Group seeks to make McAllister home a museum

Published 1:54 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

In August 2019, the home of one of educator Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister, at 1403 Main St., was honored with a state historic marker identifying it as a state historic landmark.

McAllister, a Vicksburg native, was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in education from Columbia University in 1929. She finished her career teaching at Jackson State University.

Now, several friends and relatives of McAllister are working toward purchasing the home from its present owner, refurbishing it, and developing it into a museum that would not only tell her story but also the story of the section of Old Vicksburg, which was once a thriving African American residential and business community.

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The group has formed a 501c(3) corporation to help raise funds and acquire the home. The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen have stepped in to help with the project, recently passing a resolution seeking a local and private, or special, bill from the Legislature to buy the home.

“I definitely feel that there’s a need to tell her story, and she has enough of a story to tell in terms of the contribution to education. She did it, not only in Vicksburg but nationally, and of course, most of her work was in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other southern states,” said Bettye Gardner, McAllister’s cousin.

And while telling McAllister’s story, she said, the museum would include information about the community and the institutions like the branch library in the community and the YMCA built for the city’s African Americans “to just sort of tie it all together for tourists but also for school kids; for the general public.

“Vicksburg has a rich history and yet I think the African American piece missing.”

McAllister’s home she said, is a landmark in the community. “It is the only African American house in Vicksburg that has that status. We physically have a place to tell her story.”

Vicksburg businessman Leo Turnipseed, who is involved in the project, said the supporters of the museum want to have an interpretive center to provide a research opportunity for people who want to understand the importance of Vicksburg and the southern economy and how African Americans contributed to that development.

William Ferris, a Vicksburg native and noted historian, said developing McAllister’s home into a museum “would be something of special significance to recognize her, first of all, because of who she was and what she did, but also that her field of education is a key to what Vicksburg has been known for and supported for generations.

“To preserve her home and to link it with a broader message of the city and the county’s commitment to education is something that I’m very excited about in Dr. Gardner’s relationship to her through her family and Robert Walker’s relationship, through his connections to Jackson State and to Vicksburg.”

Ferris said he is assisting Gardner in getting financial assistance support for the project on a national level.

“I think there is a black history trail already in Mississippi along with the Blues Trail and literary trails,” he said. “And increasingly tourism is going to be the significant support for Vicksburg and Warren County; all of which this home will be an important part.”

Walker, a former Vicksburg mayor who met McAllister while he was a student at Jackson State, said McAllister “was such a distinguished human being who loved Vicksburg and resided in Vicksburg. Later, when I became mayor of Vicksburg, she would send me notes of encouragement periodically. At that time, she had retired and was living in Vicksburg. They (the notes) were welcomed by me.”

McAllister, Walker said, is not just an asset to Vicksburg, “but to America and the world. She was really a pioneer in education.”

Turning her home into a museum, he said, would be “a fitting monument to a lady who was a monument. It would bring not just recognition to her for what she was and what she gave, what she meant and inspired, but it would be an asset to the city of Vicksburg and to all of education in this country.

“I don’t think that there could be anything more fitting than to bring that home, that museum, that dream.”

Working on a project like McAllister’s home is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Turnipseed said, adding, “She could have gone anywhere on the planet with her credentials but she came to Mississippi and the greater part of her work was done in Mississippi. It’s an honor to be able to tell her story so that people will understand her contributions but also a city like Vicksburg that made her who she became.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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