Blackwell, Unita 1933-

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Blackwell, Unita 1933-


Born March 18, 1933, in Lula, MI; daughter of sharecropper parents; married (twice); children: a son. Education: University of Massachusetts, master's degree, 1983.


Home—Mayersville, MS.


Activist, mayor, and writer. Worked for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party, founder, 1964; Mississippi Action Community Education, cofounder, 1967; National Council of Negro Women, c. 1970s; mayor of Mayersville, MS, 1976—. Also Mississippi Democratic Party, vice-chairperson, 1976-80; National President of the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association, 1977-1983; U.S. National Commission on the International Year of the Child, member, 1979; established Mayors' Exchange Program between U.S. and China, 1984—; National Conference of Black Mayors, national president, 1990-92. Formerly picked cotton.


Southern Christian Leadership Award, 1990; Institute of Politics Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 1991; MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, 1992; American Planning Association (APA) leadership award for elected official, 1994.


(With JoAnne Pritchard Morris), Barefootin': Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom (memoir), Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.


The daughter of black sharecroppers, Unita Blackwell went on to become a civil rights activist and the first black woman mayor in Mississippi. In her autobiography, Barefootin': Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom, which Blackwell wrote with JoAnne Pritchard Morris, Blackwell recounts working in the cotton fields and then moving on to a life of political action. Helping organize voter registration drives in the South, Blackwell describes the constant threats she received from organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, which once burned a cross on her front lawn. After being elected the first black female mayor in Mississippi, Blackwell went on to play a role in national politics as a presidential advisor and in U.S.-China relations as National President of the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association. She is also the recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation genius grant.

"This memoir by activist, organizer, politician and sage Unita Blackwell is a valuable chronicle of one woman's heroism in the face of the brutality that was Jim Crow-era Mississippi," wrote William Jelani Cobb in Ms. magazine. Cobb went on to write: "In an age where memoirs thick with falsifications top best seller lists, it is unusual that this book's sole shortcoming is its brevity." Cobb added that "one can't help wanting more." Several reviewers also noted dual purposes for the book. "Infused with the language and rhythms of the Delta, Barefootin' is at once the stirring memoir of an exceptional woman and a guide to living a full and meaningful life from someone who knows how," wrote a contributor on the UMass Magazine Web site. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "Blackwell's autobiography is a moving spiritual guide as well as a valuable historical document."



Blackwell, Unita, and JoAnne Pritchard Morris, Barefootin': Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.

Contemporary Black Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Booklist, June 1, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of Barefootin', p. 9.

Ebony, July, 2006, review of Barefootin', p. 33.

Essence, February, 1999, "Living Legends," profile of author, p. 92.

Ms., summer, 2006, William Jelani Cobb, review of Barefootin'.

Planning, March, 1994, "Unita Blackwell."

Publishers Weekly, March 27, 2006, review of Barefootin', p. 68.

School Library Journal, September, 2006, Will Marston, review of Barefootin', p. 248.


African American Registry, (June 7, 2007), "Unita Blackwell, Mississippi Queen!"

Southern Literary Review, (June 7, 2007), William F. Winter, review of Barefootin'.

UMass Magazine, (June 7, 2007), review of Barefootin'.