Letter to the Editor: The Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister House: A Vicksburg Treasure 

Published 4:00 am Sunday, September 10, 2023

Dear Editor, 

Let me begin by thanking Mr. John Surratt, Vicksburg Post reporter, for his thoughtful article on the Aug. 19 symposium, and Publisher Catherine Hadaway for giving me the opportunity to write an opinion article on the importance of this project. Special thanks to Mayor George Flaggs Jr. for his continuing support.   

A year ago, the Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister House Foundation Board was formed with the following board members: Dr. Bettye Gardner, President, and Leo Spencer Turnipseed, Treasurer. Other board members include Dr. William Ferris; Joel Williamson, Eminent Professor of History Emeritus, Senior Associate Director Emeritus, Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ms. Karen Kandel, Co-Artistic Director and Interdisciplinary Writer, Mabou Mines Theater Company, NY; David Rae Morris, photojournalist and documentarian; Robert Walker, former Mayor, City of Vicksburg, Historian, former student of Dr. McAllister; and Robert Luckett, Director, Margaret Walker Center, Jackson State University. 

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On the fourth anniversary of the unveiling of the marker for McAllister’s home, 1403 Main St., the board of the Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister House Museum Foundation hosted a symposium to share comments on her life and legacy as well as the vision for the Museum and Educational Center which will be created at her home.

Approximately 100 people attended in person at Outside the Box Business Center and virtually.    

In her 1993 “Study of African Americans Associated Historic and Architectural Resources of Vicksburg, MS,” Nancy Bell, Executive Director, Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, commented that “this study will impress upon us all the importance of appreciating our individual and collective legacies through preserving important aspects of the built environment. With this study completed … Vicksburg will soon take its rightful place among our nation’s cities in acknowledging its rich African American heritage.” 

Thirty years later, the Jane Ellen McAllister House at 1403 Main St., the only African-American house in Vicksburg designated a landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, provides a rare opportunity to tell her story through the lens of the first half of the 20th Century experiences of African Americans in Vicksburg.

Her impressive achievements in the field of education deserve to be showcased in the home where she lived her entire life. Elizabeth Alexander, CEO of the Mellon Foundation, has stated that “of the 95,000 sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, only 3 percent focus on the experiences of African Americans.”

McAllister’s home provides a tangible space and a context for all the other African-American spaces to be woven into the history of Vicksburg.  

At the symposium, board members Ferris and Kandel elaborated on McAllister’s critical role in higher education during her 50-year career. Ferris commented that “Dr. McAllister’s memory is a sacred trust to all who knew her. Transforming her historic home into an educational museum will preserve her important life story and crucial voice in American history for future generations.” 

Kandel emphasized that “The House Museum will reflect Dr. McAllister’s passion and commitment to excellence in education.  Exhibits will provide historical context for her extraordinary achievements and will document the scope and depth of her work in education while also highlighting the extraordinary legacy of the larger African American community.”

Organizations, institutions and businesses in Vicksburg including Black churches, the first licensed Black funeral home (which is still in business today), the first chapter of the NAACP in Mississippi, and a Black high school established in 1902, all laid a foundation for later generations. These stories must be woven into the history of Vicksburg so that a more complete picture emerges.  

Fifty years later, McAllister remains a pioneer and innovator in higher education. Not only will visitors be inspired by her visionary approach to education, but the museum will be “a hub for teachers, students and the Vicksburg community.”

Morris shared his personal recollection of his conversations with McAllister that led him to write his master’s thesis, “My Mind to Me, My Kingdom Is.”

He is currently working on a documentary that will be shown at the museum. Austerine Hambrick, a former student, ended the discussion characterizing McAllister as a “race” woman who provided her students with educational experiences that prepared them for the outside world.    

We invite you to join us in recognizing Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister and her legacy through the establishment of the Dr. Jane McAllister Museum House and Educational Center.  


Bettye J. Gardner, Ph.D.
President, Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister House Foundation, Inc.