When she came to Peoria, it was the early Forties, and Peoria was still in the apartheid of Jim Crow. The first thing she did was to join Church. Among her early activities was to apply for a position as a teacher in the Peoria School system. I don’t know what she put on her application, but I suppose she inserted in the blank for occupation: Educator and Principal of Attucks High School.
The person who interviewed her had to be impressed with this black woman, tall, beautiful, well dressed in a conservative manner, and speaking impeccable American English. Of course, she had been a Professor of English at Tuskegee Institute, today Tuskegee University. What took place in that office, that day, must have been the most humiliating experience this superbly educated woman had to suffer; she was a straight-A graduate of Fisk University, Tuskegee Institute, and held a Master’s Degree!
The Peoria School Board of Education had no black teachers at the time, and they decided not to hire a black woman who had a better education than most of those who turned her away. This great educator from the State of Kentucky, a new citizen of Peoria, walked away with her head up high and began teaching at her Church−Teaching people how to read and motivating other members to attend Bradley University for higher education. She eventually became Superintendent of the Sunday School and launched many educational programs at her Church, including Play Writing. All the while hired to scrub toilets at the Salvation Army. After certain people became aware of this learned giant, she was hired as Director at a local hospital, and she retired as Director of Education at the George A. Zeller Zone Center. When the Governor of Illinois discovered her, she was named “Woman of the Year” Outstanding Employee Of The State of Illinois. She also received The Jean Tucker Award from The Illinois Valley Mental Health Association.
This humble woman, the founder of the Peoria School of Religion, which later became the Midwestern Theological Seminary, never bowed her head except in prayer to God. She never gave up, even in the face of rabid racism, when black people had separate drinking fountains, toilets, and could not eat in restaurants. She was God sent to Peoria to rescue me from Foster Home’s and changed my life. She made her transition some years ago, but she left a legacy for all who strive for education to never give up. Thank you, Mrs. Maggie Jackson Carter, for your service to mankind!