Dessie Lee Patterson, the mayor of South Mansfield, La., was found murdered in her home yesterday following an apparent robbery. She was 88.
Patterson was involved in the early civil rights movement in northwest Louisiana's De Soto Parish, setting up a trailer behind a local post office where she registered blacks to vote. On March 14, 1971, she was appointed to fill an unexpired term as mayor of South Mansfield, becoming the state's first black woman mayor. She lost the election later that year by one vote but won the next time around.
She served until 1993, stepping down in the wake of an investigation into municipal irregularities, but won again in 2000 and 2004. She would have been a week away from her 89th birthday when her term expires in June.
Patterson's body was discovered yesterday afternoon by a sheriff's deputy responding to a call from Patterson's daughter, who grew concerned after her mother failed to answer the phone. The sheriff says there were signs of a struggle in the house, where Patterson sold soft drinks, chips and cookies to her neighbors. An autopsy scheduled for today will determine whether she was stabbed or shot to death.
Bobby Harris, a 25-year-old Mansfield resident, allegedly confessed to the killing this morning and is being charged with first-degree murder. Harris reportedly has a criminal history involving charges of burglary, resisting arrest, and fleeing justice.
Patterson's killing comes less than a week after the similarly shocking murder of Eve Carson, the UNC-Chapel Hill student body president who was found shot to death near campus. Following the slaying, Carson's vehicle was taken and a young man tried to use her ATM card at a bank and convenience store.
The 22-year-old Athens, Ga. native was by all accounts an extraordinary person and outstanding scholar who besides serving on the school's Board of Trustees worked as a teacher, tutor and coach and spent her summers volunteering in Ecuador, Egypt and Ghana. A man from Durham, N.C. reportedly has been detained in her slaying.
At a memorial service for Carson held on Sunday in Athens, her father, Bob Carson, remarked on the deeper tragedy behind his daughter's death:
The irony of Eve's murder is that she, along with these blessed friends and fellow students, are the ones who can solve the most pressing problems of this time. Please don't attribute this to hyperbole or relate it to a father's sadness. I see a stunningly beautiful convergence of talent and caring in this, our children's, generation. It is the most fantastic realization.
I believe that these kids, along with their peers around the globe, can reach reasoned solutions for mitigating violence and tackling many of the inequities of poverty, prejudice, inadequate heath care and under-education. This is no pie-in-the-sky wish! These kids are smart! They're so capable.
They're more productive because they collaborate and communicate like no generation before them. And what is even more wonderful is their generosity. Isn't that tremendous?
There are needs now, and there are reasons for and solutions to those needs. Those dilemmas that keep getting shuffled along by our generation will gain solutions from the student sitting near you, your friends' sons and daughters, or the young mentored student from another place.
But I must tell you -- even with an aching heart, and yet with such hope and love -- that the friends of Eve, and their generation, will not be denied. They've got miles to go, and missions to keep, and we will be so much better for their undaunted perseverance!
Here's to perseverance in solving the problems that ended such extraordinary lives.