Jane Menefee Schutt publicly supported the civil rights movement in the 1960s when few other white women in Mississippi did. She was born to Randolph and Gertrude Menefee in Washington, DC, on January 2, 1913. She was raised in the nation’s capital and attended George Washington University for two and a half years. While there she met Wallis Schutt, an engineering student whom she married in 1934. The couple moved around the country for Wallis’s work, and they eventually settled in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1940s when he started working for M. T. Reed Construction Company. The couple had five children.
Jane Schutt was a devoted Episcopalian and member of St. Columb’s and St. Andrew’s in Jackson, and Church of the Creator in Clinton. She also worked with other women of faith in United Church Women (UCW) of Mississippi (later Church Women United), an autonomous branch of the National Council of Churches devoted to women’s ecumenical activism for social justice, serving as president from 1959 to 1961. When Schutt was the new president of the Mississippi UCW, the statewide group refused to separate from the national organization that remained integrated.
Because of Schutt’s leadership in the Mississippi section of a nationally integrated women’s organization, she was asked by the federal government to serve on the first Mississippi advisory committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights. She was the only white woman to serve in the very first committee in 1959, along with two black Mississippians, A. Benjamin Britton, a Jackson physician, and James Allen, a Columbus pharmacist. Three white men, Rev. Murray Cox, a retired Methodist minister from Gulfport, Adm. Robert Briscoe, a retired admiral and planter from Liberty, and V. O. Campbell of Collins, a farmer and former president of the Mississippi Rural Carriers Association, also served on the committee. Schutt served for nearly four years, becoming chairman in December 1962. Under her chairmanship the advisory committee released a hard-hitting report in January 1963 that detailed the abuse that black Mississippians had faced from law enforcement and other state officials. She also testified in front of a US Senate Subcommittee on Civil Rights in May 1963, urging the federal government to extend the life of the Commission on Civil Rights and to withhold funds from Mississippi until it ended the discrimination and terrorism against black citizens in the state.
Whites who served on the Mississippi commission’s advisory committee were seen as traitors to both their state and their race, and as a result of her participation on the committee Schutt and her family faced harassment from the White Citizens’ Council, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and other segregationist individuals. For example, one night after the Jackson Clarion-Ledger publicized her acceptance of the seat on the committee, someone threw a stick of dynamite that destroyed her home’s front windows. Just before Christmas 1963 someone burned a cross on her front lawn. She incorporated the charred cross into her family’s nativity scene for many years to come. The eventual economic pressure placed on her husband forced Schutt to resign as chairman from the committee in the fall 1963.
In addition to her committee work, she began an interracial prayer fellowship in Jackson along with M. G. Haughton, wife of the pastor of the Pearl Street A.M.E., in 1961. She also served on the Mississippi Council on Human Relations, which worked with the Council of Federated Organizations to create a White Community Project to try to alter the attitudes of white Mississippians toward the civil rights movement in 1964. She housed civil rights activists in her home, including during the Freedom Rides of 1961 and Freedom Summer of 1964. She worked extensively in facilitating Wednesdays in Mississippi, a project sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women that brought over a hundred prominent black and white clubwomen from northern and Midwestern cities to Mississippi to aid civil rights efforts in the summers of 1964 and 1965. She also worked closely with Head Start, the Girl Scouts, and the Mississippi Association for Retarded Children (now the Arc of Mississippi).
Schutt won many awards for her social justice activism, including the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Award presented by the Mississippi Council on Human Relations in 1973, an honorary doctorate from the Prentiss Institute in 1975, the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference Award in 1978, and the Church Women United’s Valiant Woman Award in 1979.
Jane Schutt died at the age of ninety-three on July 23, 2006, at her daughter’s home in Maryland.
- Jane Schutt Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Debbie Z. Harwell, Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change (2016)
- “Interview with Jane M. Schutt” (1994), Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi
- “Interview with Jane M. Schutt” (1981) Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Jenny Irons, “The Shaping of Activist Recruitment and Participation: A Study of Women in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement,” Gender and Society 12, no. 6 (December 1998): 692–709
- “Oral History Memoir of Mrs. Wallis I. Schutt” (1965), Oral History of Contemporary Mississippi Life and Viewpoint, Millsaps College Archives
- Rebecca Tuuri, Strategic Sisterhood: The National Council of Negro Women in the Black Freedom Struggle (2018)