The life and legacy of the late Sen. Alice Harden were celebrated on Wednesday when Jackson State University held a ceremony to rename the Center for Service and Community Engaged Learning in her honor.
Harden — a former educator, longtime lawmaker and dedicated advocate of educational progress in Mississippi — died Dec. 6, 2012.
Dozens gathered outside Jacob L. Reddix Hall. Among those attending the ceremony were Harden’s family, friends, several of her colleagues from the Mississippi Legislature, Mayor Harvey Johnson, members of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors and the City Council.
“We’re honoring a legend. A lady who loved Jackson State. A lady who was aggressive, a lady who was brave,” said Rep. Alyce Clarke of Jackson.
Mayor Johnson said Harden had an “indomitable spirit, tenacity and concern for the well-being of others.”
“She was a testament to the type of leaders Jackson State produces each and every year,” Johnson said.
Harden, a JSU graduate, was the first black woman to serve in the Mississippi Senate, representing District 28 of Hinds County. She served 24 years in the Mississippi Legislature. During her tenure in the Senate, Harden served as chair of the Elections Committee, Education Committee and Universities and Colleges Committee. She was also a chairperson for the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, chairperson of the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the chairperson of the Education Committee of the Southern Legislative Conference. At the time of her death, Harden was serving as the commissioner to the Education Commission of the States.
The Center for Service and Community Engaged Learning (CSCEL) promotes civic engagement for JSU students. The center helps connect student learning with civic responsibility as a fundamental component of the academic environment. The center is now named the Alice Varnado Harden Center for Service and Community Engaged Learning.
Dr. Valerie Shelby, executive director of the CSCEL, said it was an honor for the center to be renamed for Harden.
“Harden set an example for all to emulate, particularly students. The policies she supported were always in the best interest of education, which is the foundation of communities,” said Shelby.
The ceremony also included a music and spoken-word tribute by MADDRAMA, and remarks from Harden’s niece, Tamara Grace Butler, and JSU Interim Provost James C. Renick.
“This recognition represents universities at their finest,” Renick said, adding that students will see Harden’s name on the center and recognize all that is possible.
“We’re transferring from one generation to the next the opportunities to be all that you can be,” Renick said.
Prior to being elected to the Senate, Harden served as president of the Mississippi Association of Educators for three consecutive years. MEA is the state’s largest teacher organization. Harden was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the National Council of Negro Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Harden received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from JSU, and was a lifelong member of the Jackson State University National Alumni Association. After completing her bachelor’s degree, Harden entered the workforce as an educator. She taught at Callaway High School, Forest Hill High School and Brinkley Junior High School.