Otis (sometimes Oatis), Jesse Rodgers Delbert  (B.S. , Animal Husbandry, 1925)

Jesse Rodgers Delbert Otis was born in Carson, Mississippi, on 9 July 1899 to Delbert Otis and his wife, Anna Sims Otis, farmers. Jesse attended school in Piney Woods, Mississippi, and, then, in Three Oaks, Michigan, where he was the lone Black student in a class of 37. Otis’s farming background served him well in Michigan, where he lived with a local farmer and dairy owner, working as a farmhand, dairyman, and milk delivery boy to earn his keep (Johnson, 2021).

At ISC Jesse Otis studied Animal Husbandry, graduating with a B.S. in 1925. He was active in the Agriculture Club on campus and also as a member of the Alpha-Nu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in 1923, belonging alongside Iowa State brothers A.C. Aldridge, J. G. Trice, FD. Patterson, L. A. Potts, J. L. Lockett, J. W. Fraser, and R. B. Atwood (Aldridge, 1923). In 1935, Otis reunited with many of his fraternity brothers at a ISC Alumni Banquet at Tuskegee to celebrate the inauguration of brother Frederick D. Patterson as President of Tuskegee Institute. Otis had been teaching at Tuskgee since around 1928, when he left his teaching job at Piney Woods School after three years. He stayed at Tuskegee for the next seven years (Johnson, 2021). In 1933, Otis earned an M.S. in Agriculture and Life Sciences from Cornell University. He eventually received his Ph.D. in the same field in 1944 from the same institution.

The years between arriving at Tuskegee and taking the position of President of Mississippi’s Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University) in 1946 saw Dr. Otis firmly establish himself in the field of agriculture as an expert and a teacher. According to the Alabama 4-H Center’s “In Remembrance” page, “From 1932 to 1934, he served as Specialist in Extension farm work. The next ten years found him in the nation’s capital working at the Department of Interior. Desiring to be back closer to the people he hoped to help, Dr. Otis held the position of Alabama State Leader for Negro Work from 1944 to 1946. In 1946 Dr. Otis was selected to be president of Alcorn College for Negroes at Alcorn, Mississippi” (n.d.).

Dr. Otis served as president at Alcorn A&M until 1957, when Mississippi Governor Coleman removed him from his post following a multi-week student boycott sparked by an Alcorn history professor who “wrote a series of articles for the Jackson State Times linking the NAACP to communism and criticizing Congressman Adam Clayton Powell” (Johnson, 2021).

J. R. D. Otis returned to Tuskegee Institute to finish his career as the Director of the School of Education. He married Frankie Althalyn Williams on 25 July 1959 and remained married to her until is death 3 January 1970. He is buried at Oaklawn Memorial Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama.


Photo Credit: Iowa State University. (1925). 1925 Bomb v.32 special edition, p.72. Retrieved from    https://n2t.net/ark:/87292/w9rp82 

Aldridge, A. C. (1923, June). “Alpha Nu Chapter State College of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa.” The Sphinx, 9.3, p. 17.

In remembrance…Jesse R. Otis (1899-1970). (n.d.) Alabama 4-H Center. Retrieved from  https://alabama4hcenter.org/jesse-r-otis/ 

Johnson, David. (2021, February 17). 1940s Three Oaks class project reveals the story of Jesse Otis. Harbor country news. Retrieved from  https://www.harborcountry-news.com/features/1940s-three-oaks-class-project-reveals-the-story-of-jesse-otis/article_24f6c234-eca6-5d66-9d33-486bd86eeeef.html