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SU mourns passing of beloved educator Dr. Jewel L. Prestage

8/01/2014

 

The Southern University family mourns the death of one of its greats, Dr. Jewel L. Prestage, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D from a department of political science at an American university. Prestage was 82 years old when she died Friday in Houston.

 

Prestage served as chair of SU's Political Science Department for 18 years. During her tenure, the department became the nation's leading catalyst for the development of African-American Ph.Ds in political science.

 

Her husband of 60 years, Dr. James J. Prestage, was chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus from 1982-1985.

 

Baton Rouge campus Acting Chancellor Flandus McClinton said, "Dr. Jewel Limar Prestage devoted many years of her life to Southern University. She was a loyal and devoted graduate of Southern University. In her capacity as faculty member, department chair and dean, she directly influenced the lives of countless students and left a remarkable legacy which we are proud and privileged to witness, remember and appreciate."

SU System President Dr. Ronald Mason Jr., said, "The Jaguar Nation mourns the loss of Dr. Jewel Limar Prestage, a trailblazer who was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in political science in the United States.

 

"From her years as an undergraduate, to her retirement in 1989 from the Southern University System as the dean of the SUBR School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, she was a true scholar and leader whose pioneering works in political science and academic research are enduring. We extend our condolences and prayers to her family and friends."

 

Prestage, a Hutton, La. native, graduated from Southern in 1951. She earned a Masters degree in 1952 from the University of Iowa, where two years later, at the age of 22, she received her Ph.D. in political science.

 

After 33 years on the campus, she retired from SU in 1989, as dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.

 

During the SU student demonstrations of the 1960s, she was a
 firm but quiet supporter, often threatened with potential dismissal by administrators who felt she was too active and actually was prompting 
the students to demonstrate.

 

She was the custodian of the letter to the Louisiana State Department of Education signed by SU faculty and administrators in support of the student demonstrations.

 

Retired chemistry professor Dr. William E. Moore, who along with Prestage and others, worked together in an attempt to calm campus unrest in 1972, praised the late educator.  "Jewel Prestage was without peer as a scholar, humanitarian, and academic leader," Moore said. "In additional to being an exceptional parent, she was the ultimate source of Jaguar Pride."

 

After her retirement, Prestage joined the political science faculty at Prairie View A& M University, where she eventually became dean of the Benjamin Banneker Honors College.

 

In September 2002, she retired after a stellar academic career that spanned 46 years.

 

Prestage was a pioneer in academic research in the area of race, gender, and politics. She was the first person to pursue research that focused on African-American women legislators and the first to offer the theory of marginality to describe the political behavior of African American women.

 

As a leader in the discipline of political science, Prestage served as an officer and on the executive council of many of the country's major political science organizations. Her signature accomplishment was her role in the founding of the professional organization, the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.

 

She has been honored with receiving the National Conference of Black Political Scientists' Fannie Lou Hamer Award, the American Political Science Association's Frank Goodnow Award, and the Southern Political Science Association's Manning Dauer Award.

 

Prestage has made many contributions in the field of community service and has been an outstanding community servant. In the late 1960s and 1970s, she worked to prepare many Southern politicians for the new public service opportunities that became available in the wake of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

 

She is survived by her husband and five children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.

 

Services will be held in Houston on August 9.