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First Black woman in Mississippi Legislature makes history again with portrait in state Capitol

The first Black woman elected to the Mississippi Legislature, former Representative Alyce Clarke, has once again made history by being the first Black person, and the first woman with a portrait in the state Capitol.

During the unveiling of the oil painting last Tuesday, which holds an honored spot in the chamber where the House Education Committee meets, Clarke was praised by friends, fans, and fellow lawmakers in a ceremony attended by many dignitaries.

She said, “Thank God, I’ve had more good days than I’ve had bad day. And I’d just like to thank everybody who’s here. I’d like to help everybody who’s helped me to get here because I did nothing by myself.”

The artist, Ryan Mack, used a picture of Clarke from the mid-1980s, the Associated Press reported. He said “I’m a true believer and witness of the good she has done”, referring to Clarke’s work on education and nutrition programs.

84-year-old Clarke, a Democrat from Jackson, decided not to run for reelection in 2023 after 39 years in office. The Associated Press reported that Clarke prevailed in a special election held in March 1985 and that two years later, Jacksonian Democrat Alice Harden, also a Black woman, was elected to the Mississippi Senate.

One of Clarke’s achievements as a legislator was her early advocacy for Born Free, a drug and alcohol treatment facility for expectant mothers. She oversaw the establishment of Mississippi’s first drug courts in the 1990s, which offer treatment, drug testing, and supervision in an effort to keep offenders out of jail.

Her contribution to the creation of the state lottery was noteworthy. Clarke filed lottery bills for 19 years until legislators approved one in 2018 to help fund highways. 

The legislation was given the name Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Law by both the House and the Senate. Clarke purchased the ceremonial first lottery ticket at a Jackson convenience store when lottery tickets went on sale in 2019.

Dollita Okine

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