FROM MDAH RELEASES — The first woman elected lieutenant governor of Mississippi, a pioneering transplant surgeon, a civil rights leader and legislator, the “king of rock and roll,” and a successful journalist and women’s rights advocate have been elected to the Mississippi Hall of Fame. The board of trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History chose Evelyn Gandy, James Hardy, Aaron Henry, Elvis Presley, and Ida B. Wells as the 2016 inductees at a special December board meeting.
“The contributions and accomplishments of these five Mississippians are astonishing, and a true testament to the character of the people of the state,” said MDAH director Katie Blount. “The Hall of Fame is enriched by the addition of these men and women.”
Edythe Evelyn Gandy was the most successful woman in the history of Mississippi politics. Gandy was born in 1920 in Hattiesburg and attended the University of Southern Mississippi. In 1943 she graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law. Gandy was elected to the state legislature in 1947 and went on to become 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. During her decades of public service Gandy supported advances in education, women’s rights, health care, and other human services. She died in 2007.
William “Brother” Rogers, director of the Stennis Center for Public Service in Starkville, nominated Gandy for the Hall of Fame. “Evelyn Gandy was the most significant trailblazer for women political leaders in Mississippi and a strong, effective leader for us all,” Rogers said. “This honor is a fitting tribute to her lifetime of public service. Her outstanding career shows why we need more women to seek public office in our state.”
James D. Hardy was born in 1918 in Newala, Alabama. He earned his MD in 1942 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, then served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II. In 1955, Hardy became 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. The following year Hardy and his team transplanted the heart of a chimpanzee into a dying man, predating the first human-to-human heart transplant by three years. Hardy authored 24 books and 466 papers, while also producing more than 200 medical films. He retired in 1987 from UMMC and died in 2003.
“Dr. James Hardy was a towering figure in the history of medicine. He was one of the world’s pioneers in the field of organ transplantation, boldly performing two historic, first-of-their-kind transplants right here at UMMC,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, dean of the UMMC School of Medicine. “He was also in many ways the father of professional surgery in Mississippi, training several generations of surgeons who worked in every corner of the state.”
Aaron Henry was the longest serving, most sustained leader for interracial politics and social change in Mississippi history. Henry was born in 1922 in Dublin, Mississippi. After serving in the United States Army, he earned his pharmaceutical degree from Xavier University and opened a pharmacy in Clarksdale. In 1951 Henry helped found the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, which promoted a program of civil rights, voting rights, and business ownership. Henry organized the Clarksdale branch of the NAACP, and in 1959 was elected state president of the organization. He started the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the Council of Federated Organizations. In 1962, Henry organized a mock state gubernatorial election and was the candidate for governor in that “freedom vote.” Henry served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1982 until 1996. He died in 1997.
“This is a well-deserved honor for one of Mississippi’s most distinguished leaders,” said Minion K.C. Morrison, author of the biography Aaron Henry of Mississippi: Inside Agitator. “Henry’s contribution as a social movement leader and political official over a sustained period makes him of singular accomplishment in expanding the voice of all of the citizens of Mississippi.”
Elvis Aaron Presley was one of the most celebrated and influential cultural icons of the twentieth century, becoming known as “the king of rock and roll.” Presley was born in 1935 in Tupelo, and his parents bought him a guitar for his eleventh birthday. Presley would develop a musical style that combined his influences of pop, country, gospel, and R&B in a way that blurred and challenged social and racial barriers. Presley would go on to release seventeen chart-topping albums during his lifetime, star in more than thirty Hollywood films, win multiple Grammys and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and be inducted into multiple music halls of fame—as well as serving honorably in the U.S. Army. Worldwide sales of Elvis Presley records exceed one billion units, more than any other artist. Elvis died at his Memphis home, Graceland, in 1977 at age 42.
“From country to gospel to rock and roll, whatever the musical genre, one name—Elvis—says it all,” said Donna Kaye Randle, a member of the board of trustees of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation. “Elvis Presley’s amazing talent took his music to the world, and it has brought the world to Mississippi. Each year thousands of fans come to Tupelo to visit the Elvis Presley Birthplace Park and experience the humble beginnings of a young man who would sing his way into the hearts of millions.”
Born into slavery in Holly Springs in 1862, Ida B. Wells would go on to become one of the most outspoken and important civil rights advocates of the nineteenth century. Wells attended Rust College and became a teacher, first in north Mississippi and later in Tennessee. She won a lawsuit against the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in 1887 after she was forcibly removed from a first-class car for which she had purchased a ticket. Wells purchased a stake in a small newspaper and began a public campaign against inequitable school funding, lynching, and segregation, and supporting economic boycotts and women’s rights. She eventually moved to New York City and then Chicago, where she continued to write exposes of lynchings in the South. In 1909, Wells helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in 1930 she became one of the first African American women in the nation to run for public office with an unsuccessful attempt at a seat in the Illinois legislature. She died in 1931.
“Ida B. Wells was a women’s rights activist, anti-lynching crusader, civil rights pioneer, journalist, teacher, and—I believe—one of the most overlooked historical figures of nineteenth century America,” said Em Hall, member of Chicago’s Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee, which nominated Wells for the Hall of Fame. “The causes for which she advocated still resonate today. I hope this honor continues to bring more awareness to her story and struggles for equality in the many facets of her life.”
The Hall of Fame contains 136 distinguished Mississippians, including Gulf Coast artist Walter Anderson, author Eudora Welty, civil rights hero Medgar Evers, Choctaw chief Pushmataha, and federal judge Burnita Shelton Matthews. Any Mississippian—native or adopted—deceased at least five years may be nominated for the Hall of Fame. Elections are held once every five years and only five people may be inducted into the Hall each cycle. Portraits of members of the Hall of Fame hang in the historic Senate Chamber and throughout the Old Capitol Building.
Members of the board of trustees are Kane Ditto, president; E. Jackson Garner, vice president; Reuben V. Anderson, Jackson; Nancy Carpenter, Columbus; Valencia Hall, Natchez; Betsey Hamilton, New Albany; Web Heidelberg, Hattiesburg; Hilda Cope Povall, Cleveland; and Roland Weeks, Biloxi.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History is the second-oldest state department of archives and history in the United States. The department collects, preserves, and provides access to the archival resources of the state, administers museums and historic sites, and oversees statewide programs for historic preservation, state and local government records management, and publications. The department is headquartered in the state-of-the-art William F. Winter Archives and History Building, located on the corner of North and Amite Streets in downtown Jackson. For more information call 601-576-6850 or see the MDAH Web site, www.mdah.ms.gov.