Jackson State University, located in downtown Jackson, is Mississippi’s only urban historically black public university. Founded in 1877 as Natchez Seminary, the school was funded and operated by the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York “for the moral, religious, and intellectual improvement of Christian leaders of the colored people of Mississippi and the neighboring states.” The private school offered religious training for Mississippi’s newly freed and underprivileged black citizens for sixty-three years.
The society purchased J. A. P. Camp’s fifty-two-acre estate in Jackson in 1882 and moved the school there from Natchez the following year. At that time the school’s name was changed to Jackson College. The campus moved again to new facilities southwest of the city in the early twentieth century, and the former Camp estate now houses Millsaps College, a private Methodist institution.
Jackson College awarded its first bachelor’s degree at the close of the 1924 school year. A decade later, the American Baptist Home Mission Society withdrew its financial support, and the school came under public control as part of the state educational system in 1940. Now named the Mississippi Negro Training School, it featured academic programs geared toward training rural and elementary schoolteachers. In 1944 the school became Jackson College for Negro Teachers. In 1956 after a division of graduate studies and a four-year liberal arts program were added, the school was reclassified as Jackson State College. On 15 March 1974 it became Jackson State University in recognition of the expanded quality and breadth of the school’s academic offerings and faculty.
On 14 May 1970 law enforcement officials, stationed on campus in the wake of recent protests, opened fire on students assembled on a nearby campus lawn. A Jackson State student and a local high school student were killed, and twelve others were injured. No one was ever charged in the shootings.
The past four decades have been a period of tremendous growth for Jackson State University. The school now has more than eight thousand traditional and nontraditional undergraduate and graduate students who can choose from among more than thirty major programs of study in six schools—Business; Education and Human Development; Liberal Arts; Lifelong Learning; Science, Engineering, and Technology; Public Service. It offers Mississippi’s only academic programs studying urban life. In 2010 the university elected its first female president, Dr. Carolyn Meyers.
In 1968 the university founded the Institute for the Study of the History, Life, and Culture of Black People. Now known as the Margaret Walker Center, its archival collections, exhibitions, and public programs honor Walker’s legacy. The university shows its dedication of both studying and honoring African American history by being home to the Hamer Institute, the W. E. B. Du Bois Honors College, the Richard Wright Center for the Written Word, and the Walter Payton Health and Wellness Center.
Jackson State’s athletic teams compete in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The university’s athletic teams are commonly known as the Blue Bengals. Jackson State is well known for its marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South, which was inducted into the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Hall of Champions in 2003.
Famous alumni of Jackson State include Rep. Robert G. Clark Jr., the first African American elected to the Mississippi legislature since Reconstruction; Walter Payton, who played running back for the National Football League’s Chicago Bears and is a member of the league’s Hall of Fame; US congressman Bennie G. Thompson; professional golfer Shasta Averyhardt; and Weather Channel meteorologist Vivian Brown.
Jackson State University has five colleges—Liberal Arts, Business, Education and Human Development, Public Service, and Science, Engineering, and Technology—along with schools of Journalism and Public Health. With almost 10,000 students in 2015, JSU had the fourth-largest number of students of all historically black colleges and universities in the nation.
- Jackson State University website, www.jsums.edu
- John A. Peoples Jr., To Survive and Thrive: The Quest for a True University (1995)
- Lelia Gaston Rhodes, Jackson State University: The First Hundred Years, 1877–1977 (1979)