Eva Lois Williams Gordon was an educational and civic leader in southern and central Mississippi for more than five decades. The daughter of Celia Ann Berkley Williams, Eva was born on 29 October 1888 in Magnolia. After her mother’s death, Williams was raised by her grandparents, Aaron and Hannah Berkley, both of whom were ex-slaves. Her early life revolved around education and religion, and she attended Magnolia’s St. James United Methodist Church for her entire life. Williams was educated in the local black public schools, and by age fifteen she graduated from Mississippi and Louisiana Normal and Industrial College, a short-lived black institution located in Magnolia. She began her career in 1903 as a supply teacher in the nearby Lundy Lane Community, and in 1904 Prof. J. E. Johnson, who later established Prentiss Institute in Jefferson Davis County, hired her as a primary teacher in the Magnolia school system. Williams continued her education during several summers at Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute.
In 1906 she married Emory Urias Gordon, a native of Gillsburg who worked as a mill and compress worker. The couple had four children, one of whom died at eighteen months.
In 1919 Eva Gordon became principal of the Magnolia black schools, which occupied a substandard building and offered education only through the eighth grade. Learning of the recently established Julius Rosenwald Fund, she raised one thousand dollars in matching funds to erect a Rosenwald School in Magnolia, with most of the money coming in pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters contributed by blacks and whites in the community. The Pike County Training School opened in the early 1920s.
Gordon continued to focus on the underprivileged in her community. In 1937 she went into home demonstration work and accepted a teaching position in Gloster, and she later became a Jeanes teacher in Hinds County. At that time, black schools were in session only when children’s labor was not needed in the cotton fields, resulting in abbreviated terms, but Gordon persuaded Hinds officials to lengthen the school term for blacks to equal that of whites. She later returned to Pike County as a Jeanes supervisor and became the Pike County Extension Service’s first black home demonstration agent for women and girls. Her 4-H Club activities were highly regarded, winning state and national awards. The exhibit hall at the Pike County Fairgrounds bears her name. In 1958 a new Magnolia school, located directly across Highway 51 from the site of the Pike County Training School, was named in her honor.
She retired as a demonstration agent in 1955 after fifty-two years of public service and remained active in church, educational, agricultural, and civic organizations until her death in Jackson on 26 March 1982.
- “Celebration of the Home Going of Mrs. Eva L. Gordon,” Funeral Program (30 March 1982)
- Dorothy Gordon Gray, interview by author (15 January 1999)
- Jackson Advocate (23 May 2002)
- Magnolia Gazette (2 November 2006, 18, 22, 26 February 2007, 27 March 2008)
- George A. Sewell and Margaret L. Dwight, Mississippi Black History Makers (1984)
- Louretta Smith, Magnolia through the Years (1975)