Jessie Bryant was born in Houston, Texas, on 30 November 1903 to Grant Hamilton Bryant and Emma Bryant. She earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas, and became certified in teaching and library science. She married Dr. Charles Clint Mosley, who served as dean of Southern Christian Institute before becoming a long-serving professor at Jackson State, and they went on to have three children. Though community activism and cultural preservation remained central to her mission, Mosley also worked as a teenage program director for the YWCA in Jackson in the 1950s, a teller at State Mutual Federal Savings and Loan in the early 1960s, and a social science teacher in the Jackson public schools from 1965 to 1970.
Jessie Mosley wrote several historical works on African Americans in Mississippi, including The Negro in Mississippi (1950). Recognizing that contemporary textbooks overlooked the accomplishments of African Americans, she wrote her own, highlighting black Mississippians’ successes in government, education, business, industry, the arts, and religion. She intended to “remind some and acquaint others of the contributions and achievements of the Negro within the State of Mississippi and to create better understanding between the races.” She updated that book in 1969 and wrote two shorter works, The Story of Negro Disciples in Mississippi and The History of the Women’s Movement in Mississippi.
In the early 1960s Mosley was part of a core group of black women who were at the forefront of the civil rights movement in Jackson. She served as treasurer of Womanpower Unlimited, a group formed in 1961 to coordinate community support for the jailed Freedom Riders. A shoe store that she and her husband owned served as a safe houses for riders. In 1967 Mosley helped found the Jackson chapter of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), the group started by Mary McLeod Bethune to encourage leadership roles for black women in community activities and social causes. Mosley supervised the Jackson Unit’s day care, nursery, and kindergarten centers and served as the NCNW’s state convener from 1977 to 2001.
Building on her commitment to uncover and share the achievements of black Mississippians, she founded the Negro in Mississippi Historical Society in 1963. Mosley and the organization helped lead the effort to preserve the Smith Robertson School, which had opened in 1894 as Jackson’s first public school for African Americans. After the school closed in 1971, the city abandoned the building, and it faced demolition. Mosley, Alferdteen Harrison, and others organized a petition drive to save the structure, and in 1984 the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center opened in the old school with Mosley as its founding director. The museum, the state’s first dedicated to preserving African American history, is located in the heart of the Farish Street neighborhood, which at one time was the central business district for black Jacksonians.
Mosley worked with other state and local organizations, including the Mississippi State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, the Mary Church Terrell Club, and the Mississippi Humanities Council. She organized the first Women, Infants, and Children program in Jackson and founded Wednesdays in Mississippi to encourage more interracial communication. She received numerous honors, including the Carter G. Woodson Award for her efforts in promoting Black History Month and the NCNW’s 1998 Mary McLeod Bethune Living Legend Award. The City of Jackson named Dr. Jessie B. Mosley Drive in her honor.
Mosley died at her Jackson home on 6 June 2003. In 2015, her daughter, filmmaker Wilma Mosley Clopton, released a book and accompanying documentary film, Jessie: One Woman, One Vision: A Look at the Life of Dr. Jessie Bryant Mosley.
- Eva Hunter Bishop and Geneva Brown Blalock White, eds., Mississippi’s Black Women: A Pictorial Story of Their Contributions to the State and Nation (1976)
- Thyrie Bland, Jackson Clarion-Ledger (12 June 2003)
- Jana Hoops, Jackson Clarion-Ledger (11 April 2015)
- Tiyi Morris, Womanpower Unlimited and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi (2015)