Focus on the Humanities
Mississippi Humanities Council Newsletter - October 2016
Director's Message
Stuart Rockoff
Executive Director
We in the humanities world are often on the defensive. A recent op-ed in the Washington Post was headlined "Meet the Parents Who Won't Let Their Children Study Literature," which argued that many people are pushing their college-age children to focus on science and technical courses to ensure they will find good paying jobs after they graduate. From this perspective, the humanities are a luxury-at best, an interesting diversion from the need to find a financially sustainable career, and at worst, a waste of time.

It shouldn't surprise you that I do not agree with this sentiment. But two recent MHC-supported programs have reiterated to me how crucial the humanities are to us as individuals and as a society. In August, I attended a graduation ceremony for students who participated in a Prison-to-College Pipeline course at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for women taught by Dr. Otis Pickett of Mississippi College and Dr. Stephanie Rolph of Millsaps.

Based on the readings and seminar format of the class, this was an upper-level or even graduate-level course. During the graduation ceremony, students read from their class papers, offering sophisticated analyses of how race, class, and gender shaped the experience of southern women. At the end, the students were presented with a graduation gift, a paperback copy of an anthology of writings by Ida B. Wells. The emotion the inmates expressed upon receiving this book was simply incredible. Any college professor would be overwhelmed to have students who were so passionate and engaged with their course material.

After the ceremony, I learned that students had to read three or four academic articles a week and write weekly response papers. This was a summer course, and the prison (aside from a few buildings), is not air-conditioned. During the day, lights were often turned off in the cells to keep the temperature down. These students did their reading and writing for the course in spaces that were often unlit and without air conditioning when outside temperatures were well over 90 degrees. According to their professors, the students were desperately hungry for any education, and were among the most committed and thoughtful students they have ever taught.

The prison education initiatives that the MHC supports get to the very heart of the importance and purpose of the humanities. For the students we serve through this program, the humanities can offer a life of reflection and meaning and a pathway to a better life.

The humanities can also guide us through dialogue over difficult subjects. Last month, we hosted a public forum about our state flag. Our goal was to have a historically informed, civil discourse about an issue that usually generates high emotions. We worked hard to ensure both sides of the issue were reflected on the panel and in the audience. While we were a little nervous before the event, it was a tremendous success. People listened respectfully to opposing viewpoints. We may not have changed many minds- that wasn't our goal. Rather, we were able to foster a better understanding of the differing perspectives on our flag. One attendee later praised the program on Facebook:

Tonight a truly amazing event took place in Jackson...In the room were those whose white ancestors fought for the Confederacy and those whose black ancestors walked off southern plantations to join the Union army. The presentations and the conversation that followed were incredible. Some were organized, researched, and prepared and others were impromptu, reactionary, and raw, but all were sincere and heartfelt...I was struck by how wonderfully diverse and civil this conversation was...Tonight we didn't settle the flag issue, but all sides were heard and I have a renewed appreciation for the freedom of assembly. Mississippi, my home, is a special place.

I left the program in similar spirits, optimistic about our state and convinced of the importance of the humanities in helping us address the complicated issues that continue to divide us. For us as Mississippians, the humanities are not irrelevant or just a luxury- they are a roadmap to how we can work together to improve our state.
MHC Speakers Bureau member Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott will discuss "The Indianola Affiar" in Indianola during the October First Tuesdays program. 
On Tuesday, November 1, public libraries across the state will offer the third in the MHC's four-part "First Tuesdays" speaker series. The MHC has partnered with public libraries in Tupelo, Indianola, Brookhaven and Pascagoula to offer free monthly programs from the MHC's Speakers Bureau throughout fall 2016.

November's First Tuesdays programs include Malcolm White's program "How Tamales Came to Mississippi" in Tupelo at 6 p.m., Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott's program "Everything That is Mean, Damnable and Cursed: Minnie Geddings Cox and the Indianola Affair" in Indianola at 5 p.m., Jennifer Baughn's program "Mississippi's New Capitol" in Brookhaven at 6 p.m. and Rebecca Tuuri's program "Behind Every Good Man is a Civil Rights Heroine" in Pascagoula at 6 p.m.

The First Tuesdays series is designed to highlight speakers from the MHC's 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
Ideas on Tap's September panel speaks to a packed house. From left to right: Stephanie Rolph, Marc Allen, Stuart Rockoff (moderator), Wilma Mosley Clopton and Otis Pickett
As part of its popular Ideas on Tap program, the MHC hosted a panel discussion on the Mississippi state flag titled "What Does Our State Flag Symbolize?" on September 20. The program, hosted at Hal & Mal's in Jackson, looked at the state flag from a historical perspective, as well as the current controversy surrounding its continued use in the state.

The panel discussion was moderated by MHC Executive Director Dr. Stuart Rockoff and featured thoughts from four panelists who each offered varying perspectives on the flag. Dr. Stephanie Rolph (Millsaps College) presented the historical context of the flag's use in the state, while Marc Davis (Sons of Confederate Veterans) spoke in defense of the flag and Dr. Wilma Mosley Clopton and Dr. Otis Pickett (Mississippi College) each made cases for changing the state flag. After comments from the panelists, discussion was opened up to audience members, who were welcome to share their thoughts on the flag.

The entire event remained remarkably civil, with people sharing their thoughts in a respectful and thoughtful manner. If you missed the event but would still like to see it, it is available to view in its entirety on YouTube.

Future Ideas on Tap programs include October 25's discussion about the Voting Rights Act Mississippi. For more information on Ideas on Tap, contact Caroline Gillespie at
Humanities Teacher Award Lectures throughout October and November
  Each year during October and November, thirty Humanities Teacher Award lectures take place around Mississippi, funded by the Mississippi Humanities Council as part of a national celebration of the arts and humanities. These awards recognize outstanding humanities educators at every college and university in the state. The awardees are asked to give a lecture on a humanities subject of their choice. All programs are free and open to the public. For a full list of award winners and their scheduled lectures, please visit our website.
Delta State University's local Hometown Teams exhibit features several DSU athletic artifacts.
The MHC-sponsored Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit, Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America, officially opened at the Chadwick-Dixon Field House at Delta State University September 29 in conjunction with DSU's Heritage Bell football game. During the exhibit's stay in Cleveland, Delta State University will host a weekly lecture series including Dr. Charles Westmoreland's discussion entitled "Fleeting, Fickly Sports: Segregation, Intercollegiate Athletics and Social Change in MS, 1954-1977 at noon Tuesday, October 25 and Donny Whitehead speaking on "Greenwood Baseball Legends and Lore" at noon Tuesday, November 1. 

This national exhibit is complemented by a local one, which opened September 15 at the Charles W. Capps, Jr. Archives and Museum's main gallery, and an ancillary sports exhibit on display at the Cleveland Public Library. The Hometown Teams exhibit will remain on display in Cleveland through Friday, November 11. For more information, please call 662-846-4781 or e-mail
The Chickasaw Inkana Foundation, created in 2014 to preserve, protect and interpret Chickasaw history and culture in the Chickasaw Homeland, will host an inaugural festival October 28 at Fairpark in Tupelo. The Mississippi Humanities Council awarded a program grant to the Foundation to support the festival, which will feature approximately 50 Chickasaw Nation cultural demonstrators, in regalia, displaying traditional crafts, food, language, music, dancing and stickball. Chickasaw Country-based music group, Injunuity, with Native American flute-centric roots, will perform throughout the day, and award-winning scholars will deliver talks on various aspects of Chickasaw history and culture.

The Chickasaw Homeland includes parts of present-day states Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. The aim of the festival, according to Brad Prewitt, executive director of the Chickasaw Inkana Foundation, is to create greater awareness of the tribe and its history.

For information about the Chickasaw Inkana Foundation and the upcoming Chickasaw Celebration in Tupelo, visit
"The Parchman Ordeal: The Untold Story" chronicles the arrest and abuse of more than 150 young African American men and women in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1965. These brave Civil Rights activists attempted to march from their churches to protest segregation, unfair treatment and obstruction of voting rights. They were arrested and taken to the maximum security cells at the Mississippi Correctional Facility in Parchman. For a half-century, they had kept their ordeal private, even secret. Only recently have some come forward to share their experience to a team of local interviewers and oral historians who were awarded a grant by the Mississippi Humanities Council.

"They never did march," says documentary filmmaker Mark LaFrancis. "Instead, they were herded onto buses and into paddy wagons. They were taken to the Natchez City Auditorium where they were held for hours." Some were taken to local jails, but others were transported to the state penitentiary in Parchman where they were abused and humiliated, LaFrancis says. 

For more than three years, Mark LaFrancis, Darrell White and Robert Morgan have been interviewing survivors and gathering images and film footage and writing the script for the hour-long documentary. Natchez musician Alvin Shelby has written an original score for the film. The film premiered October 6 in the Natchez City Auditorium with approximately 300 people in attendance, including survivors of the Parchman Ordeal and their family members. To learn more about the Parchman Ordeal, visit
October 20-21, 2016
Claiming Histories: Engaging the Past through Memorialization of Slave Past
Rust College, Mississippi's oldest black college, is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Founded in 1866 in Holly Springs, it has a rich history of biracial collaboration between benevolent organizations who came south to help African Americans adjust in to their new lives as freedmen and women. To commemorate its sesquicentennial, Rust College will host "Claiming Histories: Engaging the Past through Memorialization of Slave Past" to honor the slave past of Mississippians as well the work of the Freedmen's Aid Society and the Freedmen's Bureau. Supported by an MHC grant, the commemoration will examine the significance of Rust College's founding and other events that followed emancipation, and the college's ongoing interracial collaboration in institution-building. In honor of the spirit of this life-changing work, Rust is partnering with Gracing the Table (GTT), a Holly Springs-based community discussion group on the topics of slavery and racism, to memorialize and consecrate our rich and troubling past. For three years, Rust has partnered with GTT in its annual fall libation ceremony and discussion. The ceremony, an honoring of enslaved ancestors, has become GTT's signature event. Heard Auditorium, Rust College, Holly Springs, MS.

October 26-29 2016
Native American Days
Native American Days 2016 is a celebration of Southeastern Native American culture & traditions held at Winterville Mounds that is free to the public. It last four days ( October 26-29, 2016) starting at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 2:00 p.m. The primary focus is on Native American culture bearers whose traditional stories, songs and dances will be expanded on it an archaeological context. On the park grounds will be food vendors selling dishes that include at least three traditional Native American foods, Native American arts and craft vendors and demonstrators, and flint knappers. In addition, stickball, chunkey, and other Native American games are available to the public on request, as are ancient weapons demonstrations (archery, atlatl,etc.). There is a children's activities area where children will be supervised to make and color paper-headbands, string beads into necklaces, and make one or more other items associated with Native Americans. Winterville Mounds, Greenville, MS.
October 27, 2016
Holtzclaw Series Continues
A decorated author and historian on race and class issues in U.S. history will address the next installment of the Holtzclaw Lecture Series, sponsored in part by the Humanities Department at Hinds Community College's Utica Campus. Jacqueline Jones, chair of the History and Ideas Department at the University of Texas, will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Gore Art Gallery at Mississippi College on a chapter of her 2013 book, "A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America." The chapter is dedicated to William H. Holtzclaw, who founded the Utica Normal and Industrial Institute in 1903 and is the Utica Campus today. The lecture itself is titled "A Dangerous Thing: Black Schooling in William Holtzclaw's Mississippi." Jones will be signing copies of the book at 6:30 p.m., before the lecture. This program is sponsored by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

November 15-16, 2016
"Icons of Statehood" Travels to Olive Branch
On December 10, 1817, Mississippi became the nation's twentieth state. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History is touring an original U.S. flag to include a star for the new state, along with an original copy of Mississippi's first constitution. The touring exhibit commemorates the state's approaching bicentennial. In partnership with nine local institutions across the state, these artifacts will be accompanied by public programs examining the state's 200 years of  history. The exhibit and programs are open to the public and include interpretive displays, presentations and children's activities over a two-day period at each site. The exhibit will visit the B.J. Chain Public Library in Olive Branch November 15 and 16, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

November 17, 2016
Freedom to Vote: Perspectives from 1900-2017
Freedom to Vote is a three part lecture series that will examine voting in the United States for women and African Americans and the current trends in voting. In the first lecture, a representative from the League of Women Voters will explain the suffragettes and their journey to the passing of the 19th amendment. Next, a political expert will analyze and discuss the results of the 2016 Presidential election of the eve of the inauguration. The series will conclude by connecting the words of poets and music of the 1906's to the civil rights movement and Freedom Summer. Hancock Performing Arts Center, 6 p.m.
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