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The life of a nation is told by the lives of its people
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The November update of the American National Biography features five new essays, including Unita Blackwell, a civil rights activist and the first Black woman elected mayor in Mississippi; Jane Bolin, the first Black woman to become a judge in the United States; Grace Holmes Carlson, a Trotskyist partisan, Catholic lay activist, and educator; eighteenth-century Native American Moravian leader Papunhank; and Southern California artist and architectural designer Millard Sheets.
Unita Blackwell (1933–2019) was the first Black woman mayor in Mississippi, but her career transcended elected office. She was one of Mississippi’s most prolific civil rights activists. Her work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and other organizations in the mid-1960s helped to open political, economic, and educational opportunities for African Americans across the Deep South. In the late 1960s she began to shift her focus from protest to political service. For the rest of her career she served as an effective politician and diplomat who advocated for rural Mississippians and shared their experiences with people around the nation and the world.