Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center has been awarded a $650,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to help expand its capacity, enterprise and programming and that of the COFO Civil Rights Education Center.
“This significant investment in the Margaret Walker Center reveals that JSU and the Mellon Foundation share a common ground, and that is enhancing the lives of students and those in the surrounding communities by helping to provide opportunities and experiences that foster learning and stimulate intellectual thought,” said Jackson State President Thomas K. Hudson, J.D. “We appreciate the foundation’s ongoing support of the great work being done at our institution.”
The MWC landed a $450,000 grant from the Foundation in 2019, which was the springboard for the Center’s capacity building. This latest award will further bolster activities started three years ago, including the extension of the MWC Mellon Oral Historian position, filled by Alissa Rae Funderburk; the hiring of a MWC Mellon Visiting Scholar; graduate assistantships; and proceeds for the 50th anniversary convening of the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival in November 2023.
“We are so excited that the Mellon Foundation has renewed its support of the Margaret Walker Center for another three years through its Higher Learning program. This funding has already been transformational for our work and promises an even brighter future for the Center and Jackson State,” said Robert Luckett, Ph.D., director of the Margaret Walker Center and professor of history.
The Foundation’s generosity has aided the MWC with producing an array of projects and collaborations, including the development and digitization of oral history collections, giving future generations access to information about distinct communities and cultures.
The MWC has been able to forge new partnerships with groups such as the LGBTQ Fund of Mississippi and the Invisible Histories Project, expand the Gibbs-Green 50th Commemoration Oral History Collection, and establish the Visiting Scholar and Graduate Assistant program. Soon, the COFO Center will boast its own oral history booth for recording interviews.
Funderburk, who oversees close to 1,000 interviews and the digitization of the Center’s research collection, said she was excited and humbled to hear news of this latest grant.
“Not only because it confirmed that I would be able to stay on at JSU as the Oral Historian for the Margaret Walker Center, but also because the news gave me a great sense of excitement for what we would be able to do in the next three years towards preserving Black history and stories,” said Funderburk, who holds a bachelor’s in anthropology and a master’s in oral history from Columbia University.
“As an oral historian, my goal has always been to highlight the roles that Black people have played in American history in a way that brings those stories to life. But the thing I enjoy most about the work I do at the MWC is being able to educate others on the power of deep listening by guiding them in doing oral history themselves,” she said.
Funderburk adds that the grant will allow her to collect and preserve Black oral histories and teach students both here and around the country how to conduct them in their communities.