Mississippi’s first Black senator since reconstruction honored for Black History Month

He says one of his proudest accomplishments was voting on a bill that would allow underserved and poor schools free breakfast and lunch to students
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 10:28 PM CST
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CANTON, Miss. (WLBT) - A man of courage, strength, and determination.

Arthur James Tate had all the odds stacked against him during a time in Mississippi when a lot of opportunities were not afforded to people of color.

Yet, Tate made history in 1979 when he was elected the first African American senator since reconstruction.

More than 40 years later, he is still being celebrated and honored for his accomplishment.

The long-time owner of Tate’s Furniture store in Canton stays busy these days at his business. But, this small business owner still takes to time to reflect on his journey to the state capitol

“I was born during the old Jim crow days, and I experienced many things in the little, small town of Carthage growing up. I remember the days of fountains and bathrooms of colored and whites and stuff,” Tate said.

Tate and his wife Consuella moved to the city of Canton in 1964, where they later started a family.

They both got jobs at the then Rogers High School as school teachers.

Tate taught government and economics, but after witnessing racial tensions growing in the city, he was motivated by his students and some civil rights leaders to step up and make a change.

“It just rubbed off on me and so forth and when I got a job in Canton, I remember coming down the street and I looked over there and I saw Mrs. Annie Devine saying vote for her as representative and that just stuck with me, and been on my mind and I said oh this is the place I need to be,” Tate stated.

He was even featured on WLBT in the early 60′s as he addressed the racial issues that were plaguing the city.

“When I would visit the city hall and work with the mayors and so forth, they would ask me what you want, what do y’all, and I tell them the same thing you all want,” Tate said.

Tate found the courage and decided to run for Chancery Clerk during a time when there were few registered black voters. He lost.

But that didn’t stop him from pushing for success.

“In 1979, we had got into a position where we had many registered voters, in fact, I think we had more black registered voters than white,” Tate explained.

Tate was later elected to fill the vacant seat in the Mississippi senate, making history.

“We only just had a few days to campaign, the judge made the order in January, he set the date for the election in January, and for the run-off to be in January, so we did it all in one month’s time,” he said.

Tate represented Holmes, Madison, and Yazoo Counties.

Though only serving one year in the seat due to it being a special election, Tate says he was just happy to make a difference in his district.

He says one of his proudest accomplishments was voting on a bill that would allow underserved and poor schools free breakfast and lunch to students.

“I had no idea the effect it would have until I went back into those communities and went back to those schools and talked with those principals and them saying how effective and how proud they were that I was able to vote and get that bill passed in the senate so that those little children can have breakfast every morning,” the former senator said.

Thirty-two years later, with a packed house at the state capitol, Tate was recognized and honored for his accomplishments by then Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves.

Tate says even after making history, there are still issues today that must be tackled inside of our communities.

“Our biggest problem now is getting people to vote; they have the right. They have everything they need. They just don’t want to vote. And the crime in the community, there is no need for all of this, we know better, and we can do better too,” he stated.

Through the highs and lows, ups and downs, former senator Author Tate says he is proud to have paved the way for other young African American lawmakers today.

“I’ve enjoyed my life, I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, I’ve enjoyed the challenges,” Tate explained.

Tate now serves as a deacon at his church in Canton and continues to shine to be a shining light throughout the community.

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