The USM Foundation unveiled a new statue of the late Oseola McCarty across from The Fountain to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her $150,000 endowment to the University.
The McCarty Foundation, which manages the endowment, worked with sculptor Ben Watts for three years to recreate one of Oseola McCarty’s most iconic photos. The bronze statue, a stone’s throw away from Cook Library, depicts McCarty with a big smile on her face and an even bigger Bible on her lap. Watts took special care to depict McCarty’s life of hard work as a laundress, present through intimate details like the painstakingly rendered calluses on her hands.
The statue was unveiled at the end of this year’s celebration of McCarty’s endowment. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the celebration was relegated to a YouTube video, which premiered on Oct. 9. Various former friends and current staff members came together to talk about her long life and legacy.
Despite dropping out of school in sixth grade, Hattiesburg native Oseola McCarty recognized the importance of education throughout her life. So, in 1995, a then 87-year-old McCarty gave her life savings to The University of Southern Mississippi to help similarly underprivileged students get the opportunities she never could. The donation sparked national attention, with people celebrating her decades-long hard work as much as they did her generosity.
“When I leave this world, I can’t take nothing away from here,” McCarty once explained in an old interview. “Whatever I have, it’s going to be left right here for somebody.”
Jewel Tucker was an assistant to former Southern Miss President Aubrey Lucas when McCarty gave her gift to the university. Once the story of the endowment broke, Tucker traveled with McCarty to various news stations and talk shows across the country. A personal friend of McCarty’s, Tucker shared multiple stories about their travels together, including when they met celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.
“One thing that she taught me was to give,” said Tucker. “I give away everything […] and expect nothing. […] That was one of the biggest lessons in life that I learned — that, you know, you give, and it will be given back to you.”
J.T. Tisdale is the Director of Outreach and Special Programs for the College of Business and Economic Development. He met McCarty as a graduate student at Southern Miss just before the donation was announced. He claimed seeing her loving nature and humility in person still affects him to this day.
“I never would have done the things I did or saw the people that I saw or get to meet the people I meet if it weren’t for her,” said Tisdale. “And when you have someone like that makes such an impact on your life without even trying to? You know, that’s probably a pretty good person.”
Today, the McCarty Scholarship Program is designed to help low income Mississippi-born students get their degrees. 113 undergraduates have benefited from McCarty’s gift, allowing $568,158 in scholarships to be awarded. It was only fitting, then, to have the ceremony end with appearances from current McCarty Scholars Kaylin Toney and Destiny Johnson.
“I think I’d just have to keep saying ‘thank you’,” said Toney, when asked what she would tell McCarty if she were alive today. “I get to go to school and I get to stay on campus and be a part of something bigger than myself.”
“[It’s] unbelievable that that’s real,” Johnson agreed. “Like, she actually did that, and she was generous enough to give her life savings to kids that she didn’t even know.”
To donate to the McCarty Foundation, please visit www.usmfoundation.com/givemccarty.