Focus on the Humanities
Mississippi Humanities Council Newsletter - June 2016
Director's Message
Dr. Stuart Rockoff
Executive Director
One of my favorite summer rituals is going to the ballpark. As a kid, I would go to the Astrodome with my grandfather to watch the Astros play. Right after college, when I was only partially employed and living in San Francisco, I would take mass transit to see the Giants play at Candlestick Park or the A's play at the Oakland Coliseum on many afternoons. For the past ten years, I've spent many a night at Trustmark Park, watching the Mississippi Braves. Ever since I was young, I have been a fan of sports. I can still name the starting lineups of many of Houston's baseball, basketball, and football teams when I was a kid. At a certain point, I must have grown out of such intense fixation since I am no longer able to rattle off starting players and statistics from more recent decades.

As I've gotten older, I've learned not to take the outcome of sporting events too seriously. I was always amused in graduate school at the University of Texas with how depressed the entire campus got after the Longhorns lost a football game (losses in other sports didn't have anywhere near the same impact). Ultimately, sports fandom is vicarious - after all, I was not playing on the team, and the Longhorns' failure to move the ball had nothing to do with my abilities as a graduate student in the history department. And yet, for many of my friends, colleagues, and students, the football team's performance mattered. The same is very much true here in SEC-country, when college football season gobbles up the fall calendar. It's no coincidence that so many major cultural events take place in the spring so they don't have to compete against a college football Saturday for an audience.

From a humanities perspective, sports may seem insignificant and our fixation with them silly...And yet, our endless fascination with sports says something about who we are as people, Mississippians, and Americans. This is the core idea behind "Hometown Teams," the traveling Smithsonian exhibit we are currently touring around the state.

From a humanities perspective, sports may seem insignificant and our fixation with them silly. I have friends on the humanities faculty at Ole Miss and Mississippi State who simply avoid campus on football game days (as I did on game days at the University of Texas). And yet, our endless fascination with sports says something about who we are as people, Mississippians, and Americans. This is the core idea behind "Hometown Teams," the traveling Smithsonian exhibit we are currently touring around the state.

The exhibit explores our love and obsession with sports, highlighting how sports has both reflected and shaped our society. Like all work done by the Smithsonian Institution's Traveling Exhibit Service, the exhibit is engaging, interactive, and fun. There is something to interest most everyone, even those who don't follow professional or college sports closely. Most importantly, the exhibit brings an intellectual depth to the subject which goes beyond a simple listing of World Series winners or Super Bowl MVPs.

The exhibit, which debuted at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Jackson, is finishing up its stay at the Historic Natchez Foundation. On June 30 th it opens at the Amory Regional Museum, and later travels to Gulfport, Cleveland, and Corinth. At each site, "Hometown Teams" will be supplemented with an exhibit that tells that community's own sports stories and an array of guest speakers who will highlight the humanities themes behind our love of sports. Visit our website calendar for more information about "Hometown Teams" and the many interesting programs each site is planning. We hope you are able to experience "Hometown Teams" during its stay in Mississippi.
The MHC is piloting "Ideas on Tap," a new program designed to encourage people to come together in a casual environment and talk about relevant issues and current events. The three-part pilot series, which will take place this summer in Jackson, will focus on why young people leave Mississippi. Each program during
Net Migration Rate by County, 2000-2010. The redder the color, the higher the rate of outmigration. Accessible at
 the series will look
 at the "brain drain" from a different angle: politics, economics, and "imports" into the state and the unique perspective they have on the issue. The MHC is partnering with Rethink Mississippi, so each program will be framed in relevant data collected by Rethink's Jake McGraw, who will also moderate the series.

The first program will take place on June 28 at 5:30 at Hal and Mal's in Jackson and will feature Jackson City Councilman Melvin Priester, Jr.  MHC Executive Director Stuart Rockoff said, "this is such an important issue for our state that we must reach across our political divisions to find common ground. With its emphasis on civil discourse, the humanities are the ideal vehicle to examine this challenge we face in Mississippi."
There will also be time for conversation and questions from the audience. Attendees are welcome to purchase drinks, and appetizers will be provided by the MHC. Future programs in this series will take place on July 19 and August 16 at 5:30 at Hal & Mal's. Program coordinator Caroline Gillespie is hopeful the "Ideas on Tap" model can expand in the future, covering new topics and spreading to other cities in Mississippi: "our hope is to foster discussions on important issues throughout the state in an informal, fun atmosphere."

For more information on the program, click here, or contact Caroline Gillespie at

At its June 8 th board meeting, the Mississippi Humanities Council approved $58,000 in grants to organizations throughout the state for public programming exploring Chickasaw history and culture, the life and literature of Tennessee Williams, the integration of southern schools, the value of a liberal arts education and more. Funded projects include:
  • Chickasaw Celebration (Chickasaw Inkana Foundation, Tupelo)
  • From Tolerance to Empathy (Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, Gulfport)
  • 24th Annual Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival (Coahoma Community College, Clarksdale)
  • Yazoo Revisited: Integration and Segregation in a Deep Southern Town (New Orleans Photo Alliance)
  • Mississippi Archaeology Month (Mississippi Archaeology Association, statewide)
  • Conference on the Liberal Arts: [Re]Defining Liberal Arts Education in the 21st Century (Jackson State University, Jackson)
  • Native American Days 2016 (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Winterville Mounds)
  • Summer Extended: "The Movement is the People" 50 Years Ago Today-Grenada 1966 Freedom Movement (Activists with a Purpose, Grenada)
  • Icons of Statehood (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, statewide)
  • Public Programming and Traveling Exhibit Exploring the Vietnamese on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg)
  • More Days of Sharing Midwife Stories (Scott Ford House Fund, Jackson)
  • Claiming Histories: Engaging the Past through Memorialization of Slave Past (Rust College, Holly Springs)
  • Civil War Lecture Series (Beauvoir-The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, Biloxi)
Details about these and other humanities programs around the state will be posted in the Mississippi Humanities Council calendar  on our website  and our Facebook page.  The MHC grants program supports projects that stimulate meaningful community dialogue, attract diverse audiences, are participatory and engaging, and apply the humanities to our everyday lives. Grants may be used to support public humanities programs, exhibits, the planning of larger projects, and the development of original productions in film, television, radio or online resources. The MHC also offers special grants to support oral history projects around the state.

Regular grant ($2,001-$7,500) deadlines are May 1 and September 15. Minigrants (up to $2,000) have no deadlines, though applications must be received at least eight weeks before the program or proposed grant period begins. Grant application forms and other related documents may be found on the Grants page  of the MHC website.

On June 5, 1966, James Meredith began a "One Man's Walk Against Fear" from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. The purpose of the walk was to demonstrate that a black man could walk anywhere in Mississippi without fear of being harmed. One day into 
Civil Rights Movement veterans in front of the Canton Freedom House.
Photo courtesy of the Canton Freedom House Museum.
the walk, on June 6, Meredith was shot eighteen miles south of Memphis in Hernando, Mississippi, by Aubrey James Norvell of Memphis. The shooting caused many civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and several communities to join his cause, which then came to be known as the "March Against Fear." The march reached Canton on June 23 as hundreds of marchers entered the central Mississippi town of 10,000, which, due to its large majority of African Americans, had become home to several civil rights organizations. At a rally that evening, when the marchers-including hundreds of local citizens-attempted to pitch a tent for participants to rest under, local law enforcement fired tear gas into the crowd, causing numerous injuries and drawing national attention.

On June 23, 2016, fifty years later, the Canton community, with grant support from the Mississippi Humanities Council, will commemorate Meredith's march and the confrontation that ensued in this county-seat city. Beginning at 8 a.m., marchers will retrace the route that brought the demonstration to Canton, starting on Highway 16 West and proceeding to the historic Canton Courthouse for a rally. The celebration will begin with several area choirs performing, followed by remarks from speakers who were present on the courthouse steps with Dr. King fifty years ago. "Stories From Da Dirt,"  a skit written by Dr. Nancy Dawson depicting African American history and culture, will be presented, and then Hollis Watkins, a Mississippi native who became a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, will lead the audience in freedom songs.
The commemoration will conclude with the unveiling of a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker that will tell the story of the Canton movement. The Canton Freedom House Museum is organizing and hosting this day of commemoration and will offer tours of the museum following the trail marker ceremony. The museum is owned by Glen Cotton, the grandson of George and Rembert Washington who rented the house to CORE during the civil rights era in Mississippi. The Freedom House has always belonged to the Washington family, and is being renovated by a team of volunteers.

The project will feature a museum with standard and electronic exhibits and archival documents. Also planned is a library which will serve children in the neighborhood. More information about the Freedom House Civil Rights Museum of Canton can be found here.

All events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the March Against Fear in Canton are free and open to the public.
On a recent steamy June afternoon near Pearl, Mississippi, twenty-two women engaged in an animated discussion around Theda Perdue's book Cherokee Women , an examination of the roles and responsibi
lities of Cherokee women during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was clear they had each read the text carefully before coming to class, and their analysis of Perdue's study of the complexity of Native gender relations was as scholarly as one might find in any university classroom. But this was not a university classroom; the women are all inmates at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and the course is part of the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program administered by two history professors, with financial support from the Mississippi Humanities Council.

The Prison-to-College Pipeline Program was conceived by Dr. Patrick Alexander of the University of Missis
sippi and Dr. Otis Pickett of Mississippi College. Pickett and Alexander's vision was a college-level course for prisoners who held high school diplomas or GEDs that would be designed around the inmates' interests. Prisoners who participate in the course have the opportunity to earn college credit, and perhaps more important, to prove to themselves they have the ability and the intelligence to pursue a college education
Patrick Alexander (far left) and Otis Pickett (far right) with the 2015 graduation class of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program at Parchman Prison.
Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
after their release. The Prison-to-College Pipeline Program was launched at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman in June 2014 with a grant from the University of Mississippi's College of Liberal Arts. Inmates completed an initial survey, which gave them an opportunity to recommend topics they would be interested in studying. Based on their responses, Pickett and Alexander created a history and literature-based course they titled, "Justice Everywhere," which focused on the Civil Rights Movement, race relations and the justice system.

After two successful summers at Parchman, Pickett and Alexander engaged Dr. Stephanie Rolph of Millsaps College to develop a similar program for women incarcerated at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. "The class is teaching U.S. history through the lens of Southern women," Pickett explains. The women were given a list of several literary and historical works to build the course around, including Jubilee by Margaret Walker, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and Kindred by Octavia Butler. As with the program at Parchman, the students were allowed to choose which texts they would study. The course includes reading, large- and small-group discussion and writing assignments, both in-class and out of class.

The Prison-to-College Pipeline course at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility is the first for-credit college course offered in the history of that institution. "This is historic!" says Dr. Pickett. "This means that in the history of incarceration in this state that these women will likely be the first to have the opportunity to receive college credit while being incarcerated."

Response and participation in the program by the inmates has been gratifying, Pickett says. "It has been an absolute pleasure to teach (there) over the last few weeks...The women are really digging into the course and are loving it." One student penned a letter of thanks to the instructors soon after the course began. "I just wanted to write you to let you know how much it means to me personally and also how much I appreciate you for making this possible. I have been here 20 years and to get a college course like this...there are no words. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."

Pickett says the caliber of scholarship displayed by these women is impressive. "They are students, they are scholars, they are teachers, and they are capable."

Through its prison education initiative, the Mississippi Humanities Council supports the Prison-to-College Pipeline in addition to the "Mississippi Prison Writes" program.
On June 30, the Amory Regional Museum will host an opening celebration of the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit "Hometown Teams," which will be on display in Amory through August 5. The opening celebration, which will be free and open to the public, will last from 5pm to 7pm and will offer a first glimpse at the exhibit for those in northeast Mississippi. In conjunction with the exhibit, the Amory Regional Museum will also offer free programming throughout the exhibit's stay in Amory.

This is the exhibit's third stop in Mississippi, and will continue on to Gulfport, Cleveland, and Corinth during the remainder of the year. Hometown Teams is part of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum on Main Street program, which brings Smithsonian-quality exhibits to small towns throughout the U.S. For more information on Hometown Teams and a complete schedule of programming and host sites, please visit our website, or contact Caroline Gillespie at 601-432-6752.
Earlier this month, the MHC visited Hattiesburg for its annual board retreat, where our board and staff gathered for two days of meetings, programs, and wonderful hospitality from the Hub City. Below are a few photos from our trip. Thanks to all involved who helped make our trip great, including Dean Maureen Ryan and the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Southern Miss
issippi and Ellen Ruffin, curator of USM's extraordinary de Grummond Children's Literature Collection. Special thanks to board members William Lewis, who hosted our Tuesday meeting at Pearl River Community College's Woodall Advanced Technology Center, and Sheila Varnado, who arranged an amazing tour of the African American Military History Museum.
MHC Board and staff gather at Pearl River Community College's Woodall Center for strategic planning. (Photo courtesy of Pearl River Community College, Chuck Abadie)

MHC Board receives a special guided tour of the African American Military History Museum in Hattiesburg.
MHC Speakers Bureau member Kate Cochran presents program on Willie Morris at MHC-hosted dinner.
Ellen Ruffin, curator of the University of Southern Mississippi's de Grummond Children's Literature Collection, gives the MHC a tour of the collection.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has announced an expansion of its grant offerings for museums, libraries, and other cultural organizations to bolster these institutions' ability to facilitate public conversations about issues vital to communities, culture, and society.

NEH's new Public Humanities Projects grants support a wide range of projects that bring the ideas and insights of the humanities to life for general audiences. The grant program goes beyond the traditional large-scale museum exhibition to also include grant support for smaller public programs, projects that engage citizens with historic U.S. sites, and work in communities to spur important public dialogue about the humanities.

The new grant program responds to shifts in the field where -thanks to the evolution of digital technologies and changing relationships between institutions and their audiences-cultural spaces are increasingly interactive and integrated into the public life of their communities.

"The role of the museum is being reimagined from within and without, amounting to an epic shift in expectations," said Karen Mittelman, Director of NEH's Division of Public Programs, on the changes to NEH's grant guidelines. "The cultural institutions that NEH supports are increasingly called upon to serve as 'town halls,' spaces where citizens can come together to talk and debate issues of significance to their communities."

This new Public Humanities Projects grant opportunity is part of the National Endowment for the Humanities' agency-wide initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role and significance of the humanities and humanities scholarship in civic life.
The grant program supports the planning and implementation of public humanities projects in three areas:
  • Community Conversations Grants support one- to three-year-long series of community-wide discussion projects that engage diverse residents in creatively addressing contemporary challenges, guided by the perspectives of the humanities.
  • Exhibitions Grants support permanent exhibitions that will be on view for at least three years, or traveling exhibitions that will be available to public audiences in at least two venues in the United States.
  • Historic Places Grants support the interpretation of historic sites, houses, neighborhoods, and regions. Projects might involve living history presentations, guided tours, exhibitions, and public programs.
NEH is also supporting the training of the next generation of museum professionals through an initiative, Positions in Public Humanities. The program offers an extra $60,000 over two years to museum grantees to allow a recent Masters or Ph.D. graduate to work on their NEH-funded project. All three grant categories also offer funding support for the two-year Public Humanities Fellow position.

Application guidelines for Public Humanities Projects are available at The application deadline for the initial cycle of Public Humanities Projects grants is August 10, 2016.
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):  
Know someone who would be interest in what our organization does?

Not yet signed up to receive information on the work being done?
Join Now!

Thanks again for making a difference!


Stuart Rockoff, Executive Director