Civil rights attorney Victor McTeer named MVSU’s 67th commencement speaker

April 22, 2019

ITTA BENA, Miss.—Mississippi Valley State University is pleased to announce Civil Rights Attorney and Activist Victor McTeer as the speaker for its 67th Commencement Exercise.

McTeer will address the MVSU’s graduating Class of 2019 at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Saturday, May 4, in the R.W. Harrison Sports Complex.

The 8 a.m. ceremony will feature those receiving a master’s degree in all majors and those receiving a bachelor’s degree from the Departments of English and Foreign Languages, Fine Arts, General Studies, Mathematics, Computer and Information Sciences, and Natural Sciences and Environmental Health and Social Sciences.

Golden graduates of the Class of 1969 will also be recognized during the 8 a.m. ceremony.

The 11 a.m. ceremony will include those receiving bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration, Criminal Justice, Engineering Technology, Mass Communications, Social Work, and Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

In September 1965, McTeer was a 16-year-old freshman when he became one of the first African Americans to attend Western Maryland College in segregated Carroll County, Maryland. 

As the youngest member of a minority population of two African-American students living on campus with eight hundred white students, faculty and administrators, McTeer was unprepared for the daily pressures he faced every day at the overwhelmingly white college.  However, the four-year-long experience instilled in McTeer an unbridled devotion to fundamental fairness and social justice. 

Within a week after his college graduation in June 1969, he headed South with other students on a Greyhound Bus to learn how to fight racial discrimination by joining the struggle of some of the most famous freedom fighters of his generation in the Mississippi Delta.

McTeer found his life's work living alongside experienced civil rights workers in the cotton fields of Washington County, Mississippi.  At "Freedom City" near Greenville, Mississippi, he met black farm workers evicted by white landowners from their plantation shacks for daring to register to vote.  After four hard years in the harsh, often unfriendly confines of the white college, McTeer was eager to join the Civil Rights Movement. He found a home in the Delta and a cause worth fighting for as an advocate.  In Mississippi, he began to plan to become a civil rights lawyer.

In June 1972, McTeer graduated from Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey, and returned to Baltimore to marry Mercidees “Dee Dee” Jones and head back to Mississippi.  In August 1972, the couple drove to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, a municipality founded by former slaves in 1887, where the couple planned to spend two years working for poor black people in the Mississippi Delta before returning to Baltimore for good.  It was the beginning of an adventure that would span the rest of their lives. 

In January 1973, McTeer filed his first case on behalf of a recent graduate of the then Mississippi Valley State College who was fired from her first ever teaching job by a public school superintendent who declared her morally unfit to teach because she chose to bear a child out of wedlock as a teenager.  Three years later, at just 25 years of age, McTeer argued this precedent-setting, first-of-a-kind case before the United States Supreme Court and won. 

Over the next thirty-eight years, McTeer gained acclaim, notoriety—and sometimes disdain—winning unpopular civil rights claims involving employment, public accommodations, racial discrimination in education, and police brutality. 

McTeer & Associates quickly became one of the largest African-American owned law firms in the State of Mississippi, representing courageous blacks and whites across the state and nation.

For more than 30 years, the McTeers have provided scholarships for college students from the Mississippi Delta, based upon academic excellence or need.  They have also established endowments to benefit students with financial need without regard to race, color, religion, sexual preference or immigrant status at Alcorn State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University and at his alma mater, McDaniel College (formerly known as Western Maryland College).  

McTeer has received numerous national and local awards for their professional work and philanthropy.  In 1995, he became the second person to win the "Mississippi Chief Justice Award," given to a Mississippi lawyer by the nine Justices of the Mississippi Supreme Court for a lifetime of public service to the Bar and the people of Mississippi.  In 2015, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws, from McDaniel College.  He has won other awards and honors, including the Mississippi State Chapter of the NAACP Community Service Award in 1984; the Operation PUSH Service Award in Chicago, Illinois in 1984; and “The Lifetime Achievement Award" in 2008 from the Mississippi Trial Lawyers’ Association (now called the Mississippi Justice Association).

The McTeers have also earned several awards as a couple.  In 2010, they received "the Champions of Justice Award" given by the Mississippi Center for Justice of Jackson. In April 2000, the couple received the Dr. James Herbert White, "Preeminence Award for Philanthropy" given by MVSU.  In 2008, they were awarded the "Thurgood Marshall College Fund Award" for exemplifying community philanthropy, professional and civic excellence. 

Longtime residents of Greenville, the McTeers are the parents of two adult children: Marcus McTeer, a Mississippi hotel manager, and Heather McTeer-Toney, currently a consultant and Mississippi lawyer living in Oxford who served as the first African -American and first female Mayor of the City of Greenville for two terms.