Celebrities who attended Mississippi universities

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Fifteen people, some well known, some perhaps unknown to some, became famous in their respective industries after attending local universities.

From activists to contributors to the space race, each celebrity and alumni has made their mark on the world in their own way.

Here are just some of the celebrities who attended Belhaven University, Jackson State University, Millsaps College, Mississippi College or Tougaloo College.

Belhaven University

  1. Angie Thomas wrote the New York Times bestselling novels “The Hate U Give” and “On the Come Up,” both of which have been adapted into films. At Belhaven, a full scholarship, covering tuition, room and board for four years, was established in Thomas’ name to help other young aspiring writers.
  2. Mary Hawkins Butler has been the mayor of Madison since 1981. She is one of the longest-serving mayors in the United States. Hawkins Bulter told the Clarion Ledger that she will run for her 12th term in 2025.
  3. Ted Baehr is an American media critic and was chairman of the Episcopal Radio & Television Foundation which produced the Emmy Award-winning animated special The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, Witch and the Garderobe for CBS. Ted has been a featured guest on Oprah, Hannity and Colmes, CNN, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC and Entertainment Tonight.

Jackson State University

  1. Walter Payton, also known as ‘Sweetness’, played 13 seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears as a running back. Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
  2. James Meredith is an American civil rights activist, writer, and United States Air Force veteran who later became the first African-American student admitted to the racially segregated University of Mississippi in 1962. He first attended JSU.
  3. Cassandra Wilson is a two-time Grammy winner and renowned jazz singer, songwriter and producer. In 2022, Wilson received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship – our nation’s highest honor bestowed on jazz artists.

Millsaps College

  1. Tate Reeves is an American politician who serves as the 65th Governor of Mississippi as of 2020. A member of the Republican Party, Reeves served as Mississippi’s 53rd state treasurer from 2004 to 2012. He also served as the 32nd Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi from 2012 to 2012. 2020.
  2. Donald Gray Triplett was a banker known for being the first person in the world to be diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder. He was first diagnosed by Leo Kanner in 1943 and was labeled “Case 1”. Triplett died of cancer on June 15, 2023 at the age of 89 at his home in Forest, Mississippi.
  3. Kiese Laymon is the author of three full-length books: a novel, Long Division (2013), and two memoirs, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America (2013) and the award-winning Heavy: An American Memoir (2018). . Laymon received a 2022 “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Fellows program, recognizing “exceptional originality and dedication to creative pursuits.” His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vanity Fair, among others.

Mississippi College

  1. Clifford E. Charlesworth worked as a flight director for the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston from 1962 to 1970. Charlesworth led several Gemini and Apollo missions, including Apollo 11, the 1969 space mission that landed the first men on the moon. He also directed Apollo 8, a mission that orbited the moon; Gemini 11, which docked with an Agena satellite; Gemini 12, in which Major Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. performed a two-hour spacewalk. All three were in 1966.
  2. Lance Barksdale, an American MLB umpire, started refereeing in the major leagues in 2000 and joined the full-time Major League staff in 2006. Barksdale was promoted to crew chief in 2023.
  3. Phil Bryant served as the 64th governor of Mississippi from 2012 to 2020. Bryant also served as Mississippi’s 40th state auditor from 1996 to 2008 before becoming Mississippi’s 31st lieutenant governor from 2008 to 2012.

Tougaloo College

  1. Aunjanue L. Ellis-Taylor is an American actress known for her work in various film and television productions such as King Richard (2021), The Help (2011), Ray (2004) and Men of Honor (2000). She has also received several accolades, including nominations for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and two Primetime Emmy Awards.
  2. Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, a civil rights activist active in the 1960s, was one of the Freedom Riders arrested in Jackson in 1961. Mulholland was incarcerated for two months in the Maximum-Security Unit of the Mississippi State Penitentiary (known as “Parchman Farm”). The following year, she was the first white student to enroll at Tougaloo College and served as local secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
  3. Bennie Thompson has represented Mississippi’s Second Congressional District since 1993. Thompson, a member of the Democratic Party, served as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security from 2007 to 2011 and from 2019 to 2023. He was both the first Democrat and the first African American to chair the committee.