Margaret Walker Black Eyed Susans
Black-Eyed Susan flowers ©Author Adventures

Dr. Margaret Walker Alexander

Margaret Walker (1915-1998), as she was best known, was a 20th century American poet and novelist who published scholarly works addressing issues African-Americans experience in the quest for civil rights. Her career led her to many states, mostly in the Midwest, until she settled in Jackson, Mississippi, in her mid-30s to teach at Jackson State College, the historic African-American university later renamed Jackson State University.

“Among the most formidable literary voices to emerge in the twentieth century, she will be remembered as one of the foremost transcribers of African American heritage. Indeed, she enjoyed a long and fruitful career–one that spanned almost an entire century. As a result, she became a historian for a race. Through her work, she ‘[sang] a song for [her] people,’ capturing their symbolic quest for liberation. When asked how she viewed her work, she responded, ‘The body of my work . . . springs from my interest in a historical point of view that is central to the development of Black people as we approach the twenty-first century.'” –Tomeiko Ashford, ibiblio.org/ipa/poems/walker/biography.php

Significantly, the writer published an account of the murder of two Jackson State college students entitled Black-Eyed Susans, and her Jubilee is thought to have had a major influence on Alex Haley’s Roots.

According to wmpeople.wm.edu/site/page/olwils/lifeandachievements and https://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/poems/walker/biography.php, her awards include:

  • the Yale Younger Poets Award for the poem For My People (1942),
  • the Rosenwald Fellowship (1944),
  • a Ford Fellowship (1953),
  • the Houghton Mifflin Literary Award for her popular story Jubilee (1968),
  • a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities,
  • a Fulbright Fellowship to Norway (1971),
  • induction into the African American Literary Hall of Fame (1972),
  • a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1972),
  • the Living Legacy Award, given by the Carter administration, and
  • the Lifetime Achievement Award of the College Language Association (1992).

A detailed biography and bibliography of her works can be found here: https://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/poems/walker/biography.php.

Jackson State University

According to jsums.edu/margaretwalkercenter: “The Margaret Walker Center is an archive and museum dedicated to the preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of African American history and culture.” It holds an archive of works connected with its namesake author, as well as other prominent African-American literary and educational figures, such as Dr. Roderick Paige, who served as US Secretary of Education during the George W. Bush administration.

The Center is a partner of the COFO Civil Rights Education Center. Both Centers are part of Jackson State University, which has a total enrollment of approximately 10,000 students.

Margaret Walker Center is the third stop on the Mississippi Author Adventures Trail.

Patricia Smart