Born in Mississippi and educated in the South, Chalmers Archer Jr. was a teacher, lecturer, columnist, and author whose work influenced education for African American students and shed light on the important experiences of black Mississippians in the twentieth century.
Son of Chalmers Archer, a farmer, and Eva Rutherford Archer, an educator, Chalmers Archer Jr. was born on 21 April 1938 in the small Delta town of Tchula. Archer and his five younger siblings spent their childhood on the land that his father rented from a white family, farming and enjoying the natural setting. Aside from the richness of the landscape, however, the rural Mississippi Delta offered little in the way of comforts to the Archer family. Archer came of age surrounded by the threat of white violence and reprisal for political organization and witnessed the inequities in education, medical care, and economic opportunity that plagued his community. His memoir chronicles many of these experiences as well as the community’s unique relationship to land and cultural practices, including herbal healing, inherited from the older generations.
Archer served in the US Army for more than a decade in the 1950s and 1960s, working as a medic in Korea and later joining the newly formed Special Forces and becoming a captain. He subsequently returned to Mississippi and earned an associate’s degree from Saints Junior College in Lexington. He then received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute in 1972 and 1974 and earned a doctorate in counseling and psychology from Auburn University in 1979.
Archer worked in educational administration while in school, assisting the president and registrar at Saints and serving as a career counselor, as an assistant dean of admissions, and ultimately as an assistant professor in education at Tuskegee. In 1983 he moved to Virginia and became a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, remaining there until his retirement in 2000.
In addition to his long career in education, Archer authored two books detailing his life experiences, Green Berets in the Vanguard: Inside Special Forces, 1953–1963 (1992) and Growing Up Black in Rural Mississippi: Memories of a Family, Heritage of a Place (2001). Archer frequently visited Tchula and his family’s farm and stayed connected to his home state by contributing a weekly column to the Jackson Advocate. He died in Manassas, Virginia, on 24 February 2014.
- Adam Bernstein, Washington Post (6 March 2014); The HistoryMakers website, http://www.thehistorymakers.com; Thomson Gale Contemporary Authors Series