I became a student on the subject of James H. Meredith. As I conducted research my uncle became an historic figure rather than my uncle. I interviewed him, his siblings, his peers and the rest is history. After receiving 16 rejection letters, I found a commercial publisher. After the committee voted to publish my manuscript, Amazon was changing the game and Greenville Publishing merged with Praeger Publishing and ABC-CLIO which produced textbooks. I was asked to convert my manuscript from APA Style to Chicago Manual of Style.
My second book James Meredith: Warrior and the America that created him and the first book I wrote alone was placed in the textbook market and because my subject was famous my book landed in the national and international textbook market.
I owe that milestone to the lady who assisted that I write a book about her former college friend who happened to be my famous uncle. I owe a lot of gratitude to Ms. Dorothy which stems from much more than a book.
Writing this blog took the sadness away and replaced it with hope and positive reflections. To creativity! To the future. To women pushing women up. To us pushing each other up. To ending systemic racism. To economics for me and for you!
To a better world. Rest in Power Ms. Dorothy. Love you.
The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission spied on Albert and Dorothy Gibbs. In the late 60s and early 70s the couple used their voices for our generation.