Richard Aubrey McLemore was a historian who taught and served as president at two Mississippi institutions, directed the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and wrote and edited several important books about Mississippi history. His wife, Nannie Pitts McLemore, coauthored some of those books.
Born in Perry County, Mississippi, on 6 June 1903, Richard McLemore was raised in Petal and graduated from Hattiesburg High School before receiving a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College in 1923 and a master’s degree from George Peabody College for Teachers in 1926. Nannie Pitts was born on 21 September 1900 in Harvest, Alabama, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Athens College in 1921 and a master’s degree from Peabody College in 1927, the same year she married McLemore. Both of the McLemores did graduate work in history at Vanderbilt University, where Richard received his doctorate prior to teaching history at Mississippi Southern College from 1938 to 1955. After serving as the school’s acting president for most of 1955, he became president of Mississippi College from 1957 to 1968 and head of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History from 1969 to 1973.
Richard McLemore began his scholarly career with two books on antebellum Franco-American diplomacy. The couple’s work in Mississippi led to their interest in the state’s history, and in 1945 they coauthored Mississippi through Four Centuries, which took a traditional line on topics in southern society and politics.
As director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Richard McLemore made his most important mark on scholarship by editing A History of Mississippi (1973), a sprawling, two-volume work of scholarship by more than forty professional and amateur historians. Along with thorough coverage of politics and law, the history covered a wide and impressive range of topics, including religion, industry and labor unions, education, the arts, and medicine. The collection showed a clear effort to adhere to professional standards and to fit Mississippi’s history into the celebration of the American bicentennial in 1976. The book, published by the University and College Press of Mississippi in Hattiesburg, had the support of the Mississippi legislature and the state’s three major traditionally white universities. Written in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the wake of the civil rights movement, A History of Mississippi lacked the celebratory quality of much of the scholarship by white Mississippi authors (including the McLemores three decades earlier). The work included an essay on the civil rights movement by Neil McMillen of the University of Southern Mississippi and a revisionist essay on Reconstruction by David G. Sansing of the University of Mississippi. Still, the book also contained statements such as former governor James P. Coleman’s assertion that “for nearly a century the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 has represented a high watermark for government.”
Late in their career, the McLemores turned to the history of religion and education. Richard McLemore wrote a thorough history of Baptists in the state and two short histories of individual Baptist churches. After his death on 31 August 1976, Nannie McLemore completed a book he had started, The History of Mississippi College. She died on 24 January 1980.
- James B. Lloyd, ed., Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817–1967 (1981)
- Richard Aubrey McLemore, A History of Mississippi, 2 vols. (1973)
- Richard Aubrey McLemore, A History of Mississippi Baptists, 1780–1970 (1971)
- Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, The History of Mississippi College (1979)
- Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, Mississippi through Four Centuries (1945)
- Chester M. Morgan, Dearly Bought, Deeply Treasured: The University of Southern Mississippi, 1912–1987 (1987)