Honoring Dr. McAllister’s life and legacy

Published 2:32 pm Thursday, August 29, 2019

I would like to begin by thanking Mayor George Flaggs Jr. for his support of the historical marker for Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister, culminating with the marker program and unveiling on Aug. 10; and for his plan to work with the family to turn her historic house into a museum. Additionally, thanks also to the Heritage Guild for their continuing support of the marker.

Approximately 200 people gathered at Wesley United Methodist Church including former students, sorors of the AKA Sorority, friends and the general public to honor Dr. McAllister on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of her graduation from Columbia University Teachers College in 1929, as the first African American Woman to earn a Ph.D. in Education.

In the introduction to “I Dream a World,” the author speaks of black women of an earlier era dreaming of a world not only better for themselves, but for generations to come. David Rae Morris (M.A., Masters Thesis) places Dr. McAllister in that context. Living within a world defined by a white male power structure, she fought this power structure with a persistent spirit and challenged her students of each generation to overcome racial barriers as well.

Dr. McAllister was born in 1899 in Vicksburg to Flora and Richard McAllister. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a mail carrier, which made them a part of a small group of educated African Americans in Mississippi and the nation.

Her mother graduated from Jackson College in 1891, and clearly had a great impact on Dr. McAllister throughout her early life. She graduated from Cherry Street High School, the first black high school in Vicksburg, in 1915 and entered Talladega College in Alabama.

She graduated with honors from Talladega in 1919, earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1921, and the Ph.D. in Education from Columbia University in 1929. Truly she was an exceptional person for any time and any gender.

Driven by the same motivation that had led her to succeed, she provided a first-class education to all the students she encountered, especially those who were preparing to be teachers. She believed “poorly prepared teachers, teach poorly prepared students” and that cycle needed to be broken.

After retiring from Miner Teachers College in 1951, she returned to Mississippi and to Jackson State College.

For 15 years she took the Trailways Bus to and from Jackson each day.

Dr. McAllister brought an arsenal of talents uncommon to most of her colleagues … a highly successful career in the competitive world, a national reputation in the field of education and knowledge of the Foundation world.

With her guidance, Jackson State became an “academic showcase” for her many talents. Among her priorities was a program to “broaden the outlook of students by inviting national leaders, both white and black, to the campus and by hosting a tele-lecture series, which she called “a window on the world.”

Dr. McAllister was that rare teacher who knew how to make learning new things exciting for her students. She not only wanted her students to learn to survive in the larger world, she wanted them to thrive.

The National Park Service has long understood the importance of powerful and provocative stories that people tell about their experiences. The stories that were shared on Aug. 10 spoke to the powerful influence that Dr. McAllister had on her students.

Henry Johnson, a former student, commented on his experience with her.

“As a freshman entering Jackson State College, I was a member of the first Honors Class at the college. Our honors group of 15 students was specifically assigned to Dr. McAllister’s Psychology 101 Class,” Johnson said. “The administration wanted us to have the best. On the first day of class all the students were in awe of Dr. McAllister’s energy, sense of urgency, and academic dedication. I was greatly inspired, as I had never before encountered an instructor like her in a classroom.”

Austerine Hambrick shared her thoughts on Dr. McAllister and described her as a “Race Woman” who believed in the possibilities of a good education and dedicated her life to helping students attain and use education to enrich their lives.

Gloria Alfrieda Ellis spoke of growing up in the neighborhood and walking past the McAllister’s home on Main Street with her mother (also a teacher), and being a part of the conversation with Jane Ellen’s mother and occasionally Jane Ellen herself. Over the years she came to know Jane Ellen and to admire her many accomplishments.

As the master of ceremonies, former Mayor Robert Walker shared his experiences as one of Dr. McAllister’s students at Jackson State.

Columbia University Teachers College proclaimed Dr. McAllister as a “Teachers College Hero” who embodied the College’s values, beliefs and aspirations and joined the State of Mississippi and the City of Vicksburg in honoring her memory and achievements.

The marker and her historic home will always be a testimony to the lives she touched and an inspiration to the present generation and future generations.

 

Bettye J. Gardner, Ph.D., Dr. McAllister’s cousin and chair of the Dr. Jane McAllister Committee.