By Josh Troy
Rachel Parker Dear was one of several active women in the state featured in the Mississippi Delta Heritage’s documentary What are Civil Rights today? and local family members were interviewed about her lasting impact in Clarksdale and Coahoma County. In addition to being a Civil Rights activist in Clarksdale, Dear was a member of the NAACP, worked in the cafeteria of the Clarksdale Municipal School District, and was a community leader in the Silent Grove Missionary Baptist Church. She was a cousin to Dr. Aaron E. Henry, one of the founders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the Mississippi Branch of the NAACP President, and a State Representative. On the Parker side of the family, Dear was related to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy abducted, tortured, and lynched in Drew in 1955. “He was here visiting her (Dear) Daddy’s side of the family when he was murdered,” said Dear’s daughter, Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton. “My oldest brother and Emmett’s mother were very close, and he was with her at the funeral.
Dear, originally from Bobo, MS, was born July 20, 1916, and died on March 29, 1999, at the age of 82. Dear-Moton, Dear’s granddaughter, Amanda Dear-Jones, and grandson, Archie Buford, all shared their memories of Dear and her struggles in the fight for equality and social justice. The documentary was filmed in 2022 and premiered earlier this month for Black History.
Dear-Jones, the executive director of the Family and Youth Opportunities Division in Clarksdale, said Dear marched and went to jail in support of hiring African American police officers, Head Start when there were murders in the city, and for inclusion and equality in every possible way.
“The stories I have been told by her and from other family members, there were no actual physical mistreatments to her,” Dear-Jones said. “My grandmother was very short in stature, but she would have been ready to protect herself if it had come to that.”
Dear-Jones said her grandmother did suffer mental and economic abuse.
“She was raising children,” Dear-Jones said. “She was denied jobs because of that. She ended up later on working in the (Clarksdale) school system, working in the cafeteria of the school system, but early on; she wasn’t even given a job from the get-go.” Dear-Jones said African Americans had opportunities taken from them if they were working for the Civil Rights movement, making it harder to take care of their children. She added that others benefited from Dear’s efforts more than she did, but all these years later, everything she did has been validated.
Dear-Moton, who is Dear-Jones’ mother, the Family and Youth Opportunities Division founder and current Coahoma Opportunities Inc. RSVP director, expressed similar sentiments about the documentary.
“I am so happy,” Dear-Moton said. “I might feel a little different from everyone else because I was there. I experienced everything my mother was going through. I didn’t understand, but I did know it was so much hatred. My mother was such a Christian, and I didn’t see when she was hurt. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t like everybody else. If you’re hurt, why don’t you show it? She still was trying to help people, putting her and her family’s life on the line.”
Dear-Moton said that while her mother marched and went to jail, others ran into their house, closed the door, and were hired for jobs ahead of Dear. Dear-Moton is a Democratic candidate for the District 5 seat on the Coahoma County Board of Supervisors. She said she has an obligation to run for office and continue her mother’s efforts.
“My mother marched, went to jail, did what was right for the community,” Dear-Moton said. “She instilled that in me, and I instilled that into my children and my nephew, Archie (Buford), who was right there with my mother and me. And because when she went to different Civil Rights meetings, she took Archie and me along with her.” Back in the 1960s, Dear-Moton said King was in Clarksdale giving a talk, and a bomb was thrown at the church he was in. Dear-Moton said Henry called Dear asking for help to sneak King safely out of town. She continued saying Dear took her children, Dear-Moton and the late Eddie Dear and Buford, and they all hid under a bed. While Dear was hiding with her children and grandson, Dear-Moton said King and two other men walked through the house into the back door of Henry’s drugstore.
Dear-Moton recalled seeing the footsteps of the three men. Clarksdale resident Henry Dorsey, who was a young man at the time, made sure King and the other two individuals left town safely. “Mr. Dorsey, he verified that they took them in the car and put them in the trunk and took them to Memphis,” Dear-Moton said. Dear-Jones understood the significance of the events. “He’s like this celebrity coming to this small town, and they have to put him in the trunk of the car to get him out of Clarksdale,” she said. Dear-Moton said two white police officers took Dear to jail for her part in helping King escape, but Henry and the NAACP bailed her out. She added that she suspects an African-American told law enforcement what Dear did.
“I want it to be stated that we have come a long way, and that is great, but no one needs to be comfortable because we are one decision away from going backward,” Dear-Jones said. “So everyone must be fully awoken to what’s going on. It’s not just about my situation; It should be about all of us. Everything that goes on has to be for the betterment of all. And when I say all, I’m not only talking about African Americans. I’m talking about the inclusion of every race. But when I say African Americans, I’m speaking on that because Clarksdale, Miss., is 80% African American. So we are the lead population. That’s why I said it still has to be all-inclusive for everyone, but let’s not forget that no matter how far we have come and what we have acquired, it can still change in the blink of an eye.”
Buford owns Our Grandma’s House of Pancakes at 115 Third St. in downtown Clarksdale. He included “Grandma’s” in the name of Dear’s memory, and being part of the documentary took him back in time.
“It just goes back to being a little boy coming up here in Clarksdale, Miss.,” he said. “Right across the track here is where we lived, 362 Yazoo (Ave.). You get up on Yazoo (Avenue), cross the track, and walk down about four houses; my house was there.” Buford said that when he was a child, he would not have been allowed on the property where his restaurant is located, but things have changed for the better. “That means a great deal,” he said. “That means that we are moving. We are getting to where we want to be. We’re trying to get there. Right now, there’s nothing in the way. It used to be something blocking us, something in the way. It was always something, but now it’s not. It’s us. All we have to do is keep going, keep moving, and keep striving to be the best. That’s all we’ve got to do to improve our city and county. If we don’t improve our city and county, we’re just here. That’s all. We’re just here.
” What are Civil Rights today? can be seen at the link https://www.msdeltacivilrights.org/.
PICTURE CUTLINE: Rachel Parker Dear’s family members stand below her sign in the Arts & Culture District of downtown Clarksdale. Pictured, from left, are Dear’s daughter Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton, grandson Archie Buford and granddaughter Amanda Dear-Jones.