September 1993

Dr. Sara Dunlap Jackson

Federal Archivist

Dr. Sara Dunlap Jackson

Few historical researchers could hope to achieve much without the guidance of archivists, and Sara Dunlap Jackson was especially helpful and caring. One of the first African-American professionals hired by the National Archives in Washington, DC, she specialized in western, military, social and African-American topics. During her 46-year career, she came to be called “Archivist Exraordinaire” by her peers, authors and those she mentored. Hundreds of historians were taken under her wing and she is fondly remembered through the acknowledgments of many publications and in the hearts of many scholars. Dr. Jackson was born in 1919 in Columbia. Orphaned when she was an infant, Sara Dunlap Jackson was adopted and raised by Reverend C. W. Dunlap and his wife, Ella Fair Dunlap. She graduated from Columbia’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1939, attended Allen University, and then earned her Bachelors Degree in Sociology form Johnson C. Smith University in 1943. She later did graduate work at the American University and The Catholic University of America. A lifetime of research assistance and scholarly pursuit was acknowledged in 1976 when the University of Toledo, Ohio, awarded her an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Initially, Dr. Jackson started out as a teacher at Robert Smalls High School in Beaufort, but the meager rewards for African-American teachers in South Carolina at the time compelled her to look for work in Washington, then a mecca for African-Americans seeking employment during World War II. She obtained a clerical position in the War Department in 1943, and joined the National Archives in 1944. In 1968, she transferred to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which oversees publications of papers of prominent Americans, like Andrew Jackson, Frederick Douglas, Emma Goldman, and Thomas Jefferson. Her efforts contributed greatly to many dissertations and historical volumes. In 1990 the Houston Civil War Round Table awarded her the Frank E. Vandiver Award of Merit for outstanding contributions to Civil War scholarship. A well-known archivist who she trained said the “her special kindness bridged what might have been barriers of race, sex, and experience. She was simply eager to welcome another recruit. To her more than to any other individual I owe the discovery of the pleasures of an archival career.” In addition to her duties as an archivist, Dr. Jackson wrote reviews, inventories, and introductions to scholarly works, and presented numerous papers and lectures. Her particular area of interest was the life of Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. She served on the executive council of the Southern Historical Association, and was a member of many historical and archival organizations. She also offered her assistance to religious missions and tutorial programs. Thomas L. Connelly, a famous Southern historian, once said, “To myself and a lot of slightly older researchers, she became a mother and symbol at the National Archives. Sara trained a lot of researchers, taking them when raw graduate students (such as myself) and watching them with pride through the years as they accomplished something. Always she was what she has been to many other researchers–confidante, guide, friend, mother.” Sara Dunlap Jackson retired from the National Archives in October 1990, and passed away the following year.