"The start of Birdia Keglar Day as told by Mrs. Keglar's Cousin and Committee Member Gwen Dailey".
In 1975, Gwen Dailey visited her hometown of Charleston, MS which is the home of Mrs. Birdia Keglar. During a conversation with a relative, it was mentioned how the burning desire to find out what happened to Mrs. Keglar and Mrs. Hamlet on that brutal day in January 1966 stayed with Ms. Dailey constantly. Ms. Dailey was a teenager when the tragedy occurred and because of how she was raised she had not dared to question what was being said about that night. She however knew that something just was not right. She had on several occasions been around Mrs. Keglar when she had to be routed another way home or taken out of the back door of the funeral home where she worked or was cautioned to be careful on the road. She told her relative how the whole family had been hurt so deeply when this tragedy happened.
She had over the years been particularly concerned about the effects that the demise of Mrs. Keglar had on her own grandmother who was Mrs. Keglar's first cousin. The two of them had been raised in a tight knit family. Gwen's grandmother was an only daughter and the closeness shared by her and Mrs. Keglar was insurmountable, like that of two sisters. Ms. Dailey's grandmother was sickly and a stay-at-home grandmother while her cousin was an outgoing, community involved, assertive grandmother. The two of them talked on a daily basis...Madea as she was affectionately called relied on the sometimes short but intense conversations she and Mrs. Keglar had. After Mrs. Keglar was killed, Ophelia Gray was not the same. She would often comment on how she missed 'Bug' from traveling down the road past the house and how she missed walking to her home often times just to say hi.
The relative insisted to Ms. Dailey that things (interactions between the races) had not changed in Tallahatchie County since the incident and if she was not going to be in the area to hold steadfast to finding out what happened, then she would be advised to leave matters as they were until she was in a position to devote the kind of time to investigating that it would require. That is to say that the authorities had ruled the car being forced off the road, killing two women, injuring seriously two men and slightly injuring another young man who just happened to disappear as just an accident.
Gwen Dailey moved from Chicago back home to Charleston just after the turn of the century. After settling in, she began her quest of determining the best and most effective way to go about finding out exactly what happened on January 11, 1966. She spoke briefly with Mr. Robert Keglar, only surviving son of Mrs. Keglar. Because of his age she was afraid that the resurgence of such a painful ordeal would cause his health to suffer. Cautiously and with care Ms. Dailey began to speak with others who would have memories of the activism that Mrs. Keglar was so much a part of in her community. Gwen's mother offered information that was beneficial in leading to others. A member of Mrs. Adlema Hamlet's family had spoken of the torture of the women on that horrific night. Another woman, a friend of Gwen's mother had given information on notes and other 'secret' involvements during the travels of Mrs. Keglar and others. Others in the community were spoken with, some not remembering enough and some referring to others who may have more information. This includes others who did not remember at all. Several grandchildren of Mrs. Keglar were contacted to give their okay to the probe into the death of their grandmother. The concern was still the pain that would be resurfaced during this quest. This pain was so embedded in the immediate and extended family that Ms. Dailey was not sure enough of what needed to be done to pursue the matter.
After several years of researching and talking to members of the community and contacting elected officials in the immediate area and in other states, a breakthrough was about to happen. One of Mrs. Keglar's grand-sons- in- law was employed at the prison facility in the area. He met and conversed with a staff member whose wife is an author who was writing a book that included chapters on crimes and other details of the Civil Rights era. Their conversation led to several visits to Mr. Robert Keglar's home. These visits seemed to have given the quest new light. More conversation with family members ensued.
In the spring of 2006, Gwen Dailey wrote a proposal to the Board of Supervisors of Tallahatchie County asking that June 1 of each year be declared Birdia Keglar Day. Robert Keglar and Gloria Barnes accompanied Gwen to the meeting to present this proposal. Without hesitation, the proposal was unanimously accepted and adopted.
Plans for the inaugural Birdia Keglar Day celebration began. The event held Thursday, June 1, 2006 was a day long tribute to this icon of human dignity. A welcome program at the Tallahatchie County courthouse included local family of Mrs. Keglar, family from other areas such as Detroit, Chicago, Memphis and Cleveland, members of the community, elected officials, school age children and general onlookers. The press captured more than 150 participants at this gathering. Congressman Bennie Thompson called for the naming of the US Post Office in memory of Mrs. Keglar during his delivery as guest speaker. The afternoon was set around a family at the park event complete with ball game, other games for the children, food, music and the opportunity to meet and reacquaint with persons who had not seen each other for a time. Memories of Mrs. Keglar filled the air as everyone now realized what needed to be done. An evening memorial tribute was held at New Town First Baptist Church where Mrs. Keglar spent more that 40 years as an active member. A humble spirit was in the air as it was even more evident that justice had to prevail. Forty years had passed since that tragic night, but it was now time to break the silence.
The next year, 2007, the second annual Birdia Keglar Day was held on Friday, June 1. It was then decided that the celebration would take place on the first weekend of the month since the anticipation of some from other areas to attend could potentially be difficult. During this event, a portion of Highway 35 south between Charleston city limits and the Panola county line was named "The Birdia Keglar Memorial Highway" in memory of this fallen soldier of human dignity. Once again a large crowd of over 100 persons attended this all day event. The third and fourth year events were held on Saturday.
During the fourth annual tribute, a scholarship was awarded to a deserving young woman who embodied the attributes of Mrs. Keglar. Sabrina Young (see bio under another heading) was recipient of this award totaling $500.00.
Mrs. Keglar and Mrs. Hamlet's deaths were included on the cold case list to be investigated after the passage of the Emmitt Till Cold Case Bill. As of now the investigation is on-going and the hope by all who knew these two women is expected rectitude for closure.
Black History Tribute Birdia Keglar(Official Congressional Record)
Zelle Donations accepted by Gwen Dailey at 662-609-6701
P. O. Box 222
Birdia Keglar Legacy Committee
Charleston, MS 38921
Phone: +1 313 5059710 +1 313 5059710