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Millsaps Hosts National Endowment for the Humanities Workshops on Jackson's Civil Rights History

August 9, 2013

 

The complex intersections of race and power, cultural change and resistance, and institutions and individuals took on new meaning for 80 teachers and librarians during the "One Place, One Time: Jackson, Mississippi, 1963," workshops at Millsaps College in July.

"For more than 25 years I've read about civil rights history," said Fara Wolfson, a teacher at Marblehead Veterans Middle School in Salem, Mass. "Millsaps College and the National Endowment for the Humanities gave me the opportunity to come here and learn more. It's been very transformative."

 


Minnie Watson, curator of the Medgar Evers Home and Museum (left), speaks to workshop participants about crime scene photos after Medgar Evers' assasination

 

Co-directed by Millsaps faculty members Dr. Suzanne Marrs and Dr. Stephanie Rolph, the workshops coincided with the 50th anniversary of the murder of Medgar Evers, a native Mississippian and NAACP field secretary and focused on the year 1963 in Jackson.

The National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding to the College and the Eudora Welty Foundation for the two week-long "Landmarks of American History and Culture" Workshops.

Because of Eudora Welty's powerful response to Evers' murder, expressed in her short story "Where Is The Voice Coming From?," the Eudora Welty Foundation was a natural partner in hosting the workshops..

"She was horrified by the murder," said Marrs, a Welty scholar. "She wrote the story immediately and it was printed in The New Yorker just three weeks later. They had to edit it over the phone."

Workshop participants visited the Welty House, the Margaret Walker Alexander Center, the Medgar Evers Home and Museum and Tougaloo College.

 


Workshop participant taking a photo of the kitchen and bullet marks at the Medgar Evers Home and Museum

 

Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers, spoke to the group about her family, her children and her return to Mississippi after moving to California after her husband's death. Civil rights activist and Millsaps graduate the Rev. Edwin King discussed the roles Millsaps and Tougaloo College played during the civil rights movement. Michael Vinson Williams, biographer of Medgar Evers, provided a dynamic lecture about Medgar Evers.

Clarion-Ledger reporter and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Jerry Mitchell, shared the role his Clarion-Ledger coverage played in bringing to trial Byron de la Beckwith, who was convicted in 1994 of killing Medgar Evers, and Edgar Ray Killen, who was convicted of manslaughter in 2005 for the death of three civil rights workers in 1964 in Philadelphia, Miss.

The workshop attracted a mix of educators from across the country, some of whom visited Mississippi for the first time.

Rena Pierce-Wilson, a high school U.S. history teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, N.J., said the workshop not only taught her more about the civil rights movement but erased her misconceptions that dated to the 1950s about Mississippi.

 


First week participants with their instructors

 

"This has been the most exuberant learning experience of my life," she said. "I leave with so much knowledge. I want to share with my students what I learned while I was here."

Joe Deffner, an English teacher at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., said he accompanies students on an annual trip with the theme, "Struggle for Freedom," to Washington, D.C. where they visit Arlington Cemetery and the grave of Medgar Evers,  "I've always had a strong interest in Medgar Evers," he said. "I wanted to understand his life in the context of the civil rights movement. Just being in the place where all these things happened is very powerful."

Genevieve Navin, a 2011 Millsaps graduate, plans to introduce her first-grade students at Alice Terny Elementary in Sheridan, Colo., to the ideas of equality, standing up for what is right and other truths that Medgar Evers upheld.

 


Second week participants with their instructors

 

"Being with other teachers was helpful and learning about their approaches to teaching this subject matter was helpful," she said "We've had a lot of discussion about how to do that."

Cordelia Hayes Goodrey, a teacher at Clinton High School, said that last year she used The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters and Speeches in her English III class.

"I live in Jackson yet I had never visited the Medgar Evers home," she said. "I wanted to find out as much as I could about him and the workshop allowed me to do that. Being able to meet other educators and share with them was important, too."