CATEGORY: Chickasaw County

AUTHOR: MONIQU

HED:Protest of school hiring in Okolona draws 65

By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

: OKOLONA - About 65 people attended a Friday afternoon rally designed to express opposition to administrative hiring decisions made by the Okolona School Board.

Protesters marched through downtown Okolona carrying signs with slogans such as "Racism is not dead" and "No, no, we won't go."

The protesters shouted to small groups of shoppers standing on the sidewalk downtown.

"The boycott of white-owned business is still on," protesters shouted to both black and white shoppers.

About 10 of the protesters represented Tupelo's Nation of Islam organization. A New Orleans legislator and several Atlanta, Ga., activists also participated.

Weekly marches have been held in Okolona since the school board voted in February not to renew the contracts of three Okolona administrators. A fourth administrator, assistant superintendent Larry Dantzler, was demoted to the position of high school principal, replacing Jerome Smith.

Okolona Elementary Principal Dan Rupert and Vocational Director Sharron Trice also were not renewed for the upcoming school year.

Some opponents of the decision said the move was racially motivated. Of the four affected administrators, only Rupert is white. Gerald Hegan, the district's superintendent, is white.

Several business owners said that the boycott has had a minimal effect on business.

A number of black shoppers, including Mary Walford, 36, are ignoring the boycott.

"I don't know what's going on with all of that - who is right," she said. "I have a life to live and I haven't really thought that much about a boycott."

Members of Concerned Citizens of Mississippi, based in Chickasaw County, have said they will continue protesting until Hegan is demoted and the principals are reinstated.

Organization President Howard L. Gunn said even the appointment of three new black administrators won't end the boycott.

"We don't want Hegan's black administrators, we want ours," Gunn said.

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