Women of Influence: Maggie Barnes

Maggie Barnes continues to spend her time serving the citizens of Indianola and Sunflower County.

Once the first black female alderwoman to serve on Indianola’s Board of Aldermen, she has and continues to spearhead projects that she is passionate about.

Currently, Barnes can be found organizing Indianola’s Open Air Farmer’s Market on Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. downtown.

1. How did you come to live in Sunflower County?

This is my home. I lived out from Boyer on a plantation called Parks Deadening. There I attended a “one teacher type school” which was a church and my father, Rev. Jerry Garner, was the minister and my mother was my teacher. My undergraduate studies were at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I obtained my master’s degree from Delta State University in Cleveland.

2. Who are your biggest female influences?

By far, my mother was the biggest female influence in my life. My five sisters were next since they all attended college. So I thought I had to as well. Outside influences were Marion Anderson, Wilma Rudolph, and Miss Tharp, a teacher I had in the 9th grade.

3. What would you describe as your biggest accomplishments so far in life?

My having raised three sons while divorced, and all three graduating from college: the oldest from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; the middle one from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina; and the youngest from Memphis State University in Memphis, Tennessee.

Serving two terms as Indianola’s first Black female alderwoman and being able to prevent the privatizing of Indianola’s water department, which also saved jobs in the Public Works Department. I felt better having the persons testing our water also drinking the same water that Indianola residents drank.

Being able to design and present the City of Indianola its first known City Flag with the logo, “Crown of the Delta.”

Last but certainly not least, having been recognized by Indianola Chamber Main Street as “Citizen of the Year” in 2015 for outstanding community service.

4. What is the best piece of advice you can give to young women looking to become leaders in their communities?

Prepare yourself mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. Being well prepared will sustain you during times of highs and lows as you navigate your path to be the best leader for yourself and others.

5. What is the biggest lesson you have learned about leadership?

Decisions at times are hard to make and challenges will come. I welcome others’ opinions and above all else, I am compelled to do what must be done to make Indianola a desirable place for all its citizens.

6. If you could play any role in a movie, what would it be?

I have interest in problem solving; therefore, I would opt for a detective role.

7. A little family information

My mother, Mrs. Annie Bell Garner, was my only teacher from pre-primer (kindergarten) through 7th grade in a “one teacher type school.” She began teaching in her community at age 15 at the request of parents since no teacher was in the area. She had attended school for a while in Indiana and was considered “smart” by the community. If she was to become the teacher, her father, who we called Papa, set some rules that all had to agree to follow. This was in the “hills” long before our family moved to the Delta where she continued her education and teaching.

Daddy, my father, Rev. Jerry Garner, was the minister at the church where I attended both church and school. He rented farmland and together Mom and Daddy were able to board my older sisters in town with Mrs. Mary Hunter who lived on Roosevelt Street and rented rooms to students that lived “in the country.” There were no school buses for Blacks to ride during that time.

My sons attended Baylor School for Boys in Red Bank, Tennessee before entering college.

I am blessed with wonderful and loving grand and great-grandchildren.


Basketball practice has already started for some at North Sunflower Academy.

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