- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - James Figgs, a longtime community organizer in the Mississippi Delta who was known for playing crucial supporting roles in the 1960s civil rights movement and beyond, has died. He was 72.

Figgs died Monday at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford, according to Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy.

In his youth, Figgs led activist groups in his hometown of Marks and in Quitman County, including the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Freedom Riders, who rode interstate buses to protest segregation. He helped register black voters for the 1964 election and he organized local efforts in the “Poor People’s Campaign” for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Figgs later became one of the first high-ranking African-American employees in the Mississippi state auditor’s office, working under Auditor Pete Johnson in the late 1980s.

He served as president of the Coahoma County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as vice president of the state NAACP chapter under longtime civil rights leader and state Rep. Aaron E. Henry of Clarksdale, who died in 1997.

Figgs and Henry were “two peas in a pod,” said Curley Clark, president of the Moss Point-Jackson County chapter of the NAACP, who met Figgs when he was elected treasurer of the state chapter of the civil-rights group in 1980. Figgs was Henry’s adviser and key supporter throughout his presidency, working behind the scenes to devise strategies and arrange logistics, Clark said.

“He was like a big brother in the civil rights movement and an unsung hero,” Clark said. “A lot of people won’t know the impact he had.”

Henry and Figgs were also key figures in integrating the Democratic Party, and Clark called Figgs a “giant” of the civil rights era.

“I just can’t say enough about his dedication to the NAACP and the civil rights movement,” he said. “All people of color owe Figgs a debt of gratitude for all the work he’s done in Mississippi.”

State Sen. Robert Jackson, D-Marks, said FIggs was an-all around community leader who “gave it his all.”

“He provided leadership for African-Americans and folks of lower income in too many ways to count,” Jackson said. “It’s hard to imagine life without him.”

He said Figgs gained respect all over the state as Henry’s “right-hand man.”

“If I meet anyone in Mississippi outside of Quitman County, they ask about him,” Jackson said. “There is nobody in the north part of the state who didn’t know him.”

Figgs was elected to the Marks City Council in 2005, where he served three terms as an alderman. His son, Dwight Figgs, also served as mayor.

Figgs said his father established a legacy he hopes to carry on.

“He was a hero and a voice for those afraid to speak up, regardless of color,” he said. “He wanted to make sure everybody was treated equally and fairly across this nation.”

His favorite quote: “‘I fight for thee.’”

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