Mayor Miriam R. Holder: A Phenomenal Woman

On this day, a milestone has been achieved. I’m not going to give her age but Mrs. Miriam R. Holder is living history. She was born in a segregated society, taught in an segregated and integrated school system (31 ½ years), became a paralegal and is the only female to serve as Mayor of Lumberton. Because she is a free woman we celebrate your freedom. Because she is a wise woman we celebrate your wisdom. Because she is a strong woman we celebrate her strength.

To know Mrs. Holder is to love her. I remember when I first met Mrs. Holder at the Lumberton Elementary School. I remember seeing this beautiful woman with a radiant smile and as we approached her classroom, she greeted each one of us. I always was and still find that I was intrigued by her presence and that watch that was always pinned on her blouse or blazer. It moved as she moved and many times I was mesmerized by its seemingly hypnotic movement. Whenever you interacted with Mrs. Holder you know that she cared for your academic growth and she nurtured you with her words of kindness and knowledge. Over the years, our hearts, or shall I say my heart, would leap whenever I had a chance encounter and saw Mrs. Holder at a store or at the singing convention. As children, we are fascinated when we see our educators in their normal environ. Truthfully, I didn’t have that reaction with most of my teachers; just a chosen few.

After years of serving as an educator, retiring, coming out of retirement and retiring again, Mrs. Holder ventured into the political arena. Her first stint as an elected official was Alderwoman at Large. During this term, she served as Mayor Pro-Tempore almost as often as she served in her elected post. Later, I was afforded the opportunity to work with Mrs. Holder on an Anniversary booklet for Tabernacle Baptist Church. It was then that she donned me her “creative consultant.” We spent countless hours in the fellowship hall and I marveled as I had the opportunity to sit at her feet and glen the pearls of wisdom she dispensed. I had another opportunity to work with Mrs. Holder on her campaign for Mayor of Lumberton. When I was that quite little boy in elementary school, I never would have imagined that I would ever be able to call Mrs. Holder my friend.

Mayor Holder’s term as Mayor of Lumberton was filled with obstacles and every effort was made to break her but like moons and suns with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, still she rise. During Mayor Holders’ Administration, we got a glimpse into the power of the New Jim Crow Laws. Somehow, a bigoted police chief, with the backing of an ignorant board, was able to have a sitting mayor arrested based on a sworn lie. To this day, I don’t understand how anyone could be charged with obstruction of justice when the person you’re allegedly trying to protect was already in police custody. It marked one of the lowest times here in Lumberton. When I saw how the justice system was manipulated for political purposes I began to wonder if the bank of justice was bankrupt. Instead, it proved that the State of Mississippi was still a state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression doomed to never become an oasis of freedom and justice. But out of the huts of history’s shame and up from a past rooted in pain, Miriam Holder continued to rise.

It was much later that I learned that Mrs. Miriam Holder marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when James Meredith was refused admission at Ole Miss. I also learned that she was also on the front lines fighting for our right to vote. She took part in the marches, protests and had a first-hand account of the obstacles that tried to prevent us from voting. She knew of the poll taxes, the voter registration test that were impossible to pass, the people that suffered the loss of blood and were threatened with water hoses, Billy clubs and animals with four legs and those with two. She witnessed the struggle for the right to vote and now in her continued activism, she has witnessed that people today won’t vote even if you offer them a ride. I once told Mrs. Holder that she’s living history and she responded that she’s just a thread in the tapestry.

There are those that want to write Mayor Miriam R. Holder down in history with bitter and twisted lies but still like dust she’ll rise. Over the years, Mrs. Holder has taught me that I shouldn’t be webbed forever to fear or yoked eternally to brutishness because the horizon leans forward, offering space to place new steps of change. On this day, I would like to wish you a Happy Birthday and pray that you have many more. Because of all of your hard work, you make our journey better, truer and deeper. The trails you blazed light the way ahead like a lamp unto our feet. Because of you we have strength enough, discipline enough, talent enough and nerve enough to step into the light. Today, as we celebrate another anniversary of birth of Miriam R. Holder, it is my hope that you may have the grace to look up and out and into you sister’s eyes and tell this daughter, sister, aunt, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and friend and say with grace, dignity and love…Happy Birthday!

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