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Speaker Philip Gunn urges Gov. Tate Reeves to end COVID emergency order
Reeves said emergency order is necessary to pay deployed National Guard troops

JACKSON • House Speaker Philip Gunn is calling on Gov. Tate Reeves to end Mississippi’s COVID-19 state of emergency order.

In a letter obtained by the Daily Journal, Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, asked Reeves, also a Republican, on Wednesday to end the state of emergency because a state of emergency created by the pandemic “no longer exists.”

“Unless there is some reason for the declaration of a state of emergency to continue, then on behalf of the people of the state of Mississippi who are ready to return their lives to normal, we call on you to declare the state of emergency over,” the letter reads.

Bailey Martin, the spokeswoman for Reeves, told the Daily Journal in a statement that, as commander in chief of the Mississippi National Guard, Reeves has activated a large number of soldiers to help deliver resources across the state such as vaccines.

“The State of Emergency has remained in effect for the sole purpose that it is necessary to ensure the men and women in uniform, who have done such an admirable job delivering these resources, can continue to be paid until their mission is complete,” Martin said.

Reeves first issued a state of emergency order related to the pandemic in March 2020. Since then, Reeves has issued a shelter in place order, a non-essential business closure order and face mask mandates. However, all of those orders have since been repealed.

The most recent COVID-19 executive order issued by Reeves occurred on April 30, which extended the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency indefinitely, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website, which maintains a list of the governor’s executive orders.

The April 30 order largely removed most of the state’s COVID-19 safety protocols, with the exception of requiring everyone inside a school building to wear a mask throughout the remainder of the academic school year, which ended.

However, Reeves told members of the media on Tuesday in Lee County that he would not issue a statewide mask mandate for public schools for the upcoming academic year.

“There will be no state mask mandate in our public schools or anywhere else in 2021 and 2022,” Reeves said.

Gunn’s Wednesday letter now marks the second time this year that the leader of the Mississippi House of Representatives has called on the governor to take action on something related to the pandemic.

Gunn on May 10 also sent Reeves a letter pressuring him to either strictly enforce job search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits or end the state’s participation in a pandemic-linked federal expansion of joblessness benefits.

Her mother's legacy: Daughter of Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer continues mother's fight

Jacqueline Hamer Flakes

TUPELO • As the youngest daughter of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, Jacqueline Hamer Flakes grew up intimately aware of prejudice and how much her mother struggled against it.

Now, as Hamer’s last living daughter, Flakes’ greatest desire is to honor her mother’s work.

Flakes will serve as keynote speaker for the Holly Springs Juneteenth Celebration this Saturday, June 19, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Flakes will share the spirit of her mother’s organizing and encourage others to be inspired by her example.

“I just want people to take this at heart and understand what my mother fought for,” Flakes said. “It wasn’t her plan to go out and be a civil rights activist or a human rights activist, but it was God’s plan, so I’m just glad that she followed through with it.”

Early life

While Fannie Lou Hamer is remembered as one of Mississippi’s most prolific civil rights and voting rights activists, Flakes, 54, remembers her first and foremost as her mother.

Hamer and her husband, Perry “Pap” Hamer, raised four adopted daughters, including Flakes’ biological mother, Dorothy Jean, who died while Flakes was only six months old, and Flakes herself.

Although biologically Flakes’ great aunt, Hamer raised her adopted children as her own. While Flakes has often wondered what life would have been like to live in her biological father’s house, she cherished her time with her adoptive parents.

“My life in Fannie Lou Hamer and Pap’s house, it was awesome because there was always food around, there were always people around, there was always laughter,” Hamer said.

Hamer’s activism start

By the time Flakes was born in 1966, Fannie Lou Hamer was already four years into her work with the Civil Rights Movement. Hamer and her husband, Pap, were sharecroppers on the W.D. Marlow Plantation outside Ruleville. In 1962, Hamer attended an event hosted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at William Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, where she learned information she never knew about Black rights, particularly the right to vote.

After that meeting, Hamer decided she wanted to be part of the movement. She came home to share the information with her family, Flakes said.

Hamer became one of the front-runners for voter registration drives in the Mississippi Delta, but was mistreated for her efforts. For attempting to register herself and 17 others to vote, she was met with slurs at the courthouse in Indianola and kicked off her plantation while her husband stayed until the end of harvest. She was forced to move around several times in her lifetime, just to avoid violence. Once, her house was shot more than 16 times by racists. When she and other SNCC workers held a voter registration conference in South Carolina in 1963, they were arrested and taken to Winona jail, where she was beaten.

“Even after she was sent out of state to heal, it took three months for her to return,” Flakes said of her mother. “But when she came back, she was stronger than ever, and she never stopped moving, and never stopped with the civil rights activism. She kept going, and I just want people to know that we can all do the same thing because that’s what we need right now.”

Hamer continued travelling across the state to speak about voting, and in 1964, she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the state’s all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention that year.

Through it all, Hamer lived by faith.

“She loved the word of God, and she knew the bible, and no matter what was going on, she never showed fear, never showed fear, and I loved that about her,” Flakes said. She would stand up strong, have her hands on her hips and say she was going to tell it like it is, and that’s what she did.”

Her mother’s legacy

Much of Hamer’s activism focused on economic power for African Americans. She started the Freedom Farm, as part of the Freedom Farm Collective, where she purchased land in Sunflower County in an attempt to give poor people a chance to own land on which they worked. While it ended in 1975, its impact continues, Flakes said.

“It’s like three blocks of families that she helped to either get the house built or to get the loans or the grants or the cash that they needed to get the lots or to pay down on the homes to get them built,” Flakes said. “I’m just so proud of just hearing today how the people in Ruleville or in the Delta just talk about my mom and how she helped them.”

In March 1977, Fannie Lou Hamer died while battling complications with hypertension and breast cancer. She was 59 years old.

Flakes was 10 when her mother died, and she felt the loss in her soul.

“I was her baby,” Flakes said. “As the cancer spread in her body, she would call me in the room. They called me Cookie. She’d say, ‘Cookie, come on in here and lay down with Mama, I’m cold,’ and she would just want me near her all the time.”

After her mother’s death, Flakes realized that though Hamer left a legacy that inspired many to start scholarship foundations in her name, she and her sister still struggled to make ends meet.

“It was hurtful knowing that people have started the foundations, but Fannie Lou’s children, the two daughters that she adopted and was raising as her own, struggled to get through school because we didn’t have anybody helping us with books or anything, anything. No one offered anything,” Flakes said.

As she struggles to recover from her own battle with cancer, Flakes plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps to make Ruleville and the Delta a better place.

One area she wants to see change is seeing political power shift in Ruleville. She still believes that disparities exist between how money is invested in African American buildings. With much of the older generation now deceased, Flakes worries that her mother’s legacy, and all that she fought for, might be forgotten.

“If we get together and try to form organizations in our towns, we can try to make things better for our children, for our future generations,” Flakes said. “We’ve got to get our villages back together. We have to get our villages back together.”

For Flakes, continuing down the same trails blazed by her mother is the most fitting way to honor the work that did and all she accomplished.

I’m the last daughter of Fannie Lou Hamer that is living at this time,” Flakes said. “I vowed that I’m going to continue my mother’s legacy.”

Students get firsthand look at manufacturing during Tek2Go camp

BELDEN • Middle school students from across Northeast Mississippi are getting a firsthand look at the advanced manufacturing industry during the Tek2Go Advanced Manufacturing camp at Itawamba Community College’s (ICC) Belden Center this week.

Fifteen sixth through eighth graders from Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc and Union counties are learning skills in computer numerical control (CNC) machining, welding, robotic welding/painting as part of the camp.

Keira Ivy, an incoming freshman at Houston High School, wasn’t initially interested in welding, but joined the camp on the recommendation of her guidance counselor.

So far, “it’s been fun,” she said.

“I wanted to learn more about mechanics,” Ivy said. “And I just wanted a personal experience up close to welding.”

Ryver Aydelott, an incoming seventh grader at Guntown Middle School, already had experience with welding with her father, who works in the profession. In fact, she brought her own welding helmet, gloves, jacket and cap to camp on Tuesday

“I wanted to learn more about welding and how to function with machines,” Aydelott said. “My dad does the same thing, so I just wanted to give it a go.”

Students who attend the camp get to see what advanced manufacturing is all about. It might even help some choose a career path, Jason Gholston, a diesel equipment technology instructor at ICC, said as he assisted students at welding stations on Tuesday.

Gina Black, the Community Development Foundation’s Director of Events, helps organize Tek2Go each year. She said the basic goal of the camp is to introduce students to advanced manufacturing because it’s such a major industry in Northeast Mississippi.

ICC, CDF, Hawkeye Industries and the Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs Foundation partner to host the camp, which is free to participants thanks to grant funding from the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund and Tennessee Valley Authority.

John David Hagood, an incoming eighth grader at Guntown Middle School, said he’s been looking into engineering careers and thinks it’s a good option for himself. He said it’s been fun to see how all of the machinery works.

“We’ve made our own pens, we’re making a plaque we’re about to weld and we got to work with these robots,” Hagood said, gesturing to a Yaskawa 6 axis robot.

Mac Marcy, an incoming sixth grader at Mooreville Middle School, said he signed up for the camp because he “wanted to try and work on some machines and see how things are made.”

He was excited to see that the camp allowed him to work directly with machinery, and his favorite part was making an aluminum ink pen on Monday.

Along with hands-on classes, the week’s schedule also includes visits to Hawkeye Industries and MTD Products in Tupelo.

A similar three-day Tek2Go camp will be held for local teachers from June 22 to 24. During that camp, participants will get an introduction to each of the advanced manufacturing skills.

Officials quiet on death of former state Rep. Ashley Henley

WATER VALLEY • Local and state law enforcement officials are staying quiet regarding the investigation into Sunday night’s fatal shooting of a former state legislator.

Ashley Henley, 40, a former state representative from DeSoto County, was shot and killed June 13. Yalobusha County deputy sheriffs found her body around 10 p.m. outside a Patricia Drive address in the Water Valley Boat Landing area on the south side of Enid Lake.

According to reports, the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death, with the assistance of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the District 17 District Attorney’s office. Sheriff Mark D. Fulco has not responded to a request for information from the Daily Journal.

On Monday, Assistant District Attorney Steve Jubera told Mississippi Today that Henley had been shot and described the gunshot as “non-accidental.”

Her husband, Brandon Henley, said more in a post on the Facebook page of The North Mississippi Herald shortly after the Water Valley newspaper first reported the death, Monday morning.

“She was running a weed eater and was shot in the back of the head according to local authorities. That’s all they have told us at the moment,” he wrote in the post that has since been deleted.

Officials have not said if they believe Henley’s death is related to another death at the same location six months ago. Henley was taking care of the yard around the burned out trailer where her sister-in-law, Kristina Michelle Jones, was found dead in the early morning hours of Dec. 26.

The Henleys believed Jones died as the result of foul play and have been critical of Yalobusha County authorities, especially Fulco and coroner Ronnie Stark. After months of remaining silent, both Brandon and Ashley Henley took to Facebook in April.

“My sister was murdered and her body was burned. We know she was dead before the fire and that the fire was arson,” Brandon Henley wrote in an April 6 post. “And we didn’t find out any of that information from the Sheriff’s department.”

The same day, Ashley Henley wrote on her Facebook page that two deputies tried to intimidate them while they were attaching flowers to a makeshift memorial erected on the Patricia Drive property, which is privately owned by the Henley family. The memorial is a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood featuring pictures of Jones with the words “I WAS MURDERED” in nearly one-foot-tall letters.

“We demand answers. We will not be intimidated. We are not going away. We will not back down. We will not be silent any longer,” Ashley Henley wrote on April 6.

Three days later, Brandon Henley said on Facebook that the coroner and sheriff’s investigator had cut off all communication with the family.

In mid-May, the family learned that the preliminary toxicology report on Jones was completed, but it would not be released until all pending investigations were completed. The death certificate issued May 21 listed the cause of death as “unknown” and the manner of death as “undetermined.”

Ashley Henley served in Mississippi House from 2016 through 2019 representing District 40, which includes Horn Lake and Southaven in DeSoto County.

A GoFundMe account has been set up by DeSoto County state legislator Dan Eubanks to assist the family with the funeral expenses. By Wednesday afternoon, $8,900 of the $10,000 goal had been raised.