Rosa Stewart

December 1904 - September 2004

Rosa Stewart lived a long and distinguished life in Oktibbeha County. She was married to Thomas Stewart and had 3 children, 7 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. Her husband passed away in 1943, and she had to support and educate her family  by herself.  She had a teacher’s certificate from Rust College and began her teaching career in 1922 at the Oktibbeha County Training School, where she taught until she retired as head of the English Department in 1968. Her forty six year career ended just when the schools were being integrated, and African Americans were protesting the hiring policies of Starkville businesses. She joined the protests and marches and was jailed for three nights as a result. She said years later, “The first time we marched from my church I felt like I was free. I had the courage because I figured I was right and didn’t worry about it anymore.”

Rosa Stewart was the first African American to run for the Starkville Board of Aldermen. She lost, though, when the election process was changed from the ward system to voting at large. Subsequently, she sued the city of Starkville and the state of Mississippi, winning the case three  years later. The ruling by a federal judge affected Starkville and forty two other communities.

Mrs. Stewart touched many lives and worked to make Starkville a better and more unified place. She was the recipient of many awards which include: 1967 Star Teacher, from the Mississippi Economic Council, 1981 Volunteer Service Award from Governor William Winter, 1974 Alumna of the Year Award from Rust College, and the 1982 George Evans Award.  In 1978, the 8th grade building at Henderson Jr. High School was named “The Rosa Stewart Building.”