“A good influence on others is the best gift you can give to the world.” -Maggie Jackson Carter
Mrs. Maggie Jackson Carter was born on February 8, 1901. She was a devoted educator, scholar, playwright, poet, and author, yet she was denied employment as a teacher in Peoria during the 1940’s even though she held a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in English/History Education from A & I State College in Nashville, Tennessee and a Masters of Arts in English from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Mrs. Carter had been an Assistant Principal and Principal at Attacus High School in Hopkinsville, Kentucky when she arrived in Peoria, Illinois during the 1940s. She had taught English/Literature at Tuskegee Institute, (renamed Tuskegee University) with George Washington Carver on staff, but because of racism and discrimination, her extensive education was ignored by the Peoria school system and she out of necessity accepted employment at the Salvation Army as a cleaning lady.
However, Mrs. Maggie Jackson Carter; with a firm belief in her faith, let God’s will come to pass. She loved children and wanted to teach them, knowing every child’s life was of value and importance and if God wanted her to teach, nothing or no one could stand in her way. It wasn’t long before her educational background was discovered, and she became employed at Grace Abbot Children’s Center as “Special Educator,” a position created by the director of that institution. She was appointed Head teacher of emotionally disturbed children and adolescents at the center.
She was a humble lady who did not desire glory for herself, but always encouraged others to excel. An achievement she was very proud of was that she taught many adults in Peoria how to read and write.
Some of Carter’s awards and accomplishments include the Governor’s award for, “Outstanding Employee of the State of Illinois and the “Jean Tucker Award” from the Illinois Valley Mental Health Association. She was a member of the Pi Lambda Theta-Honorary Society of Educators and the Delta Sigma Theta of Fisk University. After fifty years of teaching, Mrs. Carter retired as Director of Education for Adolescents at the George A. Zeller Zone Center.
Other accomplishments include the co-founding of the local chapter of the NAACP with President Harry Sephus. She was instrumental in welcoming John Gwynn into the Peoria NAACP, and was founder of the Peoria School of Religion which later became the Midwestern Theological Seminary. She was a counselor completing all course requirements for her PhD in Counseling and Guidance from Chicago University and was implored to teach at several universities in Illinois, Kentucky, and other states.
Mrs. Carter was a surrogate mother and a founder of the City-wide School of Religion which enjoyed a successful contribution to many students throughout the city and state. She was Superintendent of the Primary Department of the Sunday school and worked tirelessly with the Board of Christian Education.
Mrs. Maggie Jackson Carter joined Mt. Zion Baptist Church under the leadership of the late Rev. M. D. Dickson and was an active member for over 42 years. At Mt. Zion she was a member of the Board of Christian Education, a member of the Willing Workers, the Women’s Auxiliary and a member of the Women’s Missionary society. She was a prolific playwright, writing more than 200 plays and an Author who utilized men’s pseudonyms to publish her works. A number of her plays were performed by drama clubs at Mt. Zion through the years and at Grace Abbott Children’s Center at the Illinois State Hospital.
As a Sunday School Teacher and a class member in the midst of heated and lively theological discussion, she would cut through all of the ecclesiastical arguments and with just a few brilliant statements of concise thinking, consolidate the class toward the essentials of the lesson, and the greater context of life that it addressed.
She rarely ever missed Sunday school and even as recently as 1990, she taught as a substitute teacher from a wheelchair. Of the many, many Scriptures and words of wisdom she intermittently referred to is Hebrews 13:2, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” In Maggie Jackson Carter we have entertained an angel unaware. Maggie Jackson Carter is a fitting person to be remembered, not only during Black History month but continually.
There are other accomplished African-American’s who lived and worked in Peoria. These great people should be remembered also and we should know they have been a powerful influence on all lives in Peoria and America. One of the ways to remember them is by visiting the African-American Hall of Fame Museum, located in the Proctor Recreation Center and the African American Wall of Fame at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.
Lorraine B. Carter is the niece of the late Maggie Jackson Carter. She credits her aunt for being instrumental in her pursuit of art and writing.