Unity Park History

The idea of the Unity Park, located on Douglas L. Conner Drive, grew from concerned citizens who saw monuments being erected on the Oktibbeha County Courthouse grounds honoring Oktibbeha County Civil War soldiers of the Union and Confederacy and other wars, but nothing honoring those who soldiered for civil rights in Oktibbeha County and the state of Mississippi.

In 2013, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors designed a park on the property where the Oktibbeha County School System Office Building once stood. It had been damaged by a storm and had been removed. The Supervisors named the area the Unity Park and built a wall on which plaques memorializing A. Philip Randolph, President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Governor William Winter were attached. In addition, there was a plaque with a historical timeline listing significant civil rights events in the county. The Park also had four large waist high planters in front of the wall, with walkways in between each planter. The
plaques were installed but remained unveiled for several months, because the Board of that time had planned the Park without the input of
Oktibbeha County Citizens.

In February 2014, Supervisor Marvell Howard, with the approval of the Board, formed a committee to look into ideas that would make the Park acceptable to all of the citizens of Oktibbeha County. Ava Moore and William “Brother” Rogers became the co-chairs of the committee, and other members included Monica Banks, Robbie Coblentz, Charles “La La” Evans, Everlyn Johnson, Jeanne Marszalek, Roy Perkins, Carl Smith and Chris Taylor. After the committee had met for several months, it decided to make changes in the Park that would make it more acceptable to the citizenry of the county. A goal of January 19, 2015, Martin Luther King Day, was set for the changes to be made and the Park to be opened. The first order of business was to change the plaques to honor those who had affected civil rights
in Oktibbeha County and Mississippi. Those chosen to be honored were Dr. Douglas L. Conner, Martin Luther King, Jr., Governor William Winter, Medgar Evers, and Fannie Lou Hamer. The historical timeline plaque of Oktibbeha County’s major civil rights events was to be rewritten, and the March 15, 1963 Game of Change (the first basketball tournament game played by a Mississippi State University team versus a team with black players) was to be added. Finally, the Park was to be redesigned, eliminating the four planters and opening the area so it would become a public gathering space.

The Board of Supervisors approved the new plans for the Unity Park, and the changes were made with many local citizens helping. Donations were collected to change three existing plaques and to create four new ones. The County supplied the funds and people power to reconstruct the park to the approved design by John Herring of Boardtown Landscaping. The goal date was met, and the unveiling of the plaques and dedication of the New Unity Park took place on Martin Luther King Day, 2015. The Unity Park Committee, along with the Board of Supervisors, Starkville City Officials, and interested Starkvillians gathered for the dedication of
the Park with great civic pride.

Since then, the Unity Park Committee has continued to meet to institute plans for future additions. Some of the Committee’s membership has changed with the deaths of Ava Moore and Monica Banks, and the relocation of Brother Rogers. Robbie Coblentz, Charles (La La) Evans, Everlyn Johnson, Jeanne Marszalek, and Chris Taylor remain, while Jay Hurdle, Dylan Karges, Billy Nicks, and Maria White have been added.

In 2017, Jeanne Marszalek was named chair of the committee. Boy Scout Ethan Holder, for his Eagle Scout project, built benches and tables, and these have been installed at the Park. The 1970 class of WC Henderson High School donated a large cement bench to honor its class, the last graduating class under school segregation. Plans are underway for the painting of a mural on the brick wall of the new Education Building adjacent to the Park. Steps are being planned to establish a procedure to add people to the Park, who have made significant contributions to civil rights and unity in Oktibbeha County. Finally, plans for the future also include recreating a Race Relations team to help further civil rights and unity for all in Oktibbeha County in years to come.

Our Committee

Jeanne Marszalek

Chair

Chris Taylor

Member

Maria White

Member

Robbie Coblentz

Member

Jay Hurdle

Member

William “Brother” Rogers

Former Member; Relocated

Charles (La La) Evans

Member

Dylan Karges

Member

Ava Moore

Former Member; Deceased
1949 – 2016

Everlyn Johnson

Member

Billy Nicks

Member

Monica Banks

Former Member; Deceased
1958 – 2016