Mazique remembered for quiet, strong leadership

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 21, 2017


NATCHEZ — Soft-spoken and humble, Mamie Lee Mazique had a quiet bravery and unwavering dedication that sowed seeds of hope during turbulent times and cultivated change throughout Natchez.

Mazique, who many saw as an “unsung hero” of the Civil Rights Movement and an influential leader in the establishment of social programs to promote the health, education and general well-being of the poor, died Monday at the age of 86.

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Mazique was born in Jefferson County, the daughter of Mose and Daisy Simon Green.

When the Civil Rights Movement came to Natchez, the Green family joined the quest for justice and would play an instrumental role in advancing the cause in Natchez.

The family business — the White House Café owned by Mazique’s sister Moseana Green — was often used to organize meetings for the NAACP.

Mazique, known to most as “Mamie Lee,” was one of the founding members of the local chapter of the NAACP.

“I would describe her as the matriarch of the present-day NAACP,” said former Justice Court Judge Mary Lee Toles, a fellow Civil Rights Era activist who also worked for Mazique. “She was an alpha woman. She was not a person who did a lot of talking, but she was very strong-willed, and she had a lot of courage.”

Toles met Mazique in 1958, and said she remembers admiring her as a well-dressed, attractive woman.

During the Civil Rights Movement, the Green family asked Toles to moderate a mass meeting.

“That’s how we got to know each other,” Toles said. “I know the Civil Rights struggle in Natchez, in its beginning, could not have existed as it did had it not been for the support she gave and her family gave.”

Mazique served as assistant secretary of the NAACP, with Jessie Bernard Williams serving as secretary.

As men took positions as the visible leaders of the movement, Mazique, like many other women in the movement, took her place in the background, quietly guiding Civil Rights work in Natchez.

“Women were not given that kind of recognition, but Mrs. Mazique and Jessie Bernard Williams, there’s no doubt about it, they had the ear of the men,” Toles said. “The men led the meetings, but the women helped with the organizing and getting things done for the marches and demonstrations.

“The women did the work in the movement, and because of Mrs. Mazique and who she was, people just readily did whatever she asked to be done. Had the women like her not stood up, the movement would not have happened.

“They weren’t out front, but they were making decisions about what was going on.”

Mazique’s house was also a hub of activity for Civil Rights work.

“She always had an open house,” Williams said. “Anytime people came into town, they were welcomed into her house. Her house was kind of like the headquarters.”

Black or white, Williams said, Mazique was always willing to help people.

“She had white and black friends, because she cared about all people,” Williams said. “She is an icon and an unsung hero. Everything that happened for change in Natchez, she was quietly involved.”

Mazique was also employed by STAR Inc. (Systematic Training and Redevelopment program) in the early 1960s. She and others would go on to lay the groundwork for the Adams Jefferson Improvement Corporation, known today as the AJFC Community Action Agency.

At AJFC, Mazique served as Project Head Start director, the first woman to serve in this capacity in Natchez 40 years before her retirement in 2006. The program provided low-income children and their families with education, social and medical assistance and adult literacy initiatives.

Mazique offered Toles a job as secretary of education for Head Start and then eventually worked as Mazique’s personal secretary for several years.

“I always admired her,” Toles said. “She was a beautiful person and very loyal. Most women in the community admired her and looked up to her and emulated what she did and had faith in what she did.”

Mazique, who was The Natchez Democrat’s 2010 Citizen of the Year, accumulated awards and plaques over the years, always shying away from accolades and accepting them in honor of those whose names would never be called.

Former Natchez Mayor Phillip West, a distant relative of Mazique’s, said often a community pays more attention to people in positions of public leaderships.

“I think she is reflective of the many persons who have been the foundation for the other leadership that has existed,” West said. “Always in the background, there are people who had the strength and the wisdom to do the kinds of things she did, and put their livelihood and lives in jeopardy, but were not in a position to be applauded or receive a lot of accolades.

“I’ve always been proud of those kinds of persons. Her life and her death, to some extent, are reflective of the end of an era. Many of the persons who played such an important role during the early years have passed and gone away, and she is one of the last of them to go, so it is the closing of an era of persons like her who helped build a lot of bridges and do a lot of things in Natchez.”

Mazique was married to Herman Wesley Mazique and had one son, Herman Wesley “Chock” Mazique Jr.

Services for Mazique will be 1 p.m. today at King Solomon Baptist Church, 6 Spring St., in Natchez, with the Rev. Curtis Smith officiating.