Jxn Visionary: Dr. Robert Luckett, Jr.

History professor and Margaret Walker Center Director Dr. Robert Luckett returned to Jackson in 2009 as a Civil Rights historian - "Mecca" for the movement.

Dr. Robert Luckett on the campus of Jackson State University. Image: Drew Dempsey

“I was raised by parents who were very intentional about making sure I had a different sensibility about the place we are from, the people we were around,” says Dr. Robby Luckett, the director of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University. A notable Civil Rights historian, Luckett returned to his home state of Mississippi in 2009 to take the reins at the Margaret Walker Center.

“We were founded in 1968 by the great writer Margaret Walker,” explains Luckett. “She called it her ‘Black studies institute.’ It was one of the very first of its kind, right here in Jackson, founded the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated only two and a half hours up the road. This kind of courage was a unique form of activism.”

Much like its founder, the MWC is dedicated to preserving, interpreting, and disseminating African American history and culture. Through its archival collections, exhibits, and public programs, the center seeks to honor Margaret Walker’s multi-faceted legacy.

“We have Margaret Walker’s personal collections, including 13,000 handwritten pages of her diary, which is one of the largest collections of a Black female writer anywhere in the world.”

“If we’re going to talk about African American history and culture, there is no better place than Mississippi as a whole and Jackson specifically," explains Luckett. “As a Civil Rights historian, I’m in Mecca.”

To illustrate this point, Luckett looks to Margaret Walker herself, who was offered a one-year contract with JSU and moved here temporarily.

“She went on to spend 49 years living here. The things she did – the centrality of her work for the Black studies movement – she did from here. She was world-renowned, and she stayed here. She made that choice because of the richness of the Black experience in Mississippi. We have to be honest about the brutality and tyranny Black Mississippians faced and equally as honest about the resilience and dedication they had in the face of white supremacy. If you’re interested in this type of work, there’s no better place to be than Jackson, Mississippi.”

Luckett looks forward to the future of the MWC, including the launching of a significant five-year digitization project with the Smithsonian Institute.

“We are one of five HBCUs that are part of this project that will result in a Smithsonian traveling exhibition,” he explains. “There are plans to revive Margaret’s own Phyllis Wheatley Poetry Conference for its 50th anniversary, and the MLK Convocation in January is always a highlight.”