In the Spotlight: The life and works of the compassionate educator, Dr. Lou Helen Devine Sanders

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Dr. Lou Helen Devine Sanders

Dr. Lou Helen Devine Sanders’ educational attainment began in rural Flora, Mississippi while she worked as a sharecropper’s daughter with a very unorthodox educational path. Lou Helen was born in Bolton, Mississippi to Mr. Eddie and Mrs. Irene Singleton Devine, becoming one in a family of twelve. She states, “A major challenge [of] mine and many Black students at this time was [that life was] often interrupted by having to work on the farm. Typically, me and my siblings would enroll [during] the first few months of school in August-September and would not return until around Thanksgiving.” In many rural communities, this process was known as a split-session, where schools had to adjust their school year so that students who lived and worked on farms could help harvest crops in the early fall then return to school afterwards to complete the end of the year. Furthermore, they would go out again during the spring to help with planting of crops. 

During an interview, Dr. Sanders recalled poignant memories of being able take a reprieve from working in the fields during her elementary school days. When it rained, because she didn’t have shoes to wear, Sanders was provided a precious day of learning at school. The memories of no shoes for school was offset by the day in her senior year when she received a certificate for “All Days Present” and graduated with honors. 

Working and being raised in an environment that required every family to contribute to farm work made getting an education an arduous task. But a determined Lou Helen did not allow her hard sharecropping farm life to deter or derail her from her pursuit of higher education. 

Her education started at Wilson Grove, a two-room church school that she attended through 3rd grade with Mrs. Lillian Grisham as her teacher. Fourth grade began with a one-year stint at East Flora Jr. High School with her beloved Mrs. Hattie McClendon. Upon her arrival into the Hinds County School System at V.L. Reuben Jr. High School, Lou Helen encountered Mrs. Annie Laura Thompson, mother of future Congressman Bennie G. Thompson. According to Lou Helen, “Mrs. Thompson was the most influential teacher and mentor that I ever encountered. Mrs. Thompson was elegant and intellectually gifted.” Lou Helen remained at V.L. Reuben Jr. High School through 9th grade, graduating with honors.

Her persistent hard work paid off with a big dividend when she graduated from the only high school for Black students – Sumner Hill High School in Clinton, Mississippi – in the class of 1969 under the watchful eye of her special teacher Mr. Hallie Myers. But high school would not be the end of the road for Lou Helen Devine.

Graduating with honors from high school allowed Lou Helen to be admitted to Jackson College, now Jackson State University. According to a Clarion Ledger article, entitled “Misses Powell, Devine Lead 775 Graduates at JSC Sunday, the 96th commencement for Jackson State College was held at the Mississippi Coliseum on May 10, 1973. Lou Helen Devine and Corlis Powell were named the top two summa cum laude graduates. Lou Helen was named salutatorian. The article further stated that while at Jackson State College, Lou Helen also served as president of Alpha Beta Alpha Library Science Fraternity and performed with the Inter-faith Choir .

Lou Helen was an English Literature major with a minor in Library Science. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she entered the University of Michigan to continue pursuing Library Science as her major for graduate study. She received a tuition-free fellowship that included a $200 monthly stipend. The highly sought-after Jackson State College graduate also had additional scholarship offers from Ohio State (English) and three Library Science offers from the University of Illinois, University of Oklahoma, and University of Denver. She also attained a specialist degree in Educational Leadership from JSU in 1981. 

Continuing her thirst for education, Lou Helen Devine went on to pursue study at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1989 with a PhD in Library and Information Science, completing the degree in two years when it is normally slated as a four-year degree program.  

Lou Helen Devine began her 47-year work-life at her beloved alma mater, Jackson State, in September 1974. Her career began with her first position in July 1989-June 2001 as the Acting Dean of Libraries (Associate Professor of Library Science) at the H.T. Sampson Library, providing leadership, planning, and overall management for the library. She integrated the library into a collaborative and cohesive unit by coordinating the library’s public and technical services and developed an initiative to re-align library and general university staff salaries. From 1974-1987, she served in several positions at JSU’s Sampson Library that began with Instructor of Library Science, Assistant Professor of Library Science, Assistant Librarian, Humanities Division/State Documents/Audiovisual Librarian, Science and Technology Divisional Librarian, and Reserve Assistant/Circulation Librarian. 

Career highlights include:

Orchestrated ($13.5 million) the design, construction, and expansion of the H.T. Sampson Library (highlighted in Architectural Digest 1998), drawing the rough draft of the architectural informal design. Her father, Eddie Devine, worked with the original construction crew of the H.T. Sampson Library in the 1950s.

• 2010 candidate for president of Jackson State University

• Marquis Who’s Who: America’s Biographer since 1999, 2010

• Representative, 2nd Congressional District on the Mississippi Center for the Book’s Board of Directors, 2000-2002

• Lexington’s Who’s Who, 2000-2002 Honored Member

• Member, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Steering Committee, 2000-2001

• Commencement speaker (Summer), Jackson State University, 1995

• Who’s Who Among African Americans, 1995

• Who’s Who in American Education, 1995

• Who’s Who in the World, 1995

• University of Southern Mississippi, School of Library and Information Science Advisory Council, 1994

• President, American Library Association Chapter-University of Pittsburgh, 1988-1989 (1st African American)

• Executive Secretary, Jackson-Hinds (Public) Library Trustee Board, 1986-1987

Professional honors 

and awards:

• Chair, Mississippi Library Director’s Council, 1990-1988

• Member, Faxon Subscription Services Client Advisory Board, Boston, MA

• University of Pittsburgh, Provost’s Development Fund Scholarship Award (competitive), 1988-1989

• University of Pittsburgh, Title II-B Fellowship, 1987-1988

• Salutatorian, summa cum laude, Jackson State College, 1973

• President’s List Scholar, Jackson State College, 1973-1973

Select professional 


• American Library Association, 1975, Life Member

• American Society for Information Science, 1988

• Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1981

• Mississippi Library Association, 1975-2001

• Member, American Library Association, Education for Bibliographic Instruction Round Table Southeastern Library Association, 1975-2001

Select Jackson State University committee memberships

Deans Council, Committee on Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, Graduate Council, Founders’ Day, Commencement, Faculty Handbook, Academic Honors Council, Academic Support Council, presided 1993, 1994 at the annual Honors Convocation

Search Committees: Dean of Continuing Education, Director of the Universities Center, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, NCATE, Strategic Planning and Governance/Resource Committee, Southern Association for Colleges and School Steering Committee, Archives Committee

Select publications

• Reviewer (acknowledge) Waugh, C. Keith; Gronlund, Norman E. (2013). Assessment of Student Achievement. (10th ed.) New Jersey: Pearson

• “The Commitment of a Dean of Libraries at a predominantly Black University,” The Librarian in American Revisited. Scarecrow Press, Fall 1994.

• “Faculty Status for Academic Librarians,” Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Vol. #48, Marcel Dekker, 1991.

• Mississippi Mind: A Personal Cultural History of an American State, by G.G. Yates, Reviewed in Mississippi Libraries, Spring 1991.

• Social Responsibility in Leadership: Essays on Equality, (Reviewed) RQ Fall, 1990.

*• Faculty Status of Academic Librarians in Four Year State-Supported Colleges and Universities University Microfilm International, 1989. Dissertation.

• “Staff Training Programs for State and Local Government Publication,” Document to the People, Vol. #1, March 1989.

• “The Church Music Library-A Selected Biography,” prepared for the 11th Annual Church Music Workshop, Jackson State University, 1987.

• “The Quest of Black Americans “Themes in Afro-American Literature,” A Proposal submitted to the National Endowment for the Humanities, March 1987.

• “The Church Library: How to Get it Humming – A Selective Bibliography,” prepared for the 10th Annual Church Music Workshop, Jackson State University, 1986.


civic involvement

• Life Member, National Alumni Associations, University of Pittsburgh, University of Michigan, Jackson State University, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, NAACP.

• Hinds County Democratic Election Committee, 1993-1996

• Jackson Public Schools, Bonds Oversight Committee, 1st chairman (membership continues for the duration of the bond), 1992-1997.

• Jackson Public Schools, PTSA, 1982-1994; executive board member, 1991-1994.

• Jackson/Hinds Public Library Trustee, 1985-1987.

Dr. Lou Helen Devine Sanders is the JSU librarian emeritus retiring after 47 years of service. Sanders is remembered by several of her students as their advisor, mentor, and inspiration to achieve academic, professional, and personal success as noted by the numerous letters of appreciation she has received from her JSU students whom she has touched and imparted knowledge over her storied career. The letters of gratitude reflect her compassion and her ability to serve her students as a counselor not just academically but as a life coach. Dr. Sanders says, “It’s ironic, as it turned out, I became the mentor and inspiration to my students that Mrs. Thompson was to me back in V.L. Reuben Jr. High School with my students and giving them the nurturance that I knew they needed at the time they needed it most. Jackson State University is the kind of place that allows its staff and professors to spend the time and establish trust while putting forth the caring that our students want and need.”

An elaborate retirement Mix & Mingle Brunch celebration was given on behalf of Dr. Lou Helen Devine Sanders and others on the campus of Jackson State University at the Terry L. Woodard Ballroom to show appreciation for Sanders 47 years of service on May 3, 2022.

Dr. Sanders says, “I plan to devote a great deal of my retirement to furthering my ministerial work at Hall’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Bolton, Mississippi as an ‘Ordained Elder’.” She says that Colossians 3:23 {Work at everything you do with all your heart. Work as if you were working for the Lord, not for human masters.} is her work life mantra, and Psalm 27:13 {Here is something I am sure of. I will see the Lord’s goodness while I’m still alive.} culminates her spiritual life. 

On a personal note, Dr. Sanders say she plans to enjoy spending time with family (Dr. Nicol and Dr. Kenneth Hemphill) and her twin surrogate daughters, Clementine Jenkins and Francine Okoh, and relish the successes of her “beautiful students” that she has had the privilege of working with over the years.

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In the Spotlight: The life and works of the compassionate educator, Dr. Lou Helen Devine Sanders

By Brinda Fuller Willis
July 10, 2022