Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mississippi University for Women African-American history class to interview Columbus residents

COLUMBUS, Miss. -- The African-American history class at Mississippi University for Women is going out of the classroom this spring to interview local people about their participation in the post-World War II civil rights movement.

Eleven students plan to conduct about a dozen interviews before the first week of May. An audio file of each interview will be housed permanently at the local History Department of the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. In an effort to push beyond a focus on national leaders of the civil rights movement, students will learn from grassroots people what the racial climate of Columbus was like and how residents strove to make it better.

Recent events such as the Arab Spring serve as a reminder of the enormous impact the civil rights movement has had and continues to have on America and the world. As Mississippi considers the construction of a civil rights museum, there is increasing awareness of the importance of preserving this aspect of local history.

Dr. Erin Kempker, who teaches the African-American history class, said the point of the project was to “uncover the backbone of the movement or the ‘local people’ who made national change possible.” As those active in the 1950s and 1960s get older, these efforts are more pressing than ever. The class is indebted to Susie Shelton who helped connect students to residents who could be interviewed.

Students in the class are eager to participate, in part because so little is known about the local civil rights movement.

Diane Thompson and Jaleesa FieldsJaleesa Fields, a senior history major, said it will begin to build “knowledge about the civil rights movement and provide first-hand accounts from those who participated in it.”

Cydney Archie, a senior communications major, is happy to be doing history instead of just reading it.

“Reading what people say does have its effect, but listening to someone's story, in their own words...has so much more meaning,” she said.

That the interviews will reveal “hidden truth” about the past excites Brittany Brown, a junior English major.

Leah Harris, a freshman social sciences major, agrees that there is “unheard history” and through the project “we are making it heard.”

Archivist and MUW alumna Mona K. Vance is pleased to join the effort.

“As the repository for Lowndes County history, the library is honored to be a part of this project. The histories that the students record will preserve the local voices of those who participated in or witnessed one of the 20th century’s largest cultural movements,” she said.

Mississippi University for Women Office of Public Affairs 1100 College St - MUW 1623 Columbus, Ms 39701-5800 Telephone: (662) 329-7119 Fax Number: (662) 329-7123

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