Symposium looks at life of first Black woman Ph.D., plans for her Vicksburg home

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, August 22, 2023

A small group of residents turned out Saturday to learn more about Dr. Jane Allen McAllister and the effort to turn the home into a state landmark and museum.

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.

Several friends and relatives of McAllister are working toward purchasing her 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 501(c)3 corporation, the Dr. Jane Ellen Mcallister House Museum Foundation Inc., 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.

Saturday’s symposium included a request from the group for support and contributions toward that effort.

“Vicksburg was quite the place in the early part of the 20th century,” said Dr. Bettye Gardner, McAllister’s cousin. “There was a vibrant African American community here and organizations and institutions and businesses that really laid the foundation for what we have.”

McAllister’s home, she said, would be a good venue to help tell that story.

William Ferris, a Vicksburg native and noted historian, said the project to develop McAllister’s home “honors education and the unswerving commitment of Dr. Jane McAllister, one of our own who was the first Black woman to receive the Ph.D. in education.

“Think of that for a moment; going through schools in Vicksburg and going on to one of the great universities of our nation to be the first Black woman in the nation to receive a Ph.D. in education. She embodies everything that all of us believe in and looks to as the solution to our nation’s issues,” Ferris said.

“If there’s a problem, we return to the university to the colleges to K through 12. If you educate your young people, our future is secure and when we look at her long and productive life, her commitment was always to teaching,” he added. “Dr. Jane, we gather here today to celebrate your life and future lives who will be inspired by your story.”

“We envision her home as the future Dr. Jane McAllister House Museum that will reflect her passion and commitment for excellence in education that will give historical context to her extraordinary achievements, to honor her life ethos and legacy with exhibits documenting the spoke and depth of her work in education as well as exhibits that highlight the extraordinary legacy of the larger African American community in Vicksburg at that time and well into have the 20th century and as the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D in education from Columbia University in 1929,” said Karen Kandel, a foundation director.

Gardner said the foundation supporting the development of McAllister’s home is presently located at Outside the Box Business Center, 908 Cherry St. The phone number is 662-655-0465.

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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