Written by Garrad Lee | Photographed by Joe Ellis
Dr. Robby Luckett, the director of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University, has lived all over the metro area, and the country, but has recently found himself settled in Fondren.
“I was born in Jackson to two Millsaps College alumni. Mom made a bit of a reputation in activist circles, especially for her advocacy for maternal and child health. My dad was a long-time educator and school principal. When dad got the job as principal at Richland, we moved south of town to Florence, but I went to school at Richland from 1st through 12th grade,” Luckett points out.
After finishing high school, Dr. Luckett set off to Yale University. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1999, thinking he wanted to be a lawyer, but “I was lucky to have the chance to be redirected,” he says.
Upon graduating, he took a job as an admissions officer for Yale, covering 13 states in the South and deferred for two years from Tulane University Law School. It was during this time that he decided being a lawyer wasn’t for him and he applied to several graduate programs, settling on the University of Georgia in 2001.
After eight years in Athens, Dr. Luckett graduated in 2009 with a Ph.D. in civil rights and African American history. “My research looks at the modern civil rights movement in Mississippi and how a long history of white supremacy has been central to where we are today as a state. That racist history has a deep impact on the lives of Mississippians to this day, especially the poor and minorities,” he says.
“By happenstance, there was a job opening in my hometown at Jackson State for an assistant professor of history and director of the Margaret Walker Center,” he says. “I didn’t expect to be back here, but I am glad for it.”
“Being a civil rights historian in Mississippi is a remarkable opportunity to study a living history. I am particularly lucky that I can immerse my own children in that history and give them a chance to know real heroes, who risked their lives to make this a better place. Those are the kinds of role models I want my children looking up to and being able to say, ‘Hey, I knew Joan Trumpauer.’”
Dr. Luckett is now in his ninth year at Jackson State and the Margaret Walker Center, “and thanks to tenure in the history department, I don’t plan on going anywhere.”
Founded as the Institute for the Study of the History, Life, and Culture of Black People in 1968, the Margaret Walker Center operates as a museum and special collections archive, dedicated to the African American experience, with roughly 40 paper-based manuscript collections, more than 2,000 oral histories, and hundreds of pieces of fine art and artifacts. The center is also responsible for free public programming throughout the year like the Jubilee Picnic honoring Margaret Walker’s birthday and the Martin Luther King Convocation.
When he first came back to Jackson, Dr. Luckett lived in Belhaven, before eventually moving to Madison. He says, “After living in Madison for four years, I wanted to be back in Jackson, and Fondren was the perfect neighborhood in terms of the people, the cultural scene, and the proximity to Jackson State and McWillie, where Hazel and Silas go to school.”
By sheer luck, he saw a house on a Facebook post and reached out. “I loved her place and location. And, things went from there. We never even had realtors,” he says. “The kids (and our two dogs, Molly and Jackson) love the neighborhood and location as well. Just yesterday, we were playing in the front yard and carving pumpkins, and the kids met all kinds of new friends who were out in the neighborhood with their parents walking and riding bikes.”
For a full list of events and collections at the Margaret Walker Center, visit jsums.edu/margaretwalkercenter.