- Associated Press - Thursday, November 26, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - She was an orphan by the age of 3 and passed around by family members for years from one house to another.

She was given chores in the house, the garden and the fields. When she inquired about school, her aunts and uncles told her education wasn’t important for a young girl in the 1920s.

Mollie Blackmon knew better, knew that school was where she would discover and realize her calling - and the calling of family members not yet born. When something burned that deeply inside her, she knew God had put it there.

She eventually wound up in the home of an aunt, Ophelia Bennett, who shared her vision. Bennett enrolled her in school and encouraged her to study, read, explore, wonder, imagine . and dream. Dream big.

That meant graduating from Cameron High School in Canton and earning an undergraduate degree in elementary education and a master’s in guidance and counseling from Jackson State.

It meant teaching elementary school, working in administration at JSU, becoming assistant dean of students at Tougaloo College and becoming the first black guidance counselor at Holmes Community College in Goodman.

Now 96, Mollie Blackmon can count seven descendants who have earned college degrees and graduated law school. One of them is her second son, 68-year-old Ed Blackmon, the veteran state House member who became a civil litigator in the 1970s and started Blackmon & Blackmon Law Firm in his hometown of Canton, along with his wife, Barbara, in 1988.

The number will grow to eight in December when Stephan (pronounced STEPH-in) Blackmon, Ed’s son, receives his degree from the Mississippi College School of Law.

“I’m proud of him,” Mollie Blackmon says. “I’m proud of all my children and grandchildren. Not a single member of this family has ever let me down. I tried my best to guide them, but they saw the vision and had enough love inside them not to disappoint me.”

On Barbara Blackmon’s side of the family, six relatives have earned law degrees. That’s 13 if you’re keeping track. (Bradford - Ed and Barbara’s son - can’t count on both sides. So, the total is 13.)

That is an astounding number of lawyers connected to the high-profile, northwest Jackson power couple who has made millions of dollars over the past two-and-a-half decades and reside in a 6,500-square-foot home with an enormous backyard containing a pool, tennis court, streams, waterfalls and a variety of shrubs and flowers.

Ed made national headlines when he filed lawsuits in the 1970s on behalf of African-Americans against the city of Canton because no black people were employed by the city’s fire department or police force, plus the city’s water mains were three times larger in white neighborhoods, and black neighborhoods didn’t have sidewalks.

He took the same fight across other Mississippi counties. Major companies took notice. A representative of R.J. Reynolds showed up in Canton in 1987 and asked Ed to defend the tobacco company in upcoming lawsuits. Ed said “no thanks.”

“Call me naive,” he says, laughing. “I had no idea how big a case this was.”

R.J. Reynolds sent more executives to persuade him. Again, Ed said “no thanks” and politely told them he had to catch a plane to meet his wife in New York. They were headed for a vacation in Europe.

The executives arranged for Ed to take the company’s private jet to New York while they talked business. He took the case, which brought a major-league payday and changed their lives.

And it all started with Mollie Blackmon, who was this close to not receiving an education, and with Barbara’s mom, Willie Thelma Martin, who also craved education “but only went through the eighth grade because she didn’t have the opportunities Miss Mollie eventually received,” Barbara says.

Willie Thelma Martin despised the word “average.” Through her eyes, that was only a notch above no-account. She insisted the children of Lucious and Willie Thelma Martin would grow up to be somebody who wouldn’t have to depend on anyone else to be financially independent.

Barbara considered her mom’s words just short of gospel. She graduated from Wingfield High School at 16, earned a business degree from JSU by age 19, and graduated from the Ole Miss Law School.

The Blackmons are not ones to waste time. Ed took just three years to knock out a political science degree at Tougaloo College and the Law School Admission Test his first semester - normally a necessary evil for seniors. He scored high enough to earn acceptance to Ole Miss, Michigan, Notre Dame and - his eventual choice - George Washington.

Bradford earned his political science degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in three-and-a-half years while also helping lead the Penn Quakers to back-to-back Ivy League football championships his junior and senior seasons as a running back, receiver, cornerback and kick returner.

Why the rush?

“If you’re not being challenged academically, it’s hard to stay motivated. Why hold yourself back,” explains Barbara, 59. who will return to the state Capitol in January after winning the Senate District 21 race in August. She was unopposed in the November general election. She held the same Senate seat from 1992 to 2003.

She had seen what a challenging life looked like. Lucious made a living with his hands at a sawmill and as a farmer. He came home with his pockets filled with more dust than money.

Her mom and dad had nine children. One daughter died at birth, another at 4 months of unknown causes. A son, Jerome, died of cancer in 1988 at age 33. Lung cancer claimed Lucious in 1999, one day before Barbara’s birthday.

“But my mom was never bitter that things didn’t go her way better. She was surrounded by love, and to her that was better than money,” Barbara says.

Willie Thelma, who lived her later years in Detroit near one of Barbara’s siblings, educated herself in her own way. She read constantly. She earned her GED at age 50. She learned to drive at 66 so she wouldn’t have to depend on others to take her to church.

Eventually, she had to enter a nursing home. She died in 2012 at the age of 90.

But Barbara and her siblings still laugh about the day a concerned nurse called.

“Your mom is hallucinating,” she said. “She’s talking about how her family has all these lawyers . Oh, so she actually does have a family full of lawyers?”

Yes, a family full. In addition to Ed and Barbara’s crew, Mollie Blackmon’s oldest son from a previous marriage, Jessie Evans, and his two children, Dana and Wesley, own The Evans Law Firm in Canton; Barbara’s sister, Hazel Willacy, practices with her husband, Aubrey Willacy, in California and Florida; Stanley Blackmon, Ed’s nephew, clerks for the chief justice of the 5th Circuit in Louisiana.

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