Grassroots efforts helped save college

Published 12:01 am Thursday, January 10, 2008

Historic Jefferson College has now completed 30 years in operation as a museum and historic site, as announced by Adam Koob in his excellent December 15 Democrat article. Since it would have been impossible for that article to cover every aspect of the development of this historic site, I want to take this opportunity to add a small but important bit of history.

Before the Mississippi Department of Archives and History assumed the administration of the site, many local citizens made an enormous effort to ensure the school’s preservation. In August 1968, Nan Erle Schuchs, a descendant of the Foster family that once owned the school site, collected numerous signatures for a letter to Gov. John Bell Williams calling attention to the rapid deterioration of the historic school buildings. By the fall of that year, her efforts were beginning to pay off with a series of awareness-raising articles in the Clarion-Ledger newspaper. In addition, Schuchs helped to secure stabilization funding from the State Building Commission and chaired the Jefferson Military College Historical Committee appointed by Gov. Williams. Other members of the committee were Tom Gandy, T. B. Buckles, Tom Crigler, Frank Everett and Elmo Redd. Following the transfer of the site to Department of Archives and History administration, Schuchs helped to found the Friends of Jefferson College, which included Dorothy Sojourner, Bessie Smith, Orrick Metcalf Sr., T.J. Foster, T.B. Buckles, Herbert Allen, William Stewart, Mac Bryant, Bruce Davis, Jane Prospere, Margaret Wesley and Linda Walker Green. Before disbanding in the late 1970s, the Friends published William T. Blain’s book about Jefferson College titled “Education in the Old Southwest” and played a leading role in the restoration of the President’s House at the school.

It is safe to say that, without such dedicated grassroots work on the part of these people and others, Mississippi would have lost one of its most historic places.

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Jim Barnett is the director of the division of historic properties for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.