The long-standing water fountains near the front steps of the Ellisville Courthouse could possibly be moved to Jackson, Miss., in the near future.
Donnie Watts, whose ancestors lived in Jones County for generations, and who himself lived and paid taxes here for decades, very articulately laid out his reasons to the Jones County Board of Supervisors on Monday, July 6 as to why they should pass a resolution to remove the fountains, which were labeled “white” and “colored” back during an era when black Mississippians were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as whites in Jones County.
Watts gave a brief description of his family’s roots in Jones County – going back to his great-grandfather, Henry McGilberry, who was born in 1857 as a slave – and the repercussions they faced if they dared drink from a fountain not labeled “colored” back then.
“He (his grandfather) was subject to beatings or jail if he didn’t drink from the colored fountain,” noted Watts.
Watts then quickly traced his family’s struggles with racism up to the Voting Rights Act of 1964, an Act that brought some relief from the bias his family encountered. However, vestiges of racism remains, Watts contends, including the exhibition of the water fountains in Ellisville that remind black citizens of a time when their parents and grandparents were treated as subordinate residents.
Watts told the supervisors and others listening in the courtroom that after the Voting Rights Act was passed, county officials serving back then cut off water to both fountains until 1989. He and his wife then approached the late Manual Jones, who was the president of the Laurel-Jones County NAACP, and asked him to approach the county’s supervisors about placing the fountains in a museum. That request nearly three decades ago caused quite the uproar, he recalled, bringing national media attention to the area and upsetting local citizens.
“So the Board’s solution was to plaster over the words ‘color’ and ‘white’. Rain washed the plaster away, so they placed plaques over ‘color’ and ‘white’ so that you couldn’t see the words,” he explained.
“I’m not superman, but I can see right through the plaques every time I come to this courthouse,” he announced. “I see the humiliation and hurt of my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother and me.”
Watts, who was born in 1952, said that he wrote a letter to the supervisors who served last term, the mayor of Ellisville, and the director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History about the fountains. After the November election, he wrote another letter to the current board members. When he did not receive a response from any of the local officials, he asked to be placed on the agenda Monday.
“So I hereby ask this board to pass a resolution today in front of all these people to have the fountains on the Ellisville Courthouse grounds removed and given to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for display at the Civil Rights Museum,” he stated.
“What makes them (segregated water fountains) a monument? What is their significance?” asked Beat 5 Supervisor Travares Comegys. “How does keeping these water fountains better Jones County? Or better us?”
The supervisors passed a motion to take the request under advisement and to study the process needed to complete a Notice of Intent to the Department of Archives and History. If they decide to move forward with the Notice of Intent in the future, that would be a step toward sending the fountains to the museum.