JACKSON, Miss. – Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center is the recipient of a generous undisclosed donation from the estate of Doris Derby, Ph.D. Derby, a civil rights era photographer, educator, activist and artist, passed away in April.
“I had the great pleasure of getting to know Dr. Derby in 2014 when I curated the first of eight exhibitions of her photography at JSU. She quickly became a mentor, friend, ally, and shero. I will deeply miss her and will always remember her generosity, fierce spirit, and commitment to justice,” said Robert Luckett, Ph.D. director of the Margaret Walker Center.
Derby’s benefaction will endow two major awards that the Margaret Walker Center will bestow annually:
- Doris Derby Visual Arts and Social Justice Award: The Margaret Walker Center hosts the Creative Arts and Scholarly Engagement (CASE) Festival at Jackson State University each year. The CASE Festival highlights work in four main categories: performing arts, written works, poetry/spoken word, and the visual arts. The conference is open to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students from around the country.
- The Doris Derby Visual Arts Award will annually award a cash prize to a student from any institution whose contribution best reflects the CASE Festival visual arts theme, including painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, photography, video, filmmaking, design, and crafts.
- For My People – Doris Derby Legacy Award: As part of its annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Convocation, which began at Jackson State in January 1969, the Margaret Walker Center hosts the For My People Awards luncheon. Named in honor of Margaret Walker’s most famous poem and book of poetry, the For My People Awards is given to individuals and institutions for their commitment to African American history and culture.
- The For My People – Doris Derby Legacy Award will be awarded to a descendant of activist(s) who worked in the various social justice movements of the 1950s and 1960s. Recipients will be recognized for their dedication to continuing in the tradition of activism, broadly defined, and honoring their family’s legacies.
“Dr. Derby had been working with us for a while to establish these awards, but honestly, I didn’t know the extent of her commitment until the gifts were received from her estate,” said Luckett. “It was so deeply moving, and it means that the Margaret Walker Center will continue to honor the legacy of Doris Derby in perpetuity through our work”
Derby is known for her life-long commitment to defending human rights. Under her tutelage, new generations have been trained as educators, scholars, artists, and activists. The Doris Derby Legacy Award honors the legacy of activism established by her grandparents and parents.
Executive Director of the Major and Planned Gifts Unit Constance Lawson expounded on the significance of Derby’s benevolence.
“Planned gifts are important to the sustainment and life of the university. They also serve as legacy gifts enabling people, like Derby, to create a powerful philanthropic legacy allowing JSU to educate generations of students long after a donor has passed away,” said Lawson.
In 1963, Derby arrived in Mississippi with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), following her passion for the civil rights movement. Over nine years later, she would join Margaret Walker’s staff at the Institute for the Study of the History, Life and Culture of Black People, now the Margaret Walker Center.
In Mississippi, Derby used her camera to capture thousands of historic images published in endless publications and exhibitions at JSU and around the globe. Her African history and culture book collection is archived at the Margaret Walker Center, and her photographs and artifacts have been donated to the permanent collection of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
After leaving Mississippi, Derby began an academic career in anthropology, earning her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. In 1990, Derby took a position at Georgia State University as the founding director of African American Student Services and Programs and served as an adjunct associate professor in the Anthropology Department until her retirement in 2012.
Derby lived in Atlanta with her husband Bob Banks, an actor and retired Georgia State administrator, until her death in 2022.