Grace G. Jackson was the fourth of six children born to Professor N. F. Jackson and Mrs. Ruth Jackson of El Dorado, Arkansas. Her father, the principal of Washington High School and her mother, who taught Music and English at Washington High School, instilled in each of their children the love of God, family, music, education and the importance of being of service to their community. These values were the elemental building blocks of every aspect of Grace’s life and work.
At an early age, Grace experienced the first of several life-changing events. Stricken with the polio virus at age 3, she was forced to use a crutch for the rest of her life. This early experience revealed the first signs that she possessed a spirit of tremendous faith, resiliency, optimism and an indomitable determination that would be characteristic of her throughout her life. She turned lemons into lemonade and never complained.
Blessed with a beautiful soprano voice and perfect pitch, Mrs. Edwards was a gifted, classically trained musician who also focused on piano and organ. After graduating from Washington High School, Grace received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Arkansas Mechanical and Normal College (AM&N—now, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1950. A trailblazer, she was one of only a few African Americans admitted to the Indiana University’s graduate program in the 1950’s. With her usual determination, she earned a Master’s degree in Music Education in only one year (June 1952). After receiving her Master’s degree, she joined the faculty of Alabama State University. During this time, she became an active member of Martin Luther King’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
Grace met her future husband, Robert (Bob) Eubanks while both were in enrolled in graduate programs at Indiana University. She and Bob married in June 1955, and the couple then moved to Michigan so he could continue his studies. Three children were born from their union—Millicent, Robert (Bobby) and Brian. Bob was killed in a tragic automobile accident in July of 1961—just after he completed his PhD at the University of Michigan. Rather than moving to upstate New York as planned, Grace instead found herself widowed with three children, the youngest born just five months after his father’s death.
Despite the loss of her husband, Grace forged ahead. In 1961, a former colleague from Alabama State, Dr. R. D. (David) Crockett became the sixth president of Philander Smith College. After learning of the accident, Dr. Crockett offered the recently widowed mother a teaching position that began in 1962. She moved her family to Little Rock, to be close to her parents, and taught at Philander Smith College until she retired. For more than forty years, Grace touched the lives of countless students. Grace was blessed with the ability to see the latent potential in her students and possessed ‘the gift of gab,’ She was particularly skilled at using music to bring out each student’s potential and develop their self-confidence by encouraging them to find their ‘inner voice.’ She would start with “I hear a beautiful voice . . . have you ever taken voice lessons or sung in a choir?”
Grace genuinely cared about people and took a personal interest in seeing her students mature both as musicians and as individuals. Her students and her choirs (at Philander Smith and Little Rock’s Mount Zion Baptist Church) performed across Arkansas and were widely acknowledged. She was especially proud of the recognition received from then Governor Bill Clinton.
In 1973, Grace married Burrell Edwards, also a member of the faculty/staff at Philander Smith. They shared a love of music and were inseparable life partners for more than 30 years. She and Mr. Edwards were faithful members of the First Baptist Church of Highland Park. After she retired, she continued to remain close to the church and served as a member of their Music Ministry – playing organ, piano, and singing at weekly prayer services.
Although she spent the last several years of her life in a nursing facility, she was still able to share her musical gifts with her fellow residents.
Grace was pre-deceased by her parents, four siblings, both of her husbands, and her beloved son, Bobby. She is survived by her sister (and best friend), Bobbie Cope; children, Millicent and Brian (Quinnetta and children Lawrence, Briana, Calvin, Ashley, Thomas, Rayne, and Loren); her most beloved granddaughter, Bobby’s daughter, Samantha Hughes (Christopher); and her great-grandson, Gabriel Hughes. She will be missed by nieces (Nancy Cope, Leslie Brothers, Jill Petty, Audrey Petty, and Miriam Petty); brother-in-law, Joe Petty; and the many extended family members, friends, and countless students whose lives she touched.
With great sadness, the family has endeavored to honor Mrs. Edwards’ legacy, while also observing safety precautions due to the COVID pandemic. A walk-through visitation will be held on Friday, December 18th, from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at Ruffin & Jarrett Funeral Home Chapel, 1200 Chester Street, Little Rock AR 72202 (501) 372-1305. Masks are required and social distancing will be observed.
Interment Services will take place on Monday, December 21st at 1p.m. at the Arkansas State Veteran’s Cemetery 1501 Maryland, North Little Rock, AR.
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In lieu of flowers, Memorials can be made to:
Baptist Health Foundation – Angel Fund.
Donations increase the number of iPads available to help family members share last, precious moments with dying patients.
Watershed Family Resources (Food pantry and family services).
First Baptist Church of Highland Park
1701 Pine St.
Little Rock AR 72204
Philander Smith College
900 West Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive
Little Rock, AR 72202