When thinking of the theme for this year’s Women’s History Month, there are many Black women in Mississippi who exemplify those who tell our stories. There are authors like Alice Walker, Margaret Walker Alexander, civil rights activist Anne Moody, Natasha Trethewey, and Angie Thomas. There are actresses and performers who’ve entertained on local and national stages and TV and movie screens, including Tonea Stewart, Aunjanue Ellis, Leontyne Price, and Kimberly Morgan Myles. And there are print, radio, and broadcast legends like Ida B. Wells, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Roberts, Cathy Hughes and Maggie Wade.
Furthermore, there are those Black women of the Magnolia state who are unsung, making countless contributions to the local and national ecosystems and ensuring that Black voices are heard. When brainstorming about who to honor as Jackson Advocate’s Woman of the Year, we chose to celebrate someone who has been pivotal to preaching the message of truth and fairness in journalism to countless generations over approximately four decades.
It just so happens that after this decision was already made, she would take on an even bigger role; a role that she was already prepared to take charge of because it is just more of what she had already been doing: advocating for the voices of Black students in Mississippi and preparing them in a multitude of ways to tell our stories.
Dr. Elayne Hayes Anthony, acting president of Jackson State University, would describe herself as a “homegirl.” She was born August 3rd somewhere before the start of the Civil Rights Movement in Jackson. “I’m from Jackson; I’m from Jim Hill, Jackson State, and the hood,” she expressed. And while in high school, she held the title of Miss Jim Hill.
“I’ve just had wonderful experiences here. My childhood was wonderful, and it came out of the African American experience. It’s something about coming from the community being around and seeing all the people you grew up with still flourishing, still helping the community.”
It was from her family that Anthony learned about the love and trust that community provides. Her mother, Texanne Hayes, graduated from Jackson State and was a counselor at Jim Hill High School. “During integration, she moved to Wingfield. My mother was one of those shipped to the all white school,” said Anthony.
“I saw my mother work with so many people. Many people came by our house for advice and to just talk. All students became hers, even though she had two – myself and my sister. They were nurtured by her. And then when she moved to Wingfield during integration, there were a number of white students that became hers.
“I saw how she worked in the church and how she worked in the community. She was just that kind of person. Now, she was tough on you, but she loved on you, too. She wanted to see the best for her students. So that love of community came a lot from her.”
Johnny Hayes Jr., Anthony’s dad, also studied at Jackson State. “He was the first African American male to own a Shell distributorship right here in our community. It used to be on Whitfield Mills Road which is now Martin Luther King Dr. A lot of people got their gas from Daddy, including Medgar Evers. When [Evers] came down to the station to visit him, I just took a place on his lap.”
When it came time for Anthony and her older sister, Gloria Hayes (now Shields), to decide on a college, they of course chose Jackson State. Anthony’s sister was a music major, playing the piano and the organ. For many years, she played for Farish Street Baptist Church where she’s a member. She retired from Jackson Public Schools and now enjoys keeping up with her baby sister.
In her immediate family, Anthony had the examples of a counselor, an entrepreneur, and a musician. Nonetheless, she set her sights on broadcast journalism. “Broadcast media was a dream of mine from a little girl. That was where I wanted to make my mark. I’ve always been a communicator. I’ve always loved to talk before groups even as a child in church. If there was anything to be said, my hand was the first one.”
During the time Anthony was a student at Jackson State, it was in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. She was between her freshman and sophomore years when the Gibbs/Green shooting happened but she did not witness it because she was a commuter student who lived at home.
“The atmosphere was extremely collegial. I made some lasting friendships here. We were a tight group of students. We did whatever we could to help each other. And those kinds of relationships you never lose. Some of those people that were here with me at Jackson State, I still talk to them.”
She still has a standing dinner at least four times a year with two of her friends from JSU. She’s known both of them since first grade and they all matriculated together through high school and college. And this May, they’ll celebrate their golden graduation. “If I’m still acting president, I’ll be giving it (diploma) to myself,” Anthony joked.
As a student focused on studying journalism, Anthony didn’t see any examples of African American women in broadcast journalism growing up, and she didn’t have any footsteps to follow in her family or community. However, Anthony is a firm believer in the saying, “It takes a village,” and she was blessed with encouraging, supportive, and diligent mentors who were vital to her development and success at Jackson State.
One of her mentors was Dr. John Peoples Jr., who was president of Jackson State at the time. “I walked to his house just about every day with Kathleen Peoples, his daughter. And we’ve been great friends for all our lives since middle school.”
Dr. Estus Smith, Dr. Dennis Holloway, George Johnson, and Dr. T.J. Robinson were her other mentors. “Dr. Smith was responsible for getting my first scholarship to Illinois because he knew his counterpart there. He said [to the school] I know you’ve got another scholarship in that drawer. And I want it for one of our deserving students. And he was very, very instrumental.
“Dr. Dennis Holloway, who was associate provost, was a great encourager and he would get so excited about stories and projects that I was doing. I couldn’t wait to just talk to him about it. George Johnson always treated me as if I was the daughter that he never had. And Dr. T.J. Robinson did all of the public relations for Jackson State University for years.”
Anthony also holds a special place in her heart for Dr. Gloria Buchanan Evans, her department chair. “I try to be just like her in every way. I told her what I wanted to do, and she said we’re gonna try to make that happen. And the rest is history. It worked out.”
Dr. Evans found a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Anthony. Anthony became the first intern at WJTV Channel 12 and later the first Black female news anchor. “The general manager said what would you like your hours to be? And my [Dr. Evans] said she can work from eight to five because I’m also her advisor. She doesn’t have any more classes to take. So she could be here all day.”
“I started out there and I learned so much. I worked nine to five but I never left at five. I left at seven or I left at whatever time [because] I was just so interested and excited about being there. There was nobody out there that was female at that station doing it. And I wanted to make my mentors and my family proud. I wanted them to get a chance to see my work.
“One person told me when I was on the air, no one was allowed to talk in their grandmother’s house. Not until my story was done. And that was just captivating because I didn’t know that. This is the epitome of proudness in the community. And it meant something to me to do something my community was proud of. I wanted to leave – even at a young age – a legacy for the African American community here in Jackson.”
Anthony worked for WJTV for about four years. “When I started out in the business, they gave me the education beat and I had to cover every school in Mississippi at some point in time. And then I covered Jackson Public Schools as well.”
While there, she worked on her master’s degree in educational technology at Jackson State, and the station helped pay for half of it. She planned to teach part-time when she finished her degree but one of her mentors guided her towards the direction of getting her doctorate. “He said I have a scholarship and you qualify for it.”
In the late 1970s, she became a doctoral student at Southern Illinois University and was the only African American in the doctoral program for organizational communication and broadcast law where she graduated in 1980. “I tell my students all the time, if you can find somebody interested in your professional ability – and then they make waves and plans to help you get on your way – you need to stick with those people.
When Anthony was awarded her doctorate degree, her mentors found her a job in Pennsylvania. But Anthony couldn’t acclimate to the weather. “I had professors that did not want me to return home. They said, ‘why would you go back?’ I said, ‘it’s called home.’ So, I left the position and I came home with no job but I started looking for one.”
Anthony found one at Jackson State as an assistant professor in the communications department. After that, she became a full time professor and eventually department head. Later, she left Jackson State to become a professor at Belhaven University where she was the professor of communications and chair of the Department of Communications for almost two decades. Ultimately, she was recruited to come back to Jackson State where she became the head of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies.
When she became an assistant professor at Jackson State, she met who she calls “the most important man in my life – Eddie Anthony.” At the time they met, Eddie Anthony was a management and marketing professor at the university. “There was no more room in the building in Blackburn. And my department chair told me that there were some rooms in Ayers Hall on the third floor. I wasn’t very happy because I wanted to be with all the other faculty members in communications. My mother had retired, and she was giving me things out of her office to fix mine up. We were walking up the steps and she said, ‘They haven’t put an elevator in here?’ I said, ‘No, ma’am.’
“So she walked up the steps and said, ‘This is it for me. I’m going to rest. You better find somebody to help you with that. Why don’t you ask that man next door to help you?’ I said, ‘I don’t know him.’ She said, ‘Look, I’m just trying to get some help to get all that stuff out of the car. Just go there and say, sir, would you help me?’ Well, that was my husband. And I went and I asked him, and I said, ‘Would you help me get some things out of the car?’ He said, ‘Oh, sure.’ And the rest is history. We became great friends, and then later something else sparked.”
That spark has led to an almost 40 year marriage. They have a son, Willard, together, and Dr. Anthony’s pride and joy is her seven-year-old grandson Aiden who calls her Nana.
Just like her mother, Anthony has also adopted countless students as her own, and she keeps in touch with many of them who’ve passed through her classroom doors, perpetuating the tradition of mentorship for generations of African American journalists and communications personnel.
“One student – DeMarco Morgan – that I didn’t actually teach, but he says to me, you have to claim me because all of my mentors were your mentees. So I’m taking that as a real compliment. He’s with ‘Good Morning America’ now. He said I would hear all these stories about what happened in your classes and what they had to do and how tough you were on them. He said I got a vicarious part of you from all these people.”
At the core of what she teaches them is how to be fair and truthful in their profession. “Out in the real world, you’ve gotta be fair. You’ve gotta be honest and you have to have ethics, whatever the story is. You’ve got to make sure you cover all angles. We do the basic things but if you are not doing it ethically, it doesn’t make a difference. I want them to do the necessary research. And if in your heart of hearts something keeps needling at you before you put the story to bed, you need to make another phone call because evidently there’s a sense that something is missing.
“I also talked to my students about sources. People have to feel comfortable giving you information. How you make a source is the same as how you make a friend. If you are calling somebody and you don’t have a relationship with them, they’re probably not going to take your call when you most need them. So, as journalists, we have to have sources. And I always suggest when you get that information, do a little research to make sure that that information is authentic. I would sum it up by saying to be a good writer and have all of the rudiments of writing, and that goes for print and broadcast as far as I’m concerned. I want them to be excited about their writing. When you’re excited, it’s not work.”
In the new age of social media, Dr. Anthony is still hopeful for the future of how stories are told. “When we look at new media, we look at social media. My hope for the media and for the future is that we utilize this thing called new media and that we deal with social media, but we don’t forget the basics because you can’t get away from ethics. You can’t get away from fairness.
“I’m hoping that we are putting students out there that are listening. We are putting students out there that are in search of the truth. That’s what I want to see. When I talk about this thing called new media, I’m very much in support of it, but I think we’ve got to do just a little bit more in terms of adding ethics and integrity and making sure that we’ve done our due diligence. That’s what I want to see for the students, and that’s what I wanna see from my industry.”
That integrity and love for her students has carried Anthony into her new role as president for the university within the last month. Though she’s up for the task, she also realizes the challenges of her new undertaking. “It’s challenging because you have the tendency to just want to help and do for everybody that you run across. And, of course, that’s not possible. But it is a challenge because I want to be able to do so much for Jackson State.
“I see the potential. It was here when I was a student, and it’s still here today. And I still want to be able to do some things for Jackson State. And I intend to do some things. I am determined to do that. I want to see students in internships and co-ops and jobs and all kinds of partnerships that’s going to help them. That’s my major goal. The focus should be students. And when we work all of the faculty and the staff around that one goal, I think it’s going to really take us where we want to be. So, my goal is to be student-centered and to do whatever we can do to make students successful.”
What has followed Anthony all of her life is her love for Jackson State, her love for her community, and desire to serve. “This is an awesome opportunity, and I’m going to do the best that I can do. If somebody wants to talk to me about anything, I’m all ears. If it’s something that I need to know, they can always email me here at the university, and I’d be happy to investigate or look into it or do whatever I can. And then if I can’t, I’m honest enough to tell you that.”
The Jackson Advocate celebrates Dr. Elayne Hayes Anthony for her contributions to her community, her ability to tell our stories, and her dedication to teaching that craft to her students.