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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Hundreds paid their final respects to longtime State Representative, Esther Harrison.

She passed away last wednesday after battling a longtime illness.

In her 69 years of life, Harrison was a pioneer for civil rights and equality.

Harrison was raised in South Columbus.

She had a strong love for her community, which led her to become a teacher in the late 60’s.

Family members say that’s where her political rise began.

“Because of the changing politics and the impending arrival of desegregation, people in administration began to change rules and they went after Esther and people like Esther because they wore Afros. They had to find some distinguishing mark to use as a limiting factor and they fired Esther and Esther sued them,” said family member James Samuel, Sr.

Harrison, along with 7 other teachers, won that court case, then she entered the world of politics.

The NAACP played a vital role in her life. She became a lifetime member and served in leadership positions.

Harrison’s friends say her faith was strong and she loved serving her church.

“She was a strong lay person in the church, gave great leadership in the lay organization and the missionary society and she was a dedicated church worker,” said friend and colleague William Holliman.

In 2000, Harrison was elected to represent Lowndes County in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

She served from the day she was sworn in, until she passed away on her birthday.

Throughout her years as an educator, activist and representative, Harrison led by example.

“People that Esther knew and the kind of influence she brought to the community, served as example for younger folks coming up behind her to give them something to strive for,” said Samuel.

And Harrison leaves behind a legacy for all who knew her.

“You can achieve whatever goals that you put forth, if you strive to be better,” added Holliman.

Harrison had announced she would be running for re-election this year, facing Democratic challenger Kabir Karriem who is now unopposed.

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