JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - 1963 can be described as a pivotal year in Mississippi as the Civil Rights Movement started to ramp up.
“There was tension in Jackson and toward the end of the year there were boycotts,” said Gail Wright-Lowery, daughter of JPD Crossing Guard Annie Bell Wright. “The NAACP had certain demands that they wanted the then mayor, Allen C. Thompson, to listen to, to try to bring the races together.”
Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers led these efforts and requested meetings with Mayor Thompson.
The NAACP had eight demands; among them, sharing public places with whites, addressing black men and women as Mrs. Ms or Mr, and other requests that would allow black people to be treated with basic dignity.
Lowery says those demands fell on deaf ears.
Just a few weeks later on June 12, 1963, Evers was assassinated in the driveway of his Jackson home for his work in the movement.
“It’s out of that turbulent time that the then mayor, who was known for the Thompson tank, and just a segregationist decided to at least do three, and that was only after a conversation between he and then President John F. Kennedy," Lowery said. “Allen C. Thompson said as of September, we should have school crossing guards; at that, black school crossing guards, and so that’s where these ladies come in.”
Click here to listen to the audio recording of the telephone conversation between Mayor Thompson and President John F. Kennedy.
Annie Bell Wright, Fannie Smith, Mary Gibbs, along with five other women, began working as school crossing guards on September 3, 1963.
Mrs. Gibbs worked at Walton Elementary School, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Wright worked at Mary C. Jones--which is now a head-start center--and Wright also spent some time working at G.N. Smith, which is now just Smith Elementary School.
This was a big deal for the ladies.
“My mother, prior to becoming a school crossing guard, was a maid,” Lowery said. “She worked in white people’s homes to defray the cost of raising a family.”
Lowery says the minimum wage was $1.25 in 1963, and the women were getting $5.00 an hour but only worked 2 hours a day; one hour in the morning, the other in the afternoons.
“Everyone was so proud of the fact that we had black women who were donning police uniform,” said Robert Gibbs, the son of Crossing Guard Mary Gibbs. “That’s the reason that calendars were put out, and everyone had a calendar at their homes with our moms on there.”
Their work continued through the summer in 1964, which is also known as Freedom Summer.
The three women worked at the Mississippi Coliseum, which acted as a make-shift jail for freedom riders that were arrested in Mississippi, because there was not any room at the city jail.
Annie Bell Wright also wrote a poem about it.
In addition to the crossing guards, the City of Jackson started getting black police officers and bus drivers. Something Robert Gibbs says they never had before.
Mrs. Wright worked 32 years as a crossing guard and Mrs. Gibbs worked 31.
Mrs. Smith worked for two years then began her own daycare center.