Dr. Alferdteen Harrison: Preserver of Black life in Mississippi

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By Alice Thomas-Tisdale

JA Publisher Emerita

The Jackson Advocate dedicates our 2024 Black History Special Edition to Dr. Alferdteen Harrison, Mississippi’s lead scholar on the preservation of Black life and culture. 

From her time as a young student at the Piney Woods Country Life School in the mid-1950s, to being a principal creator of the first statewide African American museum and cultural center — Smith Robertson (1984) — and the resurgence of the Alamo Theater (1996),  she has ensured the future of the contributions made by Black communities to American society. 

Because of her dedication and foresight, the body of work by Black Mississippians will never be underrepresented, overlooked, or misunderstood. 

There’s a reason Dr. Harrison was awarded the Mississippi Historical Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021. A few years prior, in 2016, she was inducted into the University of Kansas Hall of Fame for more than becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate at her alma mater. She is largely responsible for establishing what today is the African and African American Studies department at the University of Kansas.

Dr. Harrison also transformed Jackson State University as a professor of history, director of the Institute for the Study of the History, Life and Culture of Black People, and founding director of the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center. 

Because of her unflinching tenacity, Dr. Harrison refused to allow a once bustling Farish Street in Jackson to disappear into the night. She spearheaded early attempts to revive Farish Street by conducting National Register of Historic Places inventories of the homes, businesses, churches, and other cultural resources on Farish Street. In 1980, the Farish Street Historical District was added to the Register, offering a temporary reprieve from the ongoing demise.

During the past decade, Dr. Harrison’s efforts have focused on commemorating the midwifery tradition on Farish Street, while preserving the Scott-Ford homes that welcomed mothers-to-be. 

She is author of multiple books, included Piney Woods: An Oral History, and one she edited, Black Exodus: The Great Migration from the American South.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dr. Alferdteen Harrison for your unselfish pursuit as an advocate for the documentation and preservation of African American History.

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Dr. Alferdteen Harrison: Preserver of Black life in Mississippi

By Jackson Advocate News Service
February 26, 2024