Focus on the Humanities
Mississippi Humanities Council Newsletter - November 2016
Director's Message
Stuart Rockoff
Executive Director

I attended our annual Federation of State Humanities Councils conference in Utah last week. I always look forward to the conference as I get a chance to visit with my colleagues from other state councils and learn about some of the exciting public humanities programs going on around the country. As you might imagine, this year's conference was dominated by our recent presidential election. New panels were hastily assembled to address the concerns that many in the humanities community had after last Tuesday's results. One in particular was basically an "open mic" session in which participants expressed worry about the future of the humanities and of America itself. Emotions were raw.

What was apparent to me as I listened to these comments was how isolated we are from each other. Liberals were shocked by the results because their social networks and social media feeds are uniformly liberal. While  Donald Trump's election has emboldened the racist and anti-Semitic fringe, and we must all work to keep them on the fringe, I know enough good people who voted Republican to know that these extremists do not represent the party. This cultural (and often geographic) separation between "red-state" and "blue-state" America creates an environment where an election result can force the losing side into an emotional tailspin in which they see the future of America as under threat and the winning party as illegitimate. These divisions are not healthy for our republic.

Yes, we have political differences, and we will continue to contest them through often bitter elections, but at the end of the day, we are still Mississippians and Americans with shared values that hold us together as a people.

The Mississippi Humanities Council is not a political organization-there are plenty of those of both sides. Instead, we try to bridge these gaps and foster civil dialogue about where we have been and where we should go as a state and as a country. I am quite proud of our programs, like Ideas on Tap, which has explored divisive issues such as our state flag and voting rights in a civil, thoughtful manner, with both sides represented in the audience and on the panel. We are planning a similar panel discussion November 29 th at Hal & Mal's in Jackson on the aftermath of the election. We hope you will join us. Our goal is for people to come away from that discussion with a greater sense of unity. Yes, we have political differences, and we will continue to contest them through often bitter elections, but at the end of the day, we are still Mississippians and Americans with shared values that hold us together as a people.

As we enter Mississippi's bicentennial year in 2017, we hope to foster this shared identity through an exciting partnership with Visit Mississippi. Thanks to support from the state legislature through the Mississippi Development Authority, we will be offering a special bicentennial grant program that will fund local community celebrations and explorations of our state's rich yet complicated history. In addition to looking back, we encourage organizations to use these bicentennial funds to look ahead, to envision how we can best move forward as a state. The guidelines are a bit looser than our regular grant program, and we will be offering monthly deadlines beginning December 1. Our hope is that these grants will spark a public conversation about who we are as Mississippians. Only through such discussions will we be able to transcend our differences. At a time when many are feeling hopeless, this gives me hope.
Visit Mississippi and MHC Partner on Bicentennial Year Grants Program
In conjunction with Mississippi's bicentennial year, the Mississippi Humanities Council is partnering with Mississippi Development Authority's Visit Mississippi to oversee the Bicentennial Year Grants Program. The initiative will award up to $10,000 to individual public programs celebrating the state's historic year.

"Mississippi's bicentennial is an unprecedented opportunity to engage locals and visitors alike and to share the Mississippi story," said Governor Phil Bryant. "This grant program will provide resources to bolster our celebration and exploration of Mississippi's 200 years of statehood."

The fund is composed of $500,000, with $50,000 allocated towards administrative and advertising costs. The goal of this grant program is to inspire and empower local organizations throughout Mississippi to develop public programs documenting, interpreting and exploring community culture. Applications will be accepted on a monthly basis, with grant deadlines falling on the first of each month, beginning December 1, 2016, and continuing through November 1, 2017, or until all grant funds are expended.

"The Mississippi Humanities Council is delighted to play a role in supporting and implementing programs and activities exploring the people, places and events which have shaped our state over the past two centuries, inspiring new generations who will lead us forward into our next century," said Dr. Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council.

To be in consideration for the grant, all programs must relate to some aspect of Mississippi history, contemporary culture and the celebration of the state's bicentennial. Categories include, but are not limited to, People and Story, History and Culture, Music and Food, Industry and Entrepreneurship and Outdoors and Recreation.

"The bicentennial is a once in a lifetime opportunity to welcome people from around the globe to enjoy our unique Mississippi experience," said MDA Executive Director Glenn McCullough Jr. "Exceptional projects are already taking shape as we look ahead to 2017."

For more information, including grant guidelines and how to apply, please visit

The Bicentennial Year Grant Program is made possible through the Mississippi Legislature in partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority/Visit Mississippi.
In October, the MHC hosted Dr. William Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, for his first ever visit to Mississippi. Here is Dr. Adams and MHC executive director Stuart Rockoff with blues artist James "Super Chikan" Johnson during a reception at the Clarksdale home of MHC board member Panny Mayfield.
Local sports-related artifacts are part of the Hometown Teams exhibit in Corinth.
  The MHC-sponsored Smithsonian Traveling exhibit, Hometown Teams - How Sports Shape America, is traveling from Delta State University in Cleveland to its final stop in Corinth where it will be hosted by the Crossroads Museum. The exhibit will be on display at the Corinth Public Library beginning Saturday, November 19, and continuing through Friday, December 30. During the exhibit's stay, the Crossroads Museum will offer a local exhibit featuring photos, championship trophies and other local sports-related items.

Grand opening festivities on November 19 at the library will coincide with the Red Green Market on the Crossroads Museum grounds. A lecture series will also be presented at the museum on Tuesday evenings at 6:00 from November 22 through December 20, including a talk by exhibit scholar, Dr. Charles Ross , director of African American Studies at the University of Mississippi, who will speak on "African Americans in Sports from Mississippi." Please visit for a full listing of speakers and topics.

As with all MHC-sponsored events, the Hometown Teams exhibit and all supporting programs and events are free and open to the public.
Missie Meeks received the Humanities Teacher Award this year at Jones County Junior College. Her lecture was entitled "Using Technology to Engage Students."
Humanities Teacher Award lectures continue throughout the state in November. One outstanding humanities educator at each of the state's institutions for higher learning is selected each year for this award, which includes a cash award and special recognition at the Mississippi Humanities Council's annual awards gala in February. These lectures offer Mississippians a unique experience to hear scholarly presentations on a wide range of humanities subjects.  November lectures include:  
Nov. 16 -- Dr. Sheba Jordan, Mississippi Delta Community College, Humanities: Socio-Cultural Theory.
Nov. 17 -- Westley Follett, University of Southern Mississippi (Long Beach), Let's Get Medieval! A Fourteenth-Century Argument of the Liberal Arts.
Nov. 17 --Arnetra Pleas, Holmes Community College, Subtle Protests in the Works of Jupiter Hammon, Phyllis Wheatley and France Harper.
Nov. 19 -- Dr. Stephen Brain, Mississippi State University, Biospheres of Influence: The Creation of Artificial Environments in the Soviet Union and the United States.
On October 27, the MHC's newest program, Ideas on Tap, headed to Cleveland for a special Delta-based program. The event, which was co-sponsored by Rethink Mississippi, Delta State University, and Keep Cleveland Boring, took place at Hey Joe's in downtown Cleveland and attracted members from the surrounding communities and from Delta State University.
The panel focused on the issue of Mississippi's out-migration with a specific focus on the causes and effects of out-migration in Cleveland and the Delta.  Program panelists included Jeremiah Smith, founder of the Rosedale Freedom Project; Sanford Johnson, Deputy Director at Mississippi First; and Will Jacks, a Cleveland native and freelance photographer. Rethink Mississippi's Jake McGraw moderated the panel.
Cleveland will host another Ideas on Tap program in Spring 2017, and Ideas on Tap is currently in the planning phases in several other communities throughout the state for future programs. For more information on Ideas on Tap, contact Caroline Gillespie at

The Mississippi Humanities Council will host a free and open to the public conversation on the presidential election in Jackson November 29. The Ideas on Tap event, "Post-Election America: What Now?," will be held at Hal & Mal's in Jackson from 5:30 pm to 7 pm.

The program panel will feature Austin Barbour, managing director at the Clearwater Group lobbying firm; Cassandra Welchlin, director of Child Care Matters at the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative; and Kenneth Townsend, assistant professor of political science and executive director of the Institute for Civic & Professional Engagement at Millsaps College. The program will be moderated by MHC Executive Director Dr. Stuart Rockoff.

"November 8th's election result caught many people from both parties off guard, and ever since, they have struggled to understand what Donald Trump's election means for the country and the world," said Rockoff. "We are hopeful that this program will encourage people of different political viewpoints to come together and talk to each other about the future of the United States and Mississippi."

Ideas on Tap is a new series from the MHC that seeks to engage Mississippians on compelling subjects in a casual environment. Previous Ideas on Tap programs have explored outmigration among Mississippi's young adults and the meaning of our state flag.

"Our hope is to foster discussions on important issues throughout the state in an informal, fun atmosphere," said MHC program officer Caroline Gillespie.

For more information on Ideas on Tap programming, contact Caroline Gillespie at  
The Mississippi Humanities Council invites nominations for its 2017 Public Humanities Achievement Awards, which honor outstanding contributions in the arena of public humanities.
Nominations will be accepted for Humanities Scholar Award, Humanities Educator Award, Humanities Partner Award, Preserver of Mississippi Culture Award and Cora Norman Award.
The Council began issuing Achievement Awards in 1993 to recognize persons who have supported the Council's work through public programs across the state based in the branches of learning concerned with human thought and relations, such as history, literature, culture, values and ideas. All Mississippians are invited to make nominations for these awards. Nominations are reviewed by a panel, which selects the year's awardees.
"The Public Humanities Achievement Awards bring statewide attention to individuals or institutions in Mississippi that have made significant scholarly contributions to the humanities or who have led exceptional public humanities programming in Mississippi," said Dr. Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council.
All awards will be presented at a gala Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson. Recipients of the 2016 Humanities Teacher Awards, which pay tribute to outstanding faculty in traditional humanities fields, will also be honored at the banquet.
Nominations for Public Humanities Achievement Awards may be made online. For information call 601-432-6752.

Youths with the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center's Wings Performing Arts program in Gulfport, MS, perform a scene from "A Bend in the River." The production and related educational programming is supported by a Mississippi Humanities Council grant. Photo by Austin Wade.
By Tonya Hays, director  Wings Performing Arts
Where could we find a southern story that would engage us and intrigue us?  Something we could work on for months as we created a piece of theatre  that would travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2016? A  story that would challenge all involved to transform and transcend conventional  mores and inspire and empower change?

The answer to these questions came in the form of an article on Trip Advisor
about the National Hansen's Disease Museum in Carville, Louisiana. I immediately
sent the link to my writing partner and he was as excited as I was. Seven months ago we drove down to Carville and embraced the stories of the patients living with a disease long associated with stigma and sin. These patients, in spite of everything, and because of the dedication of the Daughters of Charity and medical pioneers gave a miracle to the world, the cure for leprosy.

After further research and several drafts, the play,  Bend in the River: Louisiana's  Secret People , was accepted by the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In addition, the script was selected by the Orphange, a new play development lab through CoLAB Arts and has had readings in New Brunswick, NJ, and at Theatre 167 in New York City. The response has been overwhelming. People want to know more about the isolated, microcosm of the world in a bend of the Mississippi River that was U.S. Marine Hospital 66.

The creation of this piece is a labor of love. The challenge from the beginning has been, which stories to tell? We read several books, articles and transcribed letters from the Daughters of Charity. And the many phone calls and emails exchanged with Elizabeth Schexnyder have helped provide answers to all of the questions we discovered during the writing process. The result is a script interwoven with American roots music featuring composite characters based on various patients and Daughters of Charity, as well as real people, Dr. Guy Henry Faget and Stanley Stein.

More than anything the play is a story of hope, sacrifice and devotion as the residents of Carville fought for and believed in a cure and educated the world on this misunderstood disease. What we can learn from Carville is that fear and ignorance
give birth to cruelty, prejudice and intolerance. Carville can teach us not to make the same mistakes again but to strive to understand and empathize with others.

A public performance is schedule Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Mary C. O'Keefe Theatre in Ocean Springs. It will also be performed at the Mississippi Theatre Association Festival MLK weekend in Hattiesburg in January, and at the Daughters of Charity Health Center in New Orleans, date TBD. To date, the play has  toured six schools (Gulfport High, Stone High,  St.Stanislaus,  Long Beach High, Pascagoula High and Gautier High) with educational workshops at two of the schools in advance of the show.  Each performance is followed by an audience Q and A, to discuss the history of Hansen's Disease.

For more details please contact Tonya Hays at and or Dustin Ballard at, or visit the Bend in the River Facebook page.
What began as an academic paper for Jim Theres, a graduate student at Jackson State University, became a documentary film about an annual Memorial Day event known as "The 30th of May" in which some 750 Mississippians and Louisianans march over the Mississippi River from Vidalia, LA, to Natchez, MS, in celebration of African American freedom and military service. The Mississippi Humanities Council awarded a grant to support public programming around the film, including two recent public showings in Mississippi and one in Louisiana. The film was recently accepted to compete in the Borrego Springs Film Festival in Borrego Springs, CA, in January 2017.

On Tuesday, December 6, the final programs in the First Tuesdays fall season will take place at four public libraries around the state. The MHC has partnered with public libraries in Tupelo, Indianola, Brookhaven and Pascagoula to offer free monthly programs from the MHC Speakers Bureau throughout fall 2016.
December's First Tuesdays programs include Dr. James Giesen speaking on "Boll Weevil Blues: Cotton and Myth in Mississippi" in Tupelo at 6 p.m., Scott Barretta, "White Blues and African American Stringbands: Mississippi's Creolized Musical Traditions" in Indianola at 5 p.m., Dr. Daphne Chamberlain, " Order that Your Leadership Will Not Die: The NAACP, Youth Activism and the Mississippi Freedom Movement" in Brookhaven at 6 p.m., and Richard Grant, "Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta" in Pascagoula at 6 p.m.

The First Tuesdays series is designed to highlight speakers from the MHC Speakers Bureau and to expand the MHC's reach throughout the state by providing library audiences high-quality humanities programming each month.

For more information on the First Tuesdays program, contact Caroline Gillespie at 601-432-6752 or
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