State Rep. Hester Jackson-McCray, right, has won a National Foundation for Women Legislators award. She was nominated by colleague Rep. Latashia Jackson, left.

Mississippi Rep. Hester Jackson-McCray has received the National Foundation for Women Legislators’ Elected Women of Excellence Award for 2021.

The award “was created to identify women who have worked tirelessly, often breaking down barriers and overcoming obstacles that once seemed insurmountable, to serve their communities” according to NFWL.

“These pacesetters have engendered an environment where women can now serve in public office and fight for the issues they are passionate about,” said NFWL Director Jody Thomas.

Jackson-McCray was presented the award Nov. 9 at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. She said it was an honor and thanked her colleague state Rep. Latashia Jackson, who nominated her.

“I was honored that one of my colleagues would think so much of me to be nominated,” Jackson-McCray said.

READ MORE: Despite dramatic electoral and financial setbacks, Hester Jackson-McCray makes legislative history

Jackson-McCray is a proponent of voters’ rights, and this year filed for approval of a ballot initiative to amend the state Constitution to allow early voting in Mississippi. She is the co-chair of the Mississippi Early Voting Initiative.

Jackson-McCray, D-Horn Lake, a retired nurse and owner of a catering business, was elected to House District 40 in 2019, the first Black person elected to represent DeSoto County in Jackson since Reconstruction. She defeated an incumbent Republican by 14 votes.

NFWL said Jackson-McCray “is the definition of perseverance.” In 2009, dealing with health and financial issues but inspired by the election of President Obama, she ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Horn Lake. Four years later, she ran for a city alderman seat and lost. Three years later, she ran for the House of Representatives and lost, before running again in 2019 and beating the incumbent by 14 votes.

Her Republican House opponent contested the election. After a hearing in 2020, the supermajority Republican House voted unanimously to seat Democrat Jackson-McCray.

Mississippi’s 174-member Legislature is only about 16% female, and remains much whiter and more male than the state of Mississippi at large.

Jackson-McCray said she and other female elected leaders “just have to encourage other women that they can be in office, that they can serve in the Legislature.”

“I have been encouraged during the last elections in this area, we have seen several women running for office,” she said. “I hope we see more of that.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.