Mamie Lee Mazique named 2010 Citizen of the Year

Published 2:16 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mamie Lee Mazique tends to shy away from accolades, but accolades never shy away from her.

Though several awards and complimentary letters bear her name in her Woodlawn Avenue house, Mazique says the praise is not hers alone.

The praise also belongs to Charles Evers, Wharlest Jackson Sr., Father William J. Morrissey and countless men and women who marched the streets of Natchez in the 1960s in the struggle for freedom and equality.

“(The awards) were given to me, but they were for all of us,” Mazique said. “It wasn’t something I did by myself.”

“Some names will never be called, and I accept (the awards) in that spirit because if it hadn’t been for those troopers, we never would’ve gotten any place.”

It’s safe to assume Mazique, The Natchez Democrat’s 2010 Citizen of the Year, will accept this honor on behalf of the forgotten footsoldiers she marched alongside when Natchez was literally a tale of two cities — one black, one white.

It’s also safe to assume Mazique will accept this honor on behalf of the thousands of children she assisted as the longtime director of the AJFC Community Action Agency Head Start Program. She retired from the post in October 2006 after 40 years of service in Adams, Jefferson, Wilkinson and Amite counties.

Civil Rights Fight

During the 1960s, the soft-spoken Mazique was working at the family business — the White House Café — when Civil Rights activists traveled to Natchez in the quest for justice. Mazique said she didn’t ponder about her life in the days of Jim Crow until groups such as the NAACP and individuals like Evers began organizing marches and boycott demonstrations around town.

“We began to fight back,” Mazique said.”

Mazique often used the White House Café, which was owned by her sister Moseana Green, to organize NAACP meetings.

Edith Jackson, a close friend of Mazique’s, remembers those meetings well, and she distinctly remembers Mazique’s quiet bravery during those turbulent times.

“The majority of us didn’t think about whether we’d be (endangered) or not,” Jackson said. “If it was going to make things better, we did it.

“Mamie is just a nice person to work with. She was there for people who needed a place to meet, trying to do whatever was needed for Natchez.”

In addition to providing a meeting space, Mazique and her sisters provided meals to marchers whose shoes were worn through the soles.

Mazique doesn’t view her role in Natchez’s Civil Rights Movement as brave or admirable. Her participation was simply needed.

“People are not going to stand by now and see someone stripped of all their dignity,” Mazique said.

“We were threatened, and I remember the Deacons for Defense would stay out here through the night. We didn’t have any privacy. It was good times and bad times.”

War on Poverty

As racial tensions ebbed and flowed, Mazique, along with Fred Berger, Marge Baroni, Evers and others, began laying the foundation for the Adams Jefferson Improvement Corporation, known today as the AJFC Community Action Agency. The agency was chartered in August 1966 to meet the requirements of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which included several social programs to promote the health, education and general welfare of the poor.

AJFC acquired its non-profit status in 1967, and Mazique assumed the role as director of the agency’s Head Start Program. Her mission was the same as the agency’s — to eliminate the causes and conditions of poverty in the land of plenty.

“Through some means or another we found out there was money available for preschool children, and when we went to Jackson to attend meetings, we found out we could apply for money,” Mazique said.

“I feel good about (AJFC) because there were so many people involved, and so many people benefited from it.”

AJFC Administrative Assistant Jessie Singleton, who joined the staff in 1967, said the pride Mazique took in her work was obvious.

“She was a strong advocate for children and especially the underprivileged,” Singleton said. “She was an excellent director to work with and work for. She was my shoulder, she was my counselor and she is the one who gave me my start as it relates to Head Start.”

AJFC initially operated in neighborhood centers for approximately 500 children ages 3 to 5 in Adams and Jefferson counties.

Today, the agency serves 986 children on a $6 million budget, provides physical and dental examinations, and boasts state-of-the-art facilities in the four counties it serves. In 1994, Mazique established its Early Head Start program, which cares for children from birth to age 3.

Singleton said Mazique was a stickler for running a seamless program, and her persistence still resonates today.

“She believes in career development, and she was an advocate of continuing education for her staff,” Singleton said. “She wanted us to take advantage of advances in the education arena, and acquired funds for that purpose.”

Jackson, who retired from AJFC in the mid-1990s as a social service coordinator, said Mazique’s giving nature inspired the entire staff.

“Not everybody thinks in terms of helping others, but she did,” Jackson said. “She helped those families, and tried to make it better for each and every one of them.”

Mazique said the most enjoyable aspect of her job was the people — both inside and outside the agency. Mazique’s former colleagues say her community involvement was second to none, and her open-door policy always held true.

Like her civil rights efforts, Mazique insists her Head Start efforts are not admirable or noble, only needed.

Mazique will celebrate her 80th birthday in July, and she says Natchez has come a long way since the days of segregation. However, she challenges today’s generation of young men and women to take the city to greater heights, and accept nothing less.

“We’re going to let the others do something now,” Mazique said.

Mazique is the daughter of the late Mose and Daisy Simon Green of Jefferson County. She is the wife of late Herman W. Mazique Sr., and the mother of the late Herman W. Mazique Jr.