Gainesville, FL—During the week of September 17 through September 22, the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) at UF will return to the Mississippi Delta to continue research on the civil rights movement in Mississippi with veteran civil rights activists and leading scholars of the Mississippi campaign for equal rights. SPOHP will bring a research team of UF graduate and undergraduate students to continue collaboration with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization to conduct oral history interviews in the historic Mississippi Delta region. The research team will focus on uncovering the movement’s origins and researching its impact, as well as documenting contemporary legacies in a region that gave birth to one of the most vibrant social movements in American history.
This year marks the 6th anniversary of SPOHP’s Mississippi Delta research trip. SPOHP will take a team of fifteen University of Florida researchers to the region to explore the Delta’s tumultuous past and contemporary social problems. On the way, the group will stop in Tallahassee, Florida to spend an afternoon with Mrs. Laura Dixie, an organizer of the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott and a lifetime civil rights and labor activist. Mrs. Dixie will discuss the life of the Rev. C.K. Steele, Patricia Stephens Due and other key Florida movement activists from the 1950s and 1960s.
This year, SPOHP is continuing a partnership with the McComb Legacies Project in the McComb School District. The Legacies Project is a collaborative effort of the district and community members of the Local History Advisory Committee who are committed to the research, documentation, and sharing of McComb’s history. The Legacies Project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in a grant to “Teaching for Change” that provides students with the opportunities to explore the history of the Civil Rights Movement and labor history during the school day and after school. Last year, the students produced a documentary called “The Voting Rights Struggle,” which won numerous awards and advanced to the national level of the National History Day competition. Legacies Project and SPOHP students will conduct oral history interviews together in McComb before departing for the Delta the following day.
While in the Delta, SPOHP will conduct oral history interviews and host workshops on social justice issues at locations in the region that are annual stops for the research trip, including the Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights Museum in Belzoni and the Sunflower County Freedom Project in Sunflower, Mississippi, as well as others in Cleveland and Glendora. Student researchers will have the opportunity to interviews and learn from seasoned public history advocates from varied backgrounds. These long-standing relationships are crucial for SPOHP to have opportunities to work within communities.
The capstone of SPOHP’s agenda in the Delta is a public history panel at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, which focuses on the legacies of the civil rights movement in the Delta. This panel will be held on the evening of September 19 at 6:00 p.m. in the Jacob Conference Center. Each year, the panel invites movement veterans, historians, educators, and area youth to discuss the importance of studying struggles for democracy as well as the contemporary lessons in civic engagement that can be drawn from organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
The theme of this year’s panel is “Violence, Non-Violence, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” Panelists will discuss the various forms of non-violent direct action taken up by civil rights veterans to bring voting rights to all Americans, and the violent backlash of vigilantes, white supremacists, and organized mobs that resulted. Professor Akinyele Umoja of Georgia State University will be a panelist at the event, speaking on his acclaimed new book, “We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement.” The event will include a book signing and singing of Freedom Songs. Teachers, students, and community activists who attend the panel will receive free educational DVD’s on the histories of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and in Florida. Last year, the Delta State panel drew more than 200 audience participants, the majority of whom were public school students.
Interviews collected during this research trip will be deposited in a publicly accessible archive at the University of Florida as well as with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization in Mississippi for educational use. In December 2013, SPOHP students from the trip will present their reflections in a public panel at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville. In addition, students will produce brief educational audio podcasts of their interviews when they return to Gainesville. These podcasts will be featured on SPOHP’s popular iTunes portal. Major themes of past podcasts include: the role of music in movement organizing, women’s contributions to the civil rights movement & the connection between local organizing and national politics. All of these materials will be made accessible to area schoolteachers.
This research trip is co-sponsored by Mr. William De Grove, the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, UF African American Studies program, UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, UF Office of Research, UF Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, The Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization, The Diversity Advisory Committee at Delta State University & The Sam Block Civil Rights Organization.
The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida
September 11, 2013