In 1945, due to practices of racial exclusion, colored nurses were denied membership in the Mississippi Nurses Association, therefore, six colored registered nurses in Jackson, Mississippi had the conviction that there was a need for an organized independent colored nurses club. This club would focus its concerns for equal pay, benefits, and adequate staff. This group called upon other colored registered nurses to assist with the formation of an organization to share information and pool their efforts and resources to aid in improving the status of colored nurses in Jackson. It was at this time the Colored Registered Nurses Club became a reality. All meetings were held every month in members’ home on a rotated schedule until the late 1970s.

On February 1, 1926, Ms. Pillars was the first colored nurse in the State of Mississippi to work for the Mississippi State Board of Health. Her responsibilities were largely in midwifery and health education throughout the state. Ms. Pillars played a prominent role after the Mississippi historic 1927 flood. Ms. Pillars was older, experienced, and knowledgeable, thus, she inspired other nurses to take a stand, demand respect, and gain more knowledge. In the 1950s, the club changed its name to the Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses Club in honor of Ms. Pillars. Ms. Pillars died June 15, 1970 at the age of 78 and is buried in Garden Memorial Park in Jackson, Mississippi. (See Eliza Farish Pillars’ Biography)

Ms. Pillars was inducted posthumously into the Mississippi Nurses Association Hall of Fame during the observance of their Diamond Jubilee, October 15, 1986. In 2000, during National Nurses Week, Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi purchased a brick in Ms. Pillars’ memory in the Mississippi Nurses Association, Mary E. Stainton Center of Nursing Garden, located in Madison, Mississippi. In 2002, the Historical Society of the Mississippi Nurses Association donated a brick in Ms. Pillars’ memory. Today, since the 1945 exclusion, members of Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi are also members and leaders of the Mississippi Nurses Association.

On April 22, 1982, a charter was obtained and the Eliza Pillars Nurses Club became the Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses Association, Inc. of Jackson, Mississippi. The hopes, dreams, and vision of the founders continued to grow and in 1984, organizational plans for the State Association began. In 1985, the name was changed to the Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses State Association, Inc. In May 1985, as a member of the Mississippi Black Professional, the first State Association Convention was held in Biloxi, Mississippi with three districts represented. In 1988, the Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses Association, Inc. hosted, for the first time, the Seventh Annual Convention of the Mississippi Black Professionals. Dr. Hazel Johnson-Brown, the first Black Brigadier General of the Army Nurse Corps, was the Keynote Speaker.

On May 1, 1989, the association became organized statewide in seven districts to meet the needs of the people in their respective communities with the headquarters in Jackson. In May 2000, the Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses State Association, Inc. hosted its first independently Annual State Convention. The inaugural state officers were installed in November 1985 at the Landmark Center in Jackson, Mississippi. The officers were President Margaret Johnson (Jackson), Vice-President Christine Duckworth (Taylorville), Recording Secretary Cassandra Hopson (Meridian), Assistant Recording Secretary Willie Ann Bell (Jackson), and Financial Secretary Janice Davis (Jackson), Treasurer Dorothy Lee (Jackson) chaplain Rita Wray (Jackson), Sergeant-at-Arms Mary Lynn Hilliard (Jackson), and Parliamentarian Vanessa Gregory (Jackson).

Ms. Pillars’ inspiration for other nurses to gain more knowledge is ever present among the members. Scholarships are given within each district every year to deserving nursing students. The students must be entering their senior year and/or in an advanced degree program from an accredited Schools of Nursing. In 1990, the State Association began awarding scholarships named in honor of Ms. Eliza Pillars. The State gives the Nurse of the Year, Presidential, and Memorial Awards to deserving members.

Community services are reflective of Ms. Pillar’s life. Giving back to the community through health and educational services is very important to the membership. Participation in the creative and unique Prevention-Education-Advocacy-Referral-Living-Healthy (PEARL) Initiative is a major statewide project. The association’s philanthropy is present in local, state, and national community organizations, agencies, and foundations.

The Association holds an annual February Update. Continuing education credits (CEUs) are provided for all approved educational programs. The Update has an educational session and a convention planning session. The site for the Update is rotated among the Districts. In 1988, the first February Update guest speaker was Ms. Alicia Georges, MA, RNC, president of the National Black Nurses Association. Also in 1988, Mrs. Kaye Killings Mayfield from District IV was the first member of the Association to be appointed to the Mississippi Board of Nursing by Honorable Governor Ray Mabus.

In 1989, the State published its first official newsletter, the Eliza’s Notes with Ms. Dorothy Lee of District IV as the Editor. On February 3, 1990, the State’s first banquet was held in Jackson, Mississippi with Dr. Adib Shakir, President of Tougaloo College, as the Guest Speaker. Dr. Rosie Lee Calvin was presented the first Nurse of the Year Award. In February 1991, District IV, donated a portrait of Ms. Pillars to the Mississippi State Department of Health where it is proudly displayed in the main foyer.

On June 10, 1995, District IV hosted the 50Th Anniversary Celebration in Jackson, Mississippi. The aim of the celebration was to reinforce the positive self-image of black registered nurses, to develop pride in their past, hope for their future, ultimately a better understanding and appreciation of the struggles and contributions of black
Mississippi nurses. The theme for the celebration was “Meeting the Challenges of Health Care Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” Today, the membership continues the legacy of its founders and namesake by upholding the philosophy of providing excellent health care and gaining more education.

In 2003, after becoming nationally known, the name became the Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi to better reflect its existence and the vision of its founders and Golden Nurses. In May 2005, Dr. Audwin Bernard Fletcher, became the first male state president. On April, 19, 2015, as a not-for-profit organization, Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi 1, obtained the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 501(c)3 State tax exemption.

On March 28, 2017, the Mississippi Senate honored the Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi with presentation of Senate Concurrent Resolution 605. This honor recognizes their commitment to bettering the state by creating access to healthcare for those primarily in minority communities who need it most and in some cases cannot afford it.

Founding Members (*-deceased)

*Mrs. Mattie Rundles, First President
*Mrs. Mary Hankins Harris, First Secretary
*Mrs. Johnnie Wilson, First Chaplin
*Mrs. Rosie L. Mitchell, Second President
*Mrs. Mae Ellen Mahafey Graham
*Mrs. Jean Frazier

Association Motto

“An Organization Dedicated To Excellence in Healthcare”

Association Colors

Royal Blue and White

Association Flower

Blue Carnation

Association Headquarters

Jackson, Mississippi

Association Newsletter

Eliza’s Notes

Districts (*inactive)

District number Location Year founded
District I Tupelo 1989
District II Greenville 1988
District III* Columbus 1987
District IV Jackson 1945
District V Meridian 1985
District VI Natchez 1985
District VII* Biloxi 1988
Hattiesburg 1992

Past State Presidents

Name District Year
Shana Cummings District I 2017-2019
Patricia Kirksey District II 2015-2017
Eulanda Armstrong District IV 2013-2015
Kaye Killings Mayfield District IV 2011-2013
Betty Young District V 2009-2011
Barbara Field District I 2007-2009
Dr. Audwin Fletcher District IV 2005-2007
Cheryl Rainey District I 2003-2005
Dr. Sonja Fuqua District IV 2001-2003
Meg Brown District VI 1999-2001
Stella Harris District IV 1997-1999
Dr. Renée Williams District IV 1995-1997
Delores Johnson District V 1993-1995
Norma West District VI 1991-1993
Rita Wray District IV 1989-1991
Margaret Johnson District IV 1985-1989

Bibliography

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Carnegie, M. E. (1986). The path we tread: Blacks in nursing: 1854-1984.Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Carnegie, M. E. (1995). The path we tread: Blacks in nursing: Worldwide,

1854-1994.   New York: National League for Nursing Press.

Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi History. (2005). Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi Bylaws. Jackson, MS: Author.

Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi Organization. www.elizapillars.org.

Hine, D. C. (1989). Black women in white: Racial conflicts and cooperation in the nursing profession: 1890-1950. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Mississippi Nurses Association. (1951). Jackson Nurse Receives Mary Mahoney Medal. (1951, January).  The Mississippi RN, 6. Jackson, MS: Author.

Mississippi Nurses Association. (1998). Mississippi Nurses Association Hall of Fame: 100 years of professional nursing centennial celebration.  The Mississippi RN. Jackson, MS: Author.

Morton, M., Roberts, E. R., & Bender, K. W. (1993).  Celebrating public health nursing: Caring for Mississippi’s communities with courage and compassion:

1920-1993, (pp.13-14; 25). Jackson, MS: Mississippi State Department of Health.

Roberts, E. R. & Reeb, R. M. (1994).  Mississippi public health nurses and midwives: A partnership that worked. Public Health Nursing, 11(2), 57-63.

Sabin, L. E. (1998). Struggles and triumphs: The story of Mississippi nurses

1800-1950. Jackson, MS: Mississippi Hospital Association.

Sewell, G. A., & Dwight, M. L. (1984).  Mississippi black history makers. University of Mississippi: University Press.

Underwood, F. A., & Whitfield, R. N. (1938).  Public health and medical licensure in the state of Mississippi 1798-1937, Vol. I, (pp.80; 91-92). Jackson, MS: Tucker Printing House.

Underwood, F. A., & Whitfield, R. N. (1950).  Public health and medical licensure in the state of Mississippi 1938-1947, Vol. II, (pp. 103-105). Jackson, MS: Mississippi State Department of Health.