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Today is September 16, 2021

Mississippi Hall of Fame

honors Mississippians who made a difference

By Debbie Stringer

Mississippi Hall of Fame

Many of the portraits making up the Mississippi Hall of Fame hang in the Senate Chamber at the Old Capitol Museum. Most but not all Hall of Fame members are represented by a portrait in the museum.

    Some of the world’s best-known artists hailed from Mississippi—Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, to name a few.
    Yet Mississippi has produced innovators and leaders in other fields as well—medicine, law and civil rights, among them.
    A few examples:
    • Sen. Hiram Revels in 1870 became the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress.
    • Burnita Matthews served as the first female federal trial judge and a key figure in the National Women’s Party.
    • Dr. Felix Underwood made the state a model for public health departments nationwide during his tenure as director of the State Board of Health.
    • Alfred Stone was a leader in developing flood control methods along the Mississippi River.
    • Lucy Howorth, a state representative from Hinds County, and her mother, Nellie Somerville, became the first mother-daughter legislators in the country.
    These and other Mississippians who have made important contributions to the state (and nation) are honored in the Mississippi Hall of Fame, a collection of portraits displayed at the Old Capitol Museum, in Jackson.
    Dunbar Rowland, the first director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, created the Hall of Fame in 1902 to be a “collection of portraits of the great men of Mississippi” for display at the New Capitol, then under construction. The Hall of Fame moved in 1961 to the Old Capitol Museum.
    The portait painters have included prominent Mississippi artists such as Marshall Bouldin III and Karl and Mildred Wolfe. Funding for the portraits comes from private supporters.
    Any Mississippian deceased at least five years may be nominated for the Hall of Fame, and anyone may make a nomination. The board of trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History elects up to five new Hall of Fame inductees at a special meeting held every five years.
    From a field of 40 individuals nominated by the public, the board in 2016 selected Evelyn Gandy, James Hardy, Aaron Henry, Elvis Presley and Ida B. Wells.
    Evelyn Gandy (1920-2007), a Hattiesburg native and gradute of the University of Mississippi School of Law, was elected to the state legislature in 1947. She became the first woman to serve as assistant attorney general, commissioner of public welfare, state treasurer, commissioner of insurance and lieutenant governor. She ran unsuccessfully for governor twice. She died in 2007.
    James D. Hardy (1918-2003), born in Alabama, was the founding chairman of surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, in Jackson. In 1963 he led the team that performed the world’s first lung transplant and, a year later, transplanted the heart of a chimpanzee into a dying man—three years before the first human-to-human heart transplant. He retired in 1987 from UMMC.
    Aaron Henry (1922-1997) was born in Dublin, Miss. Henry was a Clarksdale pharmacist who became one of Mississippi’s most distinguished civil rights leaders. He organized the Clarksdale branch of the NAACP and in 1959 was elected the organization’s state president. He started the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the Council of Federated Organizations. Henry served as a state representative from 1982 until 1996.
    Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977), a Tupelo native, was given his first guitar at age 11; within 10 years he had released his first No. 1 single, “Heartbreak Hotel.” Dubbed the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Presley sold more records than any other recording artist. His music reflected pop, country, gospel and R&B influences. Presley also starred in more than 30 feature films, won multiple Grammys, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into rock, country and gospel music halls of fame.
    Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), born into slavery in Holly Springs, was an outspoken civil rights pioneer and one of the most important civil rights advocates of the 19th century. She was a teacher in north Mississippi and in Tennessee, and later a journalist who campaigned against lynching, segregation, inequitable school funding and other racial injustices. She became one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909. In 1990 the U.S Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor.
    Mississippi Hall of Fame inductees now number 136, with more to be elected in 2021.
    The Hall of Fame portraits and brief biographies of their diverse subjects, along with guidelines for making nominations for future inductees, can be viewed at the museum’s website,

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