Anthony Hales Sr.
Born in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement in Poplarville, MS, Anthony Hales Sr. was aware of his plight as a Black man in the segregated American South, a place where “separate but equal” meant his school would receive old, worn materials and books from the white school across town. He attributes much of his awareness to a teacher who gave his class a current events assignment, and watching the world around him unfold, he decided early on that the limitations others placed on him, he wouldn’t place on himself.
Hales was struck by the activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When King was assassinated, he was devastated. Mourning the news on the walk home from school, he cried out to God and heard, “Dry your eyes. When you become of age, I’ll place you where you can be a help to your people.”
When he grew up, Hales secured a well-paying job with a telephone company and subsequently decided to build a house. He ran into some issues with the city, and though still unpopular at that time, stood up for himself against a white worker at city hall who was standing in the way of realizing his dream. This wasn’t the last time he would use his voice for equality.
In 1985, he felt he should pursue public office, but was conflicted: Black people hadn’t yet found their collective voice and might not support him, and white people wouldn’t support him because he was Black. One day, he got home, and a Black neighbor told him he’d discussed the matter with a white friend. They both felt it was time for diversity in city government, and he was the one for the job. Hales ran for office and won. He was elected to the alderman position three times, and then become the Pearl River County District One Supervisor in 1996, a position he held until 2015.
Hales centered his service around logic, morality, fairness, and a strong desire for equality for all, despite race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, a set of sensibilities which proved so successful that it opened doors to give more opportunities in the county to Black people and remove the stigma against them.
Hales’s focus was building community relationships, securing tax dollars for Black communities, and ensuring the Black viewpoint was considered in the government’s decisions. He says, “Because of our silence and lack of involvement, people thought Black folks were satisfied with the status quo,” so he was set on raising his voice and empowering others to do the same. He remembers feeling like he was held to a higher standard than his white peers, and how difficult it was to be under a moral microscope, but he was successful because of his spirit of helpfulness, peacemaking, and perseverance. Because of his efforts, the community saw improvements in infrastructure, expansion of housing, access to funding during Hurricane Katrina, and increases in employee salaries and benefits, all across racial lines.
Hales wanted to show the community that it was possible to hold public office and be a person of integrity. He states, “If you ask the public to let you serve them, that’s what you need to do.” When he retired, the Mississippi Mass Choir performed at his celebration, an invitation extended to any and everybody who wanted to come. He built such a respected reputation around truth and grace that people still seek him for advice today.