Jacqueline Amos recounts election days during her childhood the way many of us fondly remember holidays. The kitchen of her Jackson home always filled with excitement as she, her sisters, mother and father first ate their 7 a.m. breakfast. Afterward, the Amos family piled into the car and drove to the Grove Park voting precinct in Jackson.
Her father pulled the car into a spot in the crowded lot just past the campaign signs strategically stuck in the grass 500 yards away from the door. The entire family exited the car together. The two older girls trailed their father inside as their mother carried the youngest on her hip. There was an air of expectancy as the couple signed the roster and gathered their ballots before huddling inside the curtained voting booth.
The girls listened patiently while their father explained the importance of voting and why each candidate was being selected and then more intently as one of the daughters was selected to pull the lever. Once complete, the family would file out of the precinct, back into the car and off to school. This routine happened every election day for the Amos household.
“I remember thinking that this means absolutely nothing to me, but OK. We were just excited because we got a chance to go in with the adults,” Amos told the Mississippi Free Press. “It was a big thing. So year after year, it never failed. All the way up through high school, we went. I’ll never forget the excitement of going to vote with my parents.”
Journey from Jackson State to Barcelona and Back Again
The political process was important in the Amos household. Jacquie’s father, Jesse, often sat with his children having conversations about elections and politics. She remembers that there was little that her parents left out of these conversations. Amos could not know at that young age how instrumental those family moments would be for her life. The conversations, along with her father’s nuggets of advice and influence, are sprinkled throughout her own words now.
Amos spent much of her early adult life living in Europe. During college, the business marketing major began at Jackson State University before completing an internship with the Italian clothing store United Colors of Benetton. She and her then-husband later moved to Barcelona, Spain, where she finished college.
After living abroad for a number of years, Amos, her husband and their three children returned to Georgia before moving back to Jackson in 2001. Being home also meant a return to their election-day tradition with Amos taking a spot in a cubicle to vote with her own children.
Amos and her father also rekindled their political dialogues. This time, however, she began to truly pay attention. Their talks often centered around improvements that could be made in the city and prompted her first political run in 2009 for the Ward 4 Jackson City Council seat. Although she lost the election, she became more acquainted with the Democratic Party through the experience.
Then while attending her first meeting with the Mississippi Democratic Party, she was elected vice-chair.
“At that time I was working on the Mississippi Supreme Court (for Justice James Graves, now on the U.S. 5th Circuit) and if you work with the court system, justice system or judicial system, you can’t be politically active,” she said. “So I resigned because I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I left (and) volunteered to do some work with the state party.”
‘Mississippi Desperately Needs More Women to Run’
During that time, Amos also began teaching Spanish and coaching girls’ basketball and swim at Jackson Academy where her children attended school. It was a natural fit for the woman who had spent a good deal of her childhood at the kitchen table of two educators or sitting on the sidelines of the basketball court with her father.
Amos had also accepted a position working for the Mississippi Democratic Party shortly after being elected to her role on the executive committee. She spent 12 years serving in the roles of executive field director, base organizer and trainer. Amos worked diligently to help close the gender gap that is prominent in Mississippi political offices. The share of women serving in public office in Mississippi is significantly lower than the share of men.
Nathan Schrader, chair of the Department of Government and Politics and Director of American Studies at Millsaps College in Jackson, says that increasing the number of women in office in the state is vital.
“Mississippi desperately needs more women to run for office and to be elected to public office,” said Schrader via phone. “It’s an issue over time especially when you compare the statistics from the Rutgers University Center on Women in Politics. Mississippi frequently ranks low there, especially in legislative service.”
Schrader is also the coordinator of the Millsaps College/Women’s Foundation of Mississippi Legislative Fellowship Program. The project provides a stipend for four junior or senior female students to work at the state capitol along with a legislative mentor. Amos is an annual guest lecturer for the program.
“When more women step up to serve in public office they set the example for the next generation of women to step up and also serve and run for public office,” Schrader said. “That’s something that I know with Jacquie. She has been engaged very much in trying to promote that exact sort of approach in Mississippi politics, and sometimes that flies under the radar because she is doing that at the very local level.”
Amos, however, found herself disheartened as she watched qualified women leaders discouraged from seeking office due to the lack of support they received from the party itself.
“I had so many of them, all of them almost, to just be honest with me and say, ‘Jacquie, they’re not going to support me. They’re not going to support this candidacy. My candidacy, I’m a woman, I’m Black, I’m a woman, or I’m a white woman, or I’m a black woman.’ But one of the common denominators was the fact that they were women,” Amos recalled people telling her.
Amos also went public after the November 2019 state elections, which saw one party sweep all statewide offices, about problems she believes Mississippi Democrats must face and solve.
“Tuesday night’s election outcomes show that Democrats in Mississippi must stop being weak, naive victims masquerading as a political party,” Amos wrote in an opinion column then.
“[W]e have to quit being the problem and start being the solution,” she added in the column. “No one remains a victim without their consent. Swallow your feelings, suck it up, forgive and forget, and start pushing voters toward the ballot.”
The Meaning of Team and Unity
At one of their usual dinner-table conversations, her father asked Amos what she planned to do about her disenfranchisement. Her mindset was that actions were important. Jesse Amos had been a well-respected teacher and coach for most of his life. He taught his players the meaning of team and unity.
From her spot on the bench beside him, Jacquie Amos had learned the same. She resigned from her position with the Mississippi Democratic Party in December 2019 and turned her attention to the Espy for Senate campaign.
She also remained committed to encouraging and inspiring women to seek public office. She frequently mentored numerous students at the college level, a project she had begun during her time with the state Democratic Party. Schrader says Amos became much more to the students than a mentor. She was often one of their closest allies and resources.
“I can think of two students who worked under Jacquie when she was the field director for the state party,” he said. “Both of them had a similar reaction that one of the most incredible people (they) got to meet or work with was (her).”
Amos also realized that it was time for her to step back into the political arena. During one of their usual conversations her father pushed her to consider running for mayor. Amos instead decided to again run for the Ward 4 Jackson City Council seat.
“I told him I want to work specifically in my ward. It’s the only thing that I’ve ever run for,” she said. “It’s more personal, more intimate than being the mayor of a city because you are, you are not confined, but you’re committed to a certain group, a certain area.”
If elected, Amos would be the first woman to hold the Ward 4 seat—and only the fifth Black councilwoman in a capital city that is over 80% African American.
‘I Still Feel His Presence’
Amos has very specific thoughts on the needs of Jackson citizens. She recognizes that the capital city must take steps to improve the quality of life of its 160,000 citizens, including finding ways to fix infrastructure problems, reduce crime, create jobs and balance the budget. Her evenings are spent going door-to-door and visiting with the constituents in her ward.
However, the campaign is missing one important element—her father died last May.
“I know it’s that time. I wish my father were here because this is what we were doing together, and I still feel his presence,” she said.
Amos continues to be active in the state party. She chairs the Association of State Democratic Chairpersons, is the chairwoman of the Hinds County Democratic Executive Committee and serves as the assistant secretary of the Mississippi Democratic Committee. She is also a member of the Federation of Democratic Women. She is also the National Democratic Committee Woman for Mississippi and a voting member of the Democratic National Committee.
The candidate is encouraged because she sees more women being recruited for county offices. Still, she knows that there are qualified women across the state who need to be supported in their run for office and believes that the time is right for increased female leadership.
“I think that Mississippi is prime for change. If we don’t make the changes within this term, these next four years coming up, then this is it,” she said.
“I know I won’t see it in my lifetime, and I want it to change in my lifetime.”
This profile is part of an ongoing series about Black women running for local office in Mississippi. These profiles are not endorsements.