Most of the storefronts have been boarded up, the high school has been shut down and the hospital is long gone. But the story at the center of Mound Bayou still exists — one in which freed people established one of the nation’s first settlements exclusively for formally enslaved African Americans. Its history has been memorialized in the town’s culture and in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Residents say unique values of empowerment, self-sufficiency and excellence flowed from the nature of the town’s inception in 1887.
Mayor Eulah Peterson, born and raised in the Mississippi Delta town, recently spoke with Mississippi Today reporter Kelsey Davis and shared what it’s like leading as a woman and how the historic city of about 1,500 people shaped that experience
Mississippi Today: Given the context of Mound Bayou’s history, what does it mean to you to be in your position as mayor?
Mayor Eulah Peterson: Personally, it’s been an accomplishment. It has grown on me as opposed to just being something that I aspire to. At first, I had no thought of getting involved in politics. I’m a community-oriented person, and I was civically engaged, but to actually be an elected official – that wasn’t something I really had on my radar. Once I got involved then I felt that maybe from the mayor’s seat I could effect some change differently than what I was doing … I think that differences are made between males and females in terms of what’s allowed in society.
Not saying that I think it’s OK, it’s just a fact that I deal with and I don’t envision that it’s going to change. I don’t want you to deny me a privilege or an opportunity because I am female, but I know that the fact that I am female dictates that I do some things differently from a man. It doesn’t mean that a man should be given more privilege than I, but I also know that we are different. I recognize that’s a limitation to any female until such time as we get to the point of accepting that I happen to be female. It shouldn’t keep me from being this or that because I am female. But I do know that the society in which we live we’ve not yet arrived to the point that we can have total equality between the sexes.
Mississippi Today: Is that true in Mound Bayou?
Mayor Eulah Peterson: To some degree. I would say lesser maybe. I just want people to keep focused on the fact that I hold the position. I happen to be female and I should be afforded the same opportunities that a male would be afforded in this position.
Mississippi Today: What advice would you give to a young woman who grew up similarly to how you grew up who is seeking some sort of leadership position in the public sphere?
Mayor Eulah Peterson: I would say, if that’s what you want to do, pursue it. Don’t let anyone say, ‘Women need to stay in their place.’ We can get stereotyped into, ‘This is what you ought to be doing.’ Whatever you want to do – if you want to get involved then step out there and be involved. Fight for what you want in your own way.
Mississippi Today: Do you think that advice stems from some of the primary values of empowerment and self-sufficiency that were established here?
Mayor Eulah Peterson: I would say yes. We were pushed. Our parents pushed us to be educated and productive citizens wherever you are. And my dad always said, ‘You’re no better than anybody, but no one is any better than you. So hold your head up and move along.’