Focus on the Humanities
Mississippi Humanities Council Newsletter - February 2017
Director's Message

Stuart Rockoff
Executive Director

Last Friday, we held our annual Public Humanities Awards Gala at the Old Capitol Museum. Each year, I try to give a short "State of the Council" address before the award presentations. This year, I felt I needed to respond to recent reports about plans to defund the National Endowments for the Humanities and Arts. While I think such reports are overblown, NEH enjoys strong support from members of both parties on Capitol Hill, they remind us of the need to make the case for the value and importance of the humanities to our state.

I see this value every day. A few weeks ago in Tupelo, a large diverse crowd gathered at the Link Center to have an honest dialogue about racial issues in their community. This ongoing series is funded by the Mississippi Humanities Council from a special grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support public programs that explore the legacy of racism in Mississippi. Back in the fall, as part of our Ideas on Tap series, the Council hosted a civil public forum in Jackson about our state flag, which featured a panel and an audience that represented different perspectives on the controversial issue. People listened respectfully to each other, and hopefully, gained a greater sense of understanding of those who hold opposing views.

Working with our partners at Millsaps and Mississippi College, we helped sponsor an incredible summer humanities course at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for women that explored the history of southern women. I was fortunate enough to attend the graduation ceremony at the prison, an experience I will never forget. The students' thirst for learning, to understand the context of their own lives, and their commitment to completing the serious demands of the course without access to computers, a proper library, air conditioning, and often even light, was inspiring. The students' passion for education gets to the very heart of the importance and purpose of the humanities.

I have seen a similar love of learning in the young children we serve through our family reading programs. Up in Horn Lake, our partners at the local library fill the building once a week for our bilingual Luciernagas reading program, which has had a tremendous impact on integrating the town's growing Hispanic population into the community. In Perry County, where the public libraries have closed due to budget cuts, our Prime Time Family Reading program is one of the only options for school-aged children to experience reading programs outside of school. With Prime Time, children across the state learn to enjoy reading and discussing the important themes and lessons in the best children's literature.

If you are reading this, there's a good chance I don't have to make the case to you for why the humanities are important. But, together, we need to be ready to make that case to our fellow Mississippians; to explain the value of life-long learning, the benefit of grappling and coming to terms with our state's difficult history, and the importance of a small humanities council that serves as a catalyst for these programs all around the state.

I could go on and on, but you can see the impact of the work we do in the remainder of this newsletter. If you are reading this, there's a good chance I don't have to make the case to you for why the humanities are important. But, together, we need to be ready to make that case to our fellow Mississippians; to explain the value of life-long learning, the benefit of grappling and coming to terms with our state's difficult history, and the importance of a small humanities council that serves as a catalyst for these programs all around the state. Dr. Peggy Prenshaw, whom we honored at the gala with our Cora Norman Award for her long career as a scholar and leader in the public humanities, summed up the importance of the humanities in her moving address, concluding that they "help make our society, our country, vibrant and inclusive and just." I couldn't have put it better myself.
The Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at North Carolina State University, with grant support from the Mississippi Humanities Council, hosted a community workshop in Vicksburg recently to explore the history and memories of Mississippi's Lebanese American community.

The project includes a month-long residency of  The Lebanese in America traveling exhibit from February 10 to March 3 at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center in Vicksburg.

The Lebanese in America traveling exhibit comprises eight narrative panels with photographs, graphics, and QR codes linked to supplementary materials and an e-reader. The panels describe the history, conditions and impact of Lebanese immigration nationally, offering a framework in which to consider the substantial Lebanese immigration to the Mississippi Delta and beyond between the 1880s and the end of World War I.

The community oral history workshop included speakers and interactive discussion on such topics as conducting family oral histories, ethical considerations in oral history, digitization and archiving techniques and using oral history as a tool to explore the particular shared histories and experiences of Lebanese Americans in Mississippi and throughout the South. Local residents also participated in a screening and discussion of the documentary  Cedars in the Pines, which documents Lebanese immigrant experience in North Carolina through oral history and photography.

The significant contributions of individuals of Lebanese and Syrian descent in Mississippi have been studied and celebrated in many ways, including those of the folk art of Ethel Wright Mohamed, which chronicles her married life with Lebanese merchant Hassan Mohamed, the role of Natchez mayor John J. Nosser during the civil rights era, and the historic tenure of Chancellor Robert Khayat at the University of Mississippi. This project continues examining the multigenerational history and present-day experience of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants and their descendants in the state.

"We hope this month-long event will serve as the pilot for a larger, participatory oral history, documentary, and archival project to better understand and make visible the Lebanese immigrant experience in Mississippi across the generations," said the Center's James G. Thomas, Jr., whose great-grandparents immigrated to Mississippi from Lebanon in the late 1800s. His work on Lebanese immigration to the state has been published in  Southern Cultures and in  Ethnic Heritage of Mississippi: The Twentieth Century.

Plans are in progress for the exhibit to travel to the Museum of the Mississippi Delta in Greenwood and the Delta State University Archives and Museum in Cleveland.

For more information, visit
Panelist Debra Gibbs speaks at February's Ideas on Tap program. Photo courtesy Amile Wilson.
The MHC's Ideas on Tap spring series, titled "Mississippi 50 th ," is now officially under way  in Jackson. The series, which is geared at examining different national issues that Miss-
issippi ranks last on, kicked off with a program on Februa ry 7 and will continue with monthly programs for the duration of the spring and into early  summer.

The next program in the series, "Ideas on Tap: Why is 'Mississippi 50 th' for Singles," will take place on March 7 at Hal & Mal's in Jackson. The conversation will address underlying issues such as education, incarceration, economics, and urban planning to discuss why Mississippi is currently ranked 51 st in the nation for single adults. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for more details.

In addition to the Jackson series, Ideas on Tap will also make a visit to Oxford for a program on affordable housing and gentrification. The program will take place on March 2 at 5pm at Proud Larry's on the Oxford Square. Panelists include Judy Daniel, Director of Planning for the City of Oxford; Desiree Hensley, Director of the Low Income Housing Clinic at the University of Mississippi School of Law; and James Thomas, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi.
For more information on the Ideas on Tap, contact Caroline Gillespie at
Storyteller Althea Jerome reads to families at Perry County program. Photo courtesy of David Morgan.
Earlier this month, the MHC began its six-week Prime Time family reading program at the New Augusta Elementary School in Perry County. The program is in partnership with the Perry County School District, which heard about the MHC's Family Literacy Project in 2016 and requested to host a program, and is also supported by a Mississippi Arts Commission grant.

Since their request to host an MHC reading program in late 2016, the Perry County School District lost crucial state funding for literacy and early childhood learning initiatives and Perry County's public libraries closed. We are happy to be present in Perry County to provide much-needed literacy programming to such a wonderful community.

Families have been eager to attend the weekly sessions, and the program's leadership team at the Perry County School District has been eager to help us recruit as many families as possible and provide quality programming for the families each week. Attendance at the weekly sessions continues to grow, which our seasoned humanities scholar (David Morgan) and storyteller (Althea Jerome) love.

For more information on the Family Literacy Project, contact Caroline Gillespie at
By Timothy Lampkin, Outreach Coordinator
We have several racial equity projects going on across the state. The Sunflower County Freedom Project (SCFP) is currently performing The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the 1961 Freedom Riders written by Mike Wiley. SCFP performed in front of a huge crowd this past weekend at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola. Wednesday, February 22, at 5 p.m., the SCFP will perform at the Moorhead Community Library. The last performance will be held at the Fannie Lou Hamer Multi-Purpose Building in Ruleville Saturday, February 22, at 1 p.m.

Local residents in Tupelo will discuss racial bias at the second session of the Open D.O.O.R.S Project February 27 at the Linke Centre at 5:30 p.m. The Tougaloo College Encore Theater Ensemble will perform a student led production entitled #WakeUp at 7 p.m. March 9-10 at the Historic Ballard Hall Theatre during Humanities Week. Professor Morgan Myles is working with students to produce this contemporary play exploring deep issues in the African American community such as gun violence, police brutality, rape culture, racial representation in politics and media, gender equality, voting rights and the role of the black church.

Several professors at the University of Southern Mississippi formed the Freedom 50 research group to explore several topics on campus and in the Hattiesburg community. This group will kick off the Can We Achieve This Togetherness in Our Time?: A Clyde Kennard Lecture Series at the Eureka School starting March 23 from 6-8 p.m. The three-part lecture series is designed to examine the (in)visible signs of cultural change that have occurred at the university and the challenges it faces as a public institution marked by a history, at times, of uneasy race relations as it also extends to the entire state. All programs and performances mentioned above are free and open to the public. 

These projects have been supported by our Racial Equity Fund which was established by a two-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to assist organizations across our state foster dialogue around race. We would love to partner with you to develop a racial equity program in your community. Please contact me at to discuss your project and funding opportunities.

February 24-25, 2017
Mississippi LIGHT Festival
The first Mississippi LIGHT Festival will take place in Jackson over the  Mississippi Museum of Art garden and surrounding buildings. Buildings will be  transf ormed by light and the playground will be illuminated. Visitors may also c reate their  own light art.  Thi s weird and wonderful world of light will be accompanied by food from Mississippi's finest food trucks and a Chef Nick Wallace culinary surprise! The festival, supported by a Mississippi Bicentennial grant, begins at 6 p.m.

February 28-March 4, 2017
Writer-in-Residence: Rita Dove
Mississippi State University's Writer-in-Residence Program with Rita Dove includes a public reading for students, faculty and community members in the Golden Triangle region. Her public presentation is part of a week-long program through Mississippi State University's College of Arts & Sciences Institute for the Humanities. Dove is former Poet Laureate of the United States and Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry in 1987. Her published work includes On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), and Sonata Mulattica (2009). During her visit on campus, she will give a public reading, teach a master class on fiction writing, hold office hours to work individually with students and community writers and interact with faculty, students, and members of the local community.  Taylor Auditorium, Mississippi State University.

March 9-10, 2017
Tougaloo College Presents #WakeUp!
The Tougaloo College Division of Humanities, Department of English/Creative Writing and Theatre Emphasis presents the innovative theatrical spring production of #WakeUp! The aim of  #WakeUp! is to bring awareness to African American issues in society. Issues of gun violence, police brutality, rape culture, race relation/politics, racial representation in politics, establishment in society, gender equality, voting equality, stereotypes, mean girl syndromes, the business of the black church and more will be explored. These conversations are shared through the presentation of a unique blend of dark comedy, drama through scenes and monologues, music, dance choreography, spoken words and poetry, visual art and songs. Historic Ballard Hall Theatre , Tougaloo College, 7 p.m.

March 15, 2017

Freedom to Vote- Perspectives from 1900-2017
Freedom to Vote is a three-part lecture series examining voting in the United States for women and African Americans and current trends in voting.  Hancock Performing Arts Center-6:30 p.m.

March 20, 2017
Philosophical Fridays
The University of Southern Mississippi continues its popular "Philosophical Fridays" speakers series. The series features respected philosophers giving presentations on a variety of issues. Their talks are non-technical and readily accessible for students, faculty and community members. These events will take place at 2 p.m. on Fridays in the Liberal Arts Building on the Hattiesburg Campus. The topics will range from a discussion about linguistic violence, ethics in a pluralistic world, and free will, to moral psychology. On March 20, David Gushee of Mercer University will talk about 
"Changing Our Mind: Making Sense of the Christian Fight over LGBT Inclusion."

March 23, 2017
Can We Achieve This Togetherness in Our Time?
Join The Freedom50 Research Group as they present critical perspectives of the Clyde Kennard case in relation to racial progress at the University of Southern Mississippi in a three-part lecture series beginning March 23, 2017. Program will be held March 23, March 30 and April 6, 2017 from 6-8 p.m. at  Eureka School, 412 East 6th Street, Hattiesburg, MS.
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Stuart Rockoff, Executive Director