Both an archive and museum, the Margaret Walker Center is dedicated to the preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of African American history and culture at Jackson State University.
Founded by Margaret Walker in 1968, the Center seeks to honor her academic and artistic legacy by expanding and promoting its manuscript holdings and oral history collections, interpreting African American history and culture through its museum and exhibits, coordinating public programs on campus and throughout the community, preserving historic structures central to the African American experience, and advocating Black Studies at Jackson State.
The Margaret Walker Center’s primary mission is to promote the study of African American history and culture through its archival collections, which focus on the black experience primarily in Mississippi. With nearly 40 manuscript collections and close to 1,000 oral histories, the content is rich and varied. These collections present the opportunity for unprecedented research into the lives of African Americans in Mississippi. From slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow to the blues, religion, the modern civil rights movement, and beyond, the African-American story in the state has been central in defining the black experience in the United States for better and for worse.
Yet, housed in historic Ayer Hall—the oldest building at Jackson State University—the Margaret Walker Center archives are limited. The manuscript vaults on the first floor and the oral history vault on the third floor are nearing their capacities and have significant environmental issues. While limited space to grow the Center’s collections is a problem, the building’s issues with temperature and humidity control are not sustainable for an archive. Not only that, exposed water piping runs along the ceiling of the Center’s manuscript vaults and is a grave concern, but even more problematic is the water moisture issue. The first three floors of Ayer Hall were never properly insulated so that water seeps through the walls on rainy days and has led to mildew and mold. These problems merit serious consideration, but, due to the fact that Ayer Hall has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977, there are constraints on what can be done to fix these problems. The costs of doing so would also be astronomical, and then there would still be no guarantee that renovations to Ayer Hall would make it adequate as an archive. To complicate matters, the official JSU archives located in the H.T. Sampson Library do not provide space much better suited for archival collections. Only a new building with space designed for all of the archives at JSU, including the official University collection and the Library’s special collections, can fully remedy these problems.
Thanks to grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Margaret Walker Center was able to complete a two-year feasibility study for the long-term sustainability and growth of the Center. We are happy to present that project to you here and welcome your comments.
With the feasibility study in place, the Margaret Walker Center and its team are prepared to engage a public relations campaign to promote the results in order to implement these design plans for a new museum and archive at JSU.