Posted on Mon, Feb 10, 2020
There is an old southern saying that says, “It’s a poor frog that won’t praise its own pond.” Although no one else is more deserving of praise than Jesus Christ, we believe honor and appreciation are in order and that charity (love) begins at home and then spreads abroad. Stay tuned for our “In the Spotlight” segments featuring members of our congregation each week during Black History Month.
Born to Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Beaddie Berryhill Bennett, Stella M. Bennett Haywood hails from Bryant, Mississippi on Spanish Hill (west of Highway 7 just south of Pleasant Grove’s current location). Mrs. Haywood is part of a large family that was surrounded by lots of loving people.
Mrs. Haywood remembers Bryant as a bustling community with stores, a post office and of course, Pleasant Grove School and Church! She enthusiastically exclaimed, “There’s so much I could say! There were so so many families, good people-both black and white. I remember big dinners on the grounds at Pleasant Grove, Mr. Snell’s store, like I said -so much. We would walk to church barefoot, get there, clean our feet, put on our Sunday shoes and walk in clean as a whistle. Sometimes we’d go in a wagon drawn by horse, but I was always afraid of most of the animals, so I had to sit all the way to the back.”
Like many, Mrs. Haywood attended the Pleasant Grove/Bryant School. She said, “The school had a long bin that stored wood that people would bring for the heater which was supposed to heat the whole building. Even though times were hard, I did well in school. I read well and was able to complete the pre-primer and other preliminary classes at once which allowed me to skip a whole grade. In elementary school, I loved spelling and credit Mrs. Elvira Jackson for encouraging me and making me a champion speller.”
In the 1960’s, though things were separate and still unequal, more programs and opportunities were becoming available to blacks. Mrs. Maggie Martin, Mr. J. Watson Hunt, Mr. John Herrod and Mrs. Mamie Shields were instrumental in bringing Head Start to Yalobusha County through Mississippi Action for Progress, Incorporated and Mrs. Haywood was among the first ones hired. After the initial employees were hired, they were sent door to door to recruit students and the rest is history.
Even in slim times, Mrs. Haywood admits that MAP was a catalyst for change and afforded her opportunities for success. Having left Central High in her junior year to get married, she was able to get her GED, enroll in the University of Mississippi the semester following James Meredith’s admission, and gain hours toward an advanced degree, all at the agency’s expense. Forty-two years later, after serving as a resource teacher/supervisor and lead teacher for 20 years and as center administrator for 22 years, she retired. Having received countless awards and commendations, including the MAP Hero Award, and with over 48,000 (four of which were her own) children passing through the agency during her tenure, she is most proud of seeing the success of so many students and having a hand in their education.
Mrs. Haywood and her family were active in the local Civil Rights Movement and the community at large. She continues to serve in the community, driving people to medical appointments, finding resources to help those in need, cooking meals and any other ways needed. She is living her blessed life and looking forward to her best life in eternity with Christ!
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