Focus on the Humanities
Mississippi Humanities Council Newsletter - May2016
Director's Message
Dr. Stuart Rockoff
Executive Director
The other day I went to the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson to hear former Senator Trent Lott speak as part of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History's "History is Lunch" series. Senator Lott has co-authored a book with his former colleague Senator Tom Daschle about their time in the Senate together and their prescription for solving the current gridlock afflicting Washington, D.C. Lott and Daschle were ostensibly rivals during their time in the Senate; Lott was the Republican leader, while Daschle headed the Democratic Caucus. And yet they forged a working relationship and even a personal friendship that enabled the Senate to function and serve the country through the incredibly tumultuous times of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Lott contrasted his experience with the situation today in which fear and loathing most accurately describe the relationship between Democrats and Republicans. Whereas Lott had a special hotline installed enabling him to call Daschle directly without having to go through staff, the current Senate delegation leaders hardly speak to each other. Friendships across party lines, once essential to the legislative process, are now increasingly rare, as senators and members of Congress fly home to their districts each Thursday night rather than living together around D.C. Reaching across the aisle is seen as a betrayal of party loyalty. Compromise is a dirty word while ideological purity is the highest ideal.

As comfortable as it might be in these like-minded silos, change cannot happen when we only talk to people with whom we agree.

Lott's remarks got me thinking about the importance of dialogue in our political system. Politics have become so polarized that too often we don't even engage with people who disagree with us. Recently, one of my friends from graduate school posted on his Facebook page declaring that anyone planning to vote for Ted Cruz or Donald Trump for president should "unfriend him" because "we really don't have anything to say to one another." I was struck by how many of his Facebook friends agreed with him and applauded his sentiments. No one offered a dissenting view. Too often, both sides have walled themselves off in an echo-chamber where only like opinions are heard or read. People curate their news sources and social media feeds to avoid being exposed to opposing views.  As comfortable as it might be in these like-minded silos, change cannot happen when we only talk to people with whom we agree.

This principle is at the root of our recently announced partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on a racial equity grant program. With support from the Kellogg Foundation, we are working to develop and fund public humanities programs that shine a light on the history of racism and its lingering impact on Mississippi today. The MHC has long supported such programs, but with the support of the Kellogg Foundation, we are able to expand these efforts. Our challenge is to reach Mississippians who may have never heard of the term "racial equity" and who may not even agree with its underlying premises. If we only fund projects that reach "the usual suspects," then we will fail to reach our overall goals for the program.

As a historian, I know well that social change has never been easy in Mississippi, and that racial equity will not be achieved by this one grant program alone. But our hope is that these programs will get people talking to each other and that this dialogue will transcend the silos too many of us live in. Only through a civil, historically informed discussion about our past can Mississippians come together to solve the problems we continue to face. We may not always agree politically, but we need to talk to each other. For the past 44 years, the Mississippi Humanities Council has helped foster such conversations, and we look forward to continuing this role during these increasingly tumultuous times.
Timothy Lampkin
We are pleased to announce that Timothy E. Lampkin has joined the Mississippi Humanities Council as a part-time outreach coordinator. Lampkin's primary responsibility will be the newly established Racial Equity Humanities Grant Program, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. He will work with community groups and institutions around the state to develop public humanities programs that address the history and legacy of racial discrimination in Mississippi.
Lampkin brings a wealth of experience in community development, entrepreneurship and creative placemaking. He is CEO of Lampkin Consulting Group LLC, which provides grant writing, project design/management, small business coaching and event support to various entities. He works to establish partnerships and projects with nonprofits, municipalities, universities and entrepreneurs. Lampkin is also the CEO/co-founder of Higher Purpose Co., a social enterprise designed to connect, inspire and educate minority millennials living in rural communities. Lampkin has a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Mississippi Valley State University and master's degrees from Delta State University and Bellevue University. He is currently pursuing a doctorate of education in adult and lifelong learning from the University of Arkansas.
Lampkin is a passionate advocate for rural America and is committed to the Mississippi Delta. He frequently presents on topics related to community development, creative placemaking and entrepreneurship across the nation. He was recently invited to the White House for the Rural Placemaking Convening to share his insight and knowledge with national stakeholders. Lampkin has been featured in the Advocate-New Orleans, Clarksdale Press Register, New Orleans City Business and the Huffington Post.
"We couldn't be more excited to have Tim join the Humanities Council team," says Executive Director Stuart Rockoff. "His commitment to Mississippi and extensive experience working with nonprofit organizations in the Delta will help ensure that the Racial Equity Humanities Grant Program has a significant impact around the state." Lampkin sees this project as closely connected to his work in creative placement and community development in the Delta. "It is truly an honor to work with the Mississippi Humanities Council on this new initiative," he says. "We have an abundance of rich culture and history across our state. However, I believe we have to continue working on ways to heal and grow. This project will support local organizations who want to implement public programs focused on racial equity. We have an amazing opportunity to move the conversation forward regarding inclusion and diversity. I am excited to utilize my experience in community development to establish new relationships, support our existing partners, and enhance the place we call home."
Lampkin will be based out of Clarksdale, but will do work statewide. For more information about the Racial Equity Humanities Grant program, contact Lampkin at
The Historic Natchez Foundation hosted a kickoff party  May 5 to celebrate the arrival of the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit "Hometown Teams" to Natchez. In the spirit of all things sports, the kickoff featured a concession stand with popcorn and beer, as well as other ballpark treats such as hot dogs, nachos and "Frito pies." In addition to the Smithsonian exhibit, the Historic Natchez Foundation incorporated sports memorabilia from Natchez residents that will be on display as part of the exhibit, as well. The kickoff event gave local visitors a chance to view the exhibit for the first time.

For those who did not make it to the kickoff, Hometown Teams will be on display in Natchez through June 26. As part of the exhibit, the Historic Natchez Foundation will host a variety of public programs related to sports in Natchez and Mississippi.

Hometown Teams is part of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum on Main Street program, through which the Smithsonian seeks to bring high-quality exhibits to small towns throughout the country. Hometown Teams continues that tradition by examining the role of sports in our culture and its important place in our history. The exhibit, which will remain in Mississippi for the remainder of 2016, will travel to four more sites throughout the state after it leaves Natchez in June. For a complete calendar of Hometown Teams sites and programs, visit our website.
With support from a Mississippi Humanities Council grant, the Natchez Opera's 2016 Southern Musical Theatre Conference, scheduled May 21 and 22 at the Historic Natchez Foundation, 108 S. Commerce Street, in Natchez, will be open to the public. Through multi-media talks, panel discussions and a full-length production of Show Boatparticipants will learn the history behind American historical theatre and how Show Boat, in particular, changed American musical theatre.

Lecturer John Kenrick "pulls back the curtain and introduces audiences and students to the fascinating people behind the show business legends with a fresh and often irreverent sense of humor that makes the past accessible and fascinating," says Dr. Jay Dean, artistic director for the Natchez Festival of Music.

Audiences will also learn details of the life of Mississippi-born Ruby Elzy, who was among the earliest African Americans to gain fame in operatic theatre. David E. Weaver, who wrote Black Diva of the Thirties: The Life of Ruby Elzy, will lecture on Elzy's exceptional talent and her contribution to American music. Born in abject poverty in Pontotoc, MS, her father abandoned the family when she was five, leaving her mother to raise four small children. Ruby first sang publicly at the age of four and even in childhood dreamed of a career on the stage. Good fortune struck when a visiting professor, overwhelmed upon hearing her beautiful voice at Rust College arranged for her to study music at Ohio State University. Later, on a Rosenwald Fellowship, she enrolled at the Juilliard School in New York City. After more than 800 performances in Porgy and Bess, she set her sights on a huge goal, to sing in grand opera. While she was preparing for her debut in the title role of Verdi's Aida, tragedy struck. While undergoing routine surgery to remove a benign tumor, Ruby Elzy died. She was only thirty-five. Had she lived, she would have been one of the first black artists to appear in grand opera.

More information about the Southern Musical Theatre Conference may be found at
On Wednesday, June 15, 1966 at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the Meredith March Against Fear arrived in Grenada, MS. The event kicked off five months of marches, demonstrations, boycotts and protests, known as the Grenada Freedom Movement, challenging the local community to live up to the promises of equality and justice for all people. In September that year, integration of Grenada's public schools began. Local response was violent.

Beginning on June 15, 2016, the Grenada-based racial justice group, Activists With a Purpose, will begin a summer-long commemoration of that fraught summer by hosting panel discussions, public forums and workshops to examine the legacies of that difficult period 50 years ago and to envision a way forward as a united community. Commemorative events will include a walk from the entrance of the city to Belle Flower Church at the site of the Church's Civil Rights historical marker, a ceremony recognizing participants in the movement of 1966, art and photo displays and book exhibits.

For more information, please contact Activists With a Purpose, 662-809-0113 or
Mississippi Moments is a public radio show highlighting the oral history collections of the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi. These interview excerpts cover a wide range of topics on the Mississippi experience. Mississippi Moments is a product of the Mississippi Oral History Project, funded by the State Legislature through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The MHC partners with the Center for Oral History to produce this engaging radio show.

In addition to being broadcast each weekday on Mississippi Public Broadcasting through its statewide radio network at 12:30 pm, the show is also available as a podcast, so listeners can enjoy hearing Mississippi's voices at their leisure. Ross Walton, who puts the show together for the Center for Oral History, just announced that the podcast version of Mississippi Moments reached its 100,000th download in April 2016. Congratulations to all involved for this landmark achievement.

The podcast can be downloaded on ITunes or at

The Mississippi Humanities Council is happy to announce two new speakers to its Speakers Bureau Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott and Dr. Otis W. Pickett.

Dr. Shennette
Shennette Garrett-Scott, a scholar of black women's history who teaches at the Un iversity of Mississippi, offers a lecture entitled Everything that is Mean, Damnable and Cursed: Minnie Geddings Cox and the Indianola Affair. In 1891, Minnie Geddings Cox became the first African-American woman appointed federal postmaster in Mississippi. In December 1902, threats against Cox's life led her to resign. President Theodore Roosevelt refused to accept her resignation and closed the town's post office. The Indianola Affair, as the event was known, sparked the first major national debate since Reconstruction about race, states' rights and federal power. Garrett-Scott's presentation reconsiders the Indianola Affair and the woman at its center. Extralegal violence, political repression, economic downturn, racial backlash, cooperation and resistance-these all figure in that story. The presentation highlights the larger cultural, political and economic forces that resonated through and far beyond the early twentieth-century Mississippi Delta, forces that continue to shape and be shaped by our understandings and uses of the past.

Dr. Otis Pickett
Otis W. Pickett, who teaches history at Mississippi College and at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, lectures on Rethinking Mass Incarceration for a Better Way Forward, a brief introduction of the current state of incarceration in America and Mississippi. Pickett shares the long history of incarceration in Mississippi, beginning with the institution of slavery, the first jails in Natchez and Jackson, the black codes and the convict lease system in the late nineteenth century. He describes the shift in the state's history for prison reform to penitentiaries like Parchman at the turn of the twentieth century. Finally, he examines incarceration and punishment through the Jim Crow era and the use of lynching, imprisonment during the Civil Rights movement and the modern day situation of private, for-profit prisons in Mississippi, and provides examples of ways we can begin to, as a society, rethink the prison space through programs such as the Prison to College Pipeline. He demonstrates how providing small investments in education has tremendous results in reducing recidivism, enhancing re-entry and lowering the violence level of incarcerated spaces.

Please visit the Speakers Bureau page on the Mississippi Humanities Council website for a full listing of available speakers and topics.
After the tremendous success of last year's inaugural Mississippi Book Festival, organizers are planning an even bigger event this year, which will take place in and around the State Capitol on August 20 th . Once again, the Mississippi Humanities Council is pleased to be a sponsor and part of the planning team. We are especially excited to partner with the Book Festival as part of the Pulitzer Campfires Initiative to celebrate the centennial of the most prestigious awards in American literature.

Mississippi author, Richard Ford.
Book Festival will feature two separate sessions in conjunction with the Pulitzer Campfires Initiative. "A Conversation with Richard Ford" will feature the acclaimed Mississippi-born writer whose novel Independence Day won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1996. A second session will explore the career of William Faulkner, who won the Pulitzer twice for his novels A Fable and The Reivers .

To mark the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes, the Pulitzer Board created the Campfires Initiative in partnership with the Federation of State Humanities Councils. Support comes from grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Pulitzer Prize Board. The Pulitzer Board awarded the Mississippi Humanities Council a $20,000 grant to support public programs related to the prizes throughout 2016.

In addition to the Pulitzer sessions, the 2016 Mississippi Book Festival will feature authors and panels on a wide array of subjects and an increased number of children's activities so the entire family can enjoy this "literary lawn party." Visit for more details about this year's event.
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