Jacob Lorenzo Reddix served as president of Jackson State College from its founding in 1940 until 1967. Reddix was born in Vancleave, a small timber town in southern Mississippi, on 2 March 1897 to Nathan Reddix and Frances Chambers Reddix, both of whom were former slaves. According to Jacob Reddix, his enslaved grandmother, Millie Brown, constantly prayed for “freedom for her children and the opportunity for them to learn to read and write.” Reddix was educated locally and went to high school in Alabama. Like many African Americans from the Deep South, he then headed north to Illinois, earning a bachelor’s degree from Chicago’s Lewis Institute in 1927. After working as a schoolteacher and for the US Postal Service, Reddix received a Rosenwald Fellowship to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago.
During Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, Reddix worked at the Farm Security Administration, where he specialized in agricultural cooperatives, working on projects throughout the South. In 1940 the State of Mississippi assumed control of Jackson College, an African American school previously run by the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and renamed it the Mississippi Negro Training School. Will Alexander, the Farm Security Administration’s director of cooperatives, recommended Reddix to head the school. It became Jackson College for Negro Teachers in 1944 and Jackson State College in 1956 and offered academic programs geared toward training rural and elementary schoolteachers.
At Jackson State, Reddix gained the nickname the Builder for his aggressive pursuit of funds and support for new buildings on campus. When Reddix retired in 1967, English professor Margaret Walker Alexander wrote a sonnet, “Jacob L. Reddix: The Builder.” In 1972 the university named its new student union building in his honor.
Reddix at times faced opposition from Jackson State students for his conservatism on issues of both politics and personal behavior. Reddix did not support the civil rights activism that was growing on southern campuses in the early 1960s, and his attempt to stay out of politics earned him occasional criticism as an Uncle Tom. Most dramatically, he refused to allow a large campus protest that activists had planned in response to the jailing of the Tougaloo Nine in 1961, threatening to expel everyone involved. Moreover, some students condemned him for continuing an old college practice of requiring students to attend Sunday afternoon church services and, more broadly, for failing to support student government. Reddix said that he was trying to emphasize education and the training of the character of young Mississippians. He took pride in the school’s building programs, the increased size of its student body, and its appropriations from the Mississippi legislature, which grew from $10,000 in 1940–41 to $1,600,000 in 1966–67.
After his retirement, Reddix continued his interest in cooperatives, helping to organize credit unions in Hinds County. Reddix ran unsuccessfully for the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1967. He died in Jackson on 9 May 1973. The University Press of Mississippi published his memoirs, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, the following year.
- John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1995)
- John A. Peoples Jr., To Survive and Thrive: The Quest for a True University (1995)
- Jacob L. Reddix Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Jacob L. Reddix, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: The Memoirs of Jacob L. Reddix (1974)
- Leila Gaston Rhodes, Jackson State University: The First Hundred Years, 1877–1977 (1979)
- Joy Ann Williamson, Radicalizing the Ivory Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi (2008)