Focus on the Humanities
Mississippi Humanities Council Newsletter - April 2016
Director's Message
Dr. Stuart Rockoff
Executive Director
Many of us struggle to define "the humanities." A simple list of academic subjects does not communicate exactly what the humanities do. A good dictionary definition describes them as those branches of knowledge concerned with humans and their culture. At their best, the humanities enable us to understand the experience of others and to see our own experience from a larger perspective. Above all, the humanities help us to have empathy for others.

I've been thinking a lot about empathy as I've watched the divisive political debates that have wracked Mississippi this year. While Mississippi prides itself on its hospitality, empathy and understanding have too often been rare qualities. Empathy would enable a white person to understand why a black Mississippian might be offended by the Confederate insignia on the state flag, and why a growing number of cities and universities have chosen not to fly it. Seeing the matter from a different point of view might help them understand that a state flag should represent all citizens, not just a simple majority, regardless of one's opinions about the causes and meaning of the Civil War. Flags are supposed to unite a people, not divide them.

Empathy would enable someone to see that their notion of religious liberty might lead to discrimination and dehumanization of others. Put yourself in the shoes of a gay couple walking into a store fearing that they might be turned away or worse; or a transgender woman apprehensive about going out in public because of stares or ugly comments she might face or the anxiety of having to use a particular bathroom. Seeing this issue from their point of view might lead one to question whether refusing to serve people is truly consistent with religious teachings. This kind of understanding comes from seeing the humanity in people who may be outwardly different from us. The humanities help us recognize what we all have in common.

We say the humanities are for everyone, and we mean it. But as the state's foremost advocate for the humanities, we would be remiss if we did not speak on their value in promoting greater human understanding and empathy.

The Mississippi Humanities Council is not a political organization. We have board members, friends, and supporters from both political parties. We work with organizations from across the ideological spectrum. We say the humanities are for everyone, and we mean it. But as the state's foremost advocate for the humanities, we would be remiss if we did not speak on their value in promoting greater human understanding and empathy.

We are very mindful that we are the Mississippi Humanities Council, and that our programs must address the needs and context of our state. To that end, we are very pleased to announce our partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support a special grant initiative for public programs that use the humanities to address the history and legacy of racism in Mississippi. We are also working with our partners at the Center for Oral History at the University of Southern Mississippi to collect oral histories related to the gay rights movement and the experience of gay Mississippians as well as school integration in our state. Each of these projects is grounded in the fundamental values of the humanities: empathy, dialogue, and understanding. Throughout our 44-year history, these values have guided our work, and will continue to do so no matter the political divides we face.
The Mississippi Humanities Council announces a new grant initiative, in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to support public programs exploring the legacy of race in Mississippi. This two-year project is funded by a $250,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan. Beginning April 1, the MHC will accept grant applications for projects that highlight the state's racial and ethnic history and foster discussion about continuing racial disparities in Mississ
The MHC-supported "Behind the Big House Tour" is an example of the type of racial equity programs the new Kellogg project will fund.

These small grants of $7,500 and below will support grassroots projects throughout the state. This  W KKF funding will also support special outreach efforts to help potential partne rs develop and carry out public humanities programs related to racial equity and the legacy of racism in Mississippi.

"Racial disparities continue to hamper the future progress of families and children in Mississippi. Only by educating Mississippians about the legacy of race, and having an honest discussion about its lingering impacts, can we move forward together and build a better Mississippi," said Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council. "We are so grateful for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's support, which will enable us to engage and empower local organizations across Mississippi to change the narrative about race in our state, using the humanities to work toward racial understanding and healing."

Carol Andersen, assistant director for programs at the MHC, added, "The humanities are crucial in the effort to achieve racial equity in Mississippi. The humanities teach us about where we have been and help us envision where we might go. Emphasizing critical thinking, the humanities foster creativity, appreciation of our commonalities and differences, and a connection to the larger global community while helping us understand what it means to be human."

Details about projects funded through this new W.K. Kellogg grant initiative will be made available on a dedicated page of the MHC website, and partnering organizations will convene at the end of the grant period to share outcomes and opportunities for future collaboration.  To help carry out this grant program, the MHC is hiring a part-time outreach coordinator to support this important initiative. Application details may be found here.

Grant guidelines and application forms are available on the MHC website: For more information about the Racial Equity Grant Program, contact Carol Andersen at (601) 432-6752;
The MHC has had the pleasure of partnering with several different organizations to host events marking the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes. We are especially excited to 
work with the Eudora Welty Foundation, which is dedicated to preserv ing the legacy of one of Mississippi's greatest writers. The foundation is planning a series of events celebrating Welty's novel The Optimist's Daughter, which won th e Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1973.  

The Foundation will be offering special Optimist's Daughter tours of the Eudora Welty House and Garden, a National Historic Landmark, throughout the months of May and June featuring furnishings, heirlooms, mementoes, and flowers reminiscent of the novel. An illustrated brochure will offer a synopsis of the book while highlighting related features in the house and garden and the circumstances of Welty's life paralleled in the book.

Daily tours of the Eudora Welty House and Garden, led by specially trained docents, take place Tuesdays-Fridays at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and second Saturdays at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for students. As part of the Pulitzer celebration, tours on May 12 and 13 and June 11 will be free to the public. Reservations are recommended. To schedule a tour, call (601)353-7762 or email

Also, on May 2nd at noon, Suzanne Marrs, the noted Welty scholar and biographer, will present a free, brown bag lecture and discussion about The Optimists Daughter at the Welty Education and Visitors Center, located at 1109 Pinehurst Street in Jackson. She will reprise her lecture on June 11 at 10 am, while also leading special tours of the house and garden at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

All of these events are part of the Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfire Initiative, a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prizes Board and the Federation of State Humanities Councils in celebration of the 2016 centennial of the Prizes.
August 20 - Mississippi Book Festival. Special session featuring a Mississippi-born Pulitzer-winning writer. State Capitol.
September 30 - Tennessee Williams Festival. Special program related to the author's Pulitzer-winning work. Clarksdale.
October 18 - "Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Press," a symposium in partnership with Jackson State University.

May 1 is the next deadline for Mississippi Humanities Council grant applications exceeding $2,000 and up to $7,500. Please note that May 1 is a Sunday and the MHC offices will be closed that day. Email submissions will be accepted through midnight May 1, but the last possible date for personal delivery is Friday, April 30, by 3 p.m. Decisions will be announced June 15.
The Mississippi Humanities Council mission is to promote understanding of our cultural heritage, interpret our own experience, foster critical thinking, encourage reasonable public discourse, strengthen our sense of community, and thus empower us with a vision for the future. A principal means of achieving this goal is awarding grants to nonprofit organizations which plan and sponsor humanities activities for the benefit of citizens throughout the state.
Visit grants page and click on "Downloads" to review and/or download grant guidelines and application forms.

  The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation was the recent recipient of a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of its new Common Good initiative, which seeks to bring the humanities into the public square to address important contemporary issues. The Institute's proposal was to foster dialogue about racism and the importance of civil rights education in overcoming
lingering racial barriers. As part of this major initiative, the Winter Institute will be hosting a public forum entitled "Civil Rights Literacy and the Common Good." The free, two-day event will ta ke place April 29-30 at the Jackson Convention Center and will feature a series of engaging panel discussions.
MHC Executive Director Dr. Stuart Rockoff will moderate a p anel about school integration in Mississippi and will participate in the panel entitled "Avoiding Historical Amnesia: Civil Rights Literacy and the Common Good." Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Mississippi native Douglas Blackmon will also participate, discussing his latest project about school integration in Leland. See the schedule below for more details about this exciting event.

Friday, April 29th:  Meeting Room 216-217
1:00-1:05:                   WELCOME
1:05-2:30:                   School Integration in America: Then and Now  
Moderator:  Dr. Stuart Rockoff
David Rae Morris
Mike Espy
Douglas Blackmon
Margie Cooper Pearson
  2:30-4:00 p.m.:          Avoiding Historical Amnesia: Civil Rights Literacy and           
the Common Good
Moderator:  Dr. Jennifer Stollman
Dr. Stuart Rockoff
Chauncey Spears
Dr. Daphne Chamberlain
Dr. Leslie McLemore
4:00-5:30 p.m.:            Case Studies of Communities Engaging the Past for Future
Moderator:  Charles Tucker
Melissa "Missy" Janczewski Jones
Dr. Roy DeBerry
Alysia Steele
Dr. Dave Tell         
5:30-6:30 p.m.:            Networking Reception in the Gallery
Saturday, April 30th:  Meeting Room 216-217
8:30-9:15 a.m.:           Check in/light breakfast
9:30-11:00 a.m.:          Visual Arts and Civic Engagement
Moderator: April Grayson
Joe York
Levon Brooks, featured film subject (invited)
11:00-12:30:                 Learning from Each Other: An Intergenerational
Conversation on the Struggle for Freedom
Moderator:  Melody Frierson
Chuck McDew
Jeffrey Barner
Janice Marie Citchens
Tia Toines
Brianna Cry
Kadin Love    
Gabi Jones
Juliette Richert
Sydni Mahaffey         
12:30-1:30 p.m.:         Douglas Blackmon, keynote luncheon speech
1:30-3:00 p.m.:           Civil Rights and Religious Extremism:  A Response from   
Moderator:  Fatih Ozcan
James Bowley
Loye Ashton
3:00-4:30 p.m.:            Civil Rights Literacy in the Classroom:  Primary Sources,
Methodology and Effects
Moderator:  Susan Glisson
Stacey Everett and Claire Gwaltney
Jacqueline Martin
Lynne Schneider

The Mississippi Humanities Council welcomes Jim Woodrick, whose presentation is entitled "The History of Mississippi's Mascots (and a Few Others, Too)."

Marino Casem, the longtime coach at Alcorn State University and Southern University, once fa mously stated that "in the South, college football is a religion, and  every Sunday is a h oly day." This is certainly true for teams in the Southeastern Conference and espe cially true for Mississippi. Each fall, hundreds of thousands of loyal fans flock to their respective campuses to root for their favorite teams and cheer for their beloved team mascots. If Casem's quote is true, these foam-headed cheerleaders might be considered the "saints" of this seemingly odd religion. Most fans, however, know little about the origin of their favorite mascots or other symbols of their university, and many of these symbols have deep roots in history, especially the Civil War years. During this presentation, the hidden history of some of the South's most beloved (or despised) mascots will be revealed, including Mississippi State's "Bully," the origin of the LSU Tigers and, of course, the story behind the Ole Miss Rebels.

Woodrick is a native of Meridian, MS, and a graduate of Millsaps College in Jackson. Since 1997, he has been on the staff of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History where he worked for many years as the Civil War sites historian. He is currently serving as director of the MDAH Historic Preservation Division. A lifelong student of the Civil War, Woodrick is a frequent speaker, highlighting Mississippi's role in the war and a variety of other topics related to general Mississippi history. He is the author of  The Civil War Siege of Jackson, Mississippi, published in 2016. He and his wife, Mary Margaret, live in Ridgeland, MS.

The Eudora Welty House and Garden and the Mississippi Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America are teaming up to host a mini Jane Austen film festival in 2016. The outdoor film series will be held in the Welty Garden and will feature three film versions of Jane Austen novels. Outdoor movie enthusiasts are invited to bring their blankets and picnics and enjoy the movies  Pride and Prejuice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility.

The film series is planned for three Fridays in 2016: May 13, September 9 and October 14. (Rain dates and/or alternate locations will also be publicized.) Filmgoers are invited to arrive ahead of the showing to enjoy the Welty Garden, find their viewing spots, and partake of concessions.

April 14, 2016
Modern Dante: The Humanities, the Academy and the Public
The Medieval Studies program at University of Mississippi will host Dennis Looney, a professor of Italian classics and philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, who will speak on  Dante in African-American Culture: Exile, Migration, Segregation, Integration, Identity. This talk will derive from Dr. Looney's extensive scholarship on African-American audiences for and revisions of Dante's Divine Comedy. As this lecture series revisits the pre-modern origins of the humanities, the audience will become aware of the animating relationship between the past, present and future of its related fields.

April 15-17, 2016
Powwow Honors Native American History, Culture
The 2016 Petal Southern Miss Powwow will be held April 14-17. The powwow is a gathering of Native Americans and non-Native Americans in celebration of American Indian culture, crafts, foodways, dance and song. Many aspects of the cultures of American Indians are in a precarious situation, on the brink of being lost. The goal of this powwow is to remember and share these traditions. This year's powwow will include an emcee who will provide interpretation throughout the powwow about regalia, dance styles, songs, food, and powwow etiquette. This will ensure that those unfamiliar with powwow traditions can still partake and enjoy the ceremony.

April 21, 2016
University of Missisippi Hosts Earth Day Program
The University of Mississippi will celebrate Earth Day April 22 by hosting a public lecture by Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet, novelist, memoirist and essayist. Hogan is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including  The Book of Medicines, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, and  Indios. Active as an educator and speaker, Hogan has taught at the University of Colorado and at the Indigenous Education Institute. She has been as a speaker at the United Nations Forum and was a plenary speaker at the Environmental Literature Conference in Turkey in 2009.  The program will take place at 7 p.m. in the Overby Auditorium on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford. It will be free and open to the public.
The MHC's Prime Time family reading has recently completed two of its programs throughout the state. The program at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's Perkinston Campus, a follow-up to a highly successful one held in the spring of 2015, featured a reading series titled "It's a Small World After All." The program drew participant families' focus toward global issues, including connecting across borders, interdependence, environment, and sustainability. At the end of the final session parents and children alike were eagerly inquiring about a program for next year!

A second Prime Time program, which took place at the Greenwood Mentoring Group, also completed its final session earlier this month. This program used the "Favorites" curriculum, and focused on issues such as cleverness, honesty, and determination. After the completion of the final session, participants went for a helicopter ride over Greenwood, thanks to a local businessman. Needless to say, the Greenwood program ended on a high note-literally!

For more information on the MHC's Literacy Project or to host a program, visit our website.
The Smithsonian traveling exhibit "Hometown Teams" will continue its stay at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame through April 30. In conjunction with the exhibit, the Sports Hall of Fame has arranged a series of programs that will be free and open to the public. The first event, which took place last week, was a conversation between Mississippi sportswriters Rick Cleveland and Wright Thompson. The two shared stories of sports, sports writing, and the role of sports in Mississippi and American culture. We were lucky to have Wright Thompson there, who squeezed the event into his schedule before heading to Augusta to cover the Masters for ESPN Magazine.

Upcoming programs include a lecture by Dr. Charles Ross on integration in Mississippi sports on April 20; a talk with Jackson native and world-renowned architect Janet Marie Smith on her career designing and managing stadiums such as Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium on April 21; and a conversation with former governors Haley Barbour, Ronnie Musgrove and William Winter on sports in Mississippi, which will take place April 25. 

For complete details on these programs, as well as the exhibit's remaining sites throughout the state, visit the MHC's calendar of events.
Mississippi Humanities Council programs are engaging, inspiring and free of charge. Your gift makes a big difference to our mission of cultivating an understanding of our history and culture throughout the state. You help us enrich peoples' lives through programs incorporating history, literature, music, politics, philosophy and other humanities-based disciplines that illuminate the human condition. Thanks to your support, we are able to serve all Mississippians: all ages, all geographic areas of the state, all walks of life.
A small gift of $25 will purchase two books for children participating in the Mississippi Humanities Council's Family Literacy Project.
A larger gift of $250 will fund a lecture in a school classroom, local library or civic club, by a member of the Mississippi Humanities Council Speakers Bureau.
A $2,500 contribution will underwrite a six-week reading and discussion series in the Mississippi Humanities Council's Family Literacy Project.

A gift of any amount can support any one of our ongoing programs (click on the program titles for more information):  
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Stuart Rockoff, Executive Director