Since 2008, the Mississippi Freedom Project (MFP) has traveled to the Mississippi Delta annually on a field research trip with undergraduate students, graduate students, and staff to collect oral histories with civil rights veterans and notable residents.
The trip partners with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization and other research allies.
Fieldwork Research Trip History and Background
The annual Mississippi Freedom Project research trip serves to place undergraduate, graduate, and staff researchers in a dynamic environment to gather hands-on experience and knowledge of progressive social movements. As researchers in the Delta, trip participants work with community groups and education programs to collect oral histories with civil rights veterans and notable residents of the Delta, lending the collected oral histories a unique focus on connecting the lessons of civil rights movement organizing with Mississippi’s current social and political climate.
Dr. Stacey White of Mississippi Valley State University, with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization, helps to facilitate interviews and provide research support, with the legendary civil rights veteran and activist Margaret Block, SPOHP’s host and guide in the Delta. The trip is organized by Mississippi Freedom Project Coordinator Sarah Blanc, with Dr. Paul Ortiz.
2015 Research Trip (June 2015)
In June 2015, sixteen SPOHP students and staff traveled to Montgomery, Alabama and Natchez and Indianola, Mississippi for six days to gather interviews for the Mississippi Freedom Project. In Montgomery, the group interviewed staff members at the Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Poverty Law Center. In Natchez, the group presented a public panel entitled “Unfinished Business: Race, Democracy, and the Ongoing Struggle for Civil Rights.”
“I Never Will Forget”
Publication of “I Never Will Forget” (PDF) was co-sponsored in 2014 by UF Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, Center for Undergraduate Research, Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere, Department of History, Milbauer Program in Southern History, African American Studies Program, Phi Alpha Theta chapter, and George A. Smathers Libraries. George A. Smathers Libraries sponsored a mini-grant for MFP from 2013 – 2014, which enabled SPOHP to transcribe 100+ interviews for the reunion book and online archive, and was recognized by the Oral History Association with the Elizabeth B. Mason Award in October 2015.
Annual Sponsors and Community Partnerships
The Mississippi Freedom Project and research trip is sponsored by George A. Smathers Libraries, Mr. William De Grove, Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, UF African American Studies program, UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, UF Office of Research, The Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization & The Sam Block Civil Rights Organization.
SPOHP maintains long-standing partnerships with community organizations in the Delta and around the country in support of the Mississippi Freedom Project, including the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization, McComb Legacies Project, Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center, Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights Museum, Sunflower County Freedom Project, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Museum of African American History in Natchez, Friends of Justice, and others.
For more information about the work of these organizations, please read about MFP partnerships.
Delta Research Trips: 2004, 2008-2014
Dr. Paul Ortiz first traveled to Mississippi at the invitation of Dr. Stacey White and the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization in 2004. Dr. White’s father, Dorsey White, first worked with Dr. Ortiz when he was a doctoral student at Duke University conducting fieldwork “Behind the Veil”, an oral history archive with African Americans in the South.
Together, they worked to organize and schedule oral history interviews with civil rights movement veterans, and returned to the Delta with SPOHP’s first research team in 2008. Since then, SPOHP has organized an annual team of field researchers, including undergraduate students, graduate students, and program staff, to collect interviews and facilitate public workshops and lectures with civil rights movement veterans on the Mississippi Freedom Project research trip.
The first research trip to the Mississippi Delta took place in 2008. Researchers met Margaret Block and Charles McLaurin, Otis Brown, Allen Cooper, Willie Spurlock, Hollis Watkins, Dennis Flannigan, Linda Davis, John Tubbs, Bright Winn, Gloria Dickerson, Margaret Kibbee, Foster King, as well as other activists, for the first time, and visited Mt. Beulah Baptist Church with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization for Freedom Summer reunion celebrations. Photos by Deborah Hendrix.
In 2009, MFP traveled to the Delta and visited the B.B. King Museum, conducting interviews with Dorsey White, McKinley Mack, Emma Golden, David Rushing, Darrell Moore, and more. Researchers also toured historic sites around Indianola and the Delta, including the home of Irene Magruder.
In 2010, MFP researchers interviewed Nathaniel Boclair, Roy Hudson, Gladys Austin, Rosie King, Eddie Steel, Bertha Burres, Willie Knighten, Rev. Bean, and others. Researchers toured Bolivar County and Indianola with Margaret Block, and met Mayor Billy Nowell.
SPOHP held a public panels this year at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, focusing on the legacies of the civil rights movement in the Delta. The panels invited 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. Photos by Deborah Hendrix and Joe Mathis.
In 2011, MFP researchers conducted interviews veterans including Lawrence Guyot, Jr. and residents including Kelvin Williams, who would later be elected the first African American sheriff of Bolivar County since Reconstruction. Researchers also met students at the Sunflower County Freedom Project and interviewed them about their experience with civil rights history and education.
The Delta State panel included Foster King, Steve Rosenthal, Rev. McKinley Mack, Jr., Chris Hexter, Eunice Jenkins Jordan, Margaret Kibbee, Lawrence Guyot, Charles McLaurin.
- Guyot also presented a community organizing workshop to MFP researchers, which is available online on SPOHP’s YouTube account.
In 2012, MFP researchers met Laura Dixie, a lifetime activist and organizer of the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott, at her home in Tallahassee. Researchers also attended several workshops with organizers, including Alan Bean with Friends of Justice and Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons. Researchers visited the home of Amzie Moore, Winterville Mounds, the Sunflower County Freedom Project, and Sumner County Courthouse, where the Emmett Till case was decided, among other sites.
The Delta State panel included civil rights veterans John Due, Margaret Kibbee, Bright Winn, and Dr. Simmons. Researchers interviewed Helen Sims, Bill Chandler, Wardell Watson, Rose Turner, and others.
In 2013, SPOHP visited the home of Ms. Dixie and her son, Sam Jr., for the second time on the annual drive to the Delta. SPOHP partnered with students from the McComb Legacies Project to conduct oral histories in McComb, Mississippi, and in the Delta. Researchers interviewed veterans and students from both McComb Legacies and the Sunflower County Freedom Project.
The Delta State panel featured Dr. Akinyele Umoja, Ron Herd, and Margaret Block.
2014 Freedom Summer Research Trip (June 23-29, 2014)
The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program returned to the Delta for 50th anniversary celebrations at the 1964 Freedom Summer reunions with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization. There, SPOHP presented veterans of the movement with an edited volume of their oral history contributions, “I Never Will Forget (PDF),” and conducted additional interviews. SPOHP also conducted interviews in Natchez with the Museum of African American History and visited the Grand Valley of Natchez Indians. Photos by Justin Dunnavant.
“I Never Will Forget”
Publication of “I Never Will Forget” (PDF) was co-sponsored by UF Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, Center for Undergraduate Research, Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere, Department of History, Milbauer Program in Southern History, African American Studies Program, Phi Alpha Theta chapter, and George A. Smathers Libraries. George A. Smathers Libraries sponsored a mini-grant for MFP from 2013 – 2014, which enabled SPOHP to transcribe 100+ interviews for the reunion book and online archive.
Mississippi Freedom Project alumni students and staff organize yearly public forums at the Civic Media Center about their research, present at panels and conferences based on MFP oral histories, and have also written theses, including “Pickets in the Land of Catfish” by then-master’s student Candice Ellis and “Showcase of Disinherited: Planning the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968” by then-undergraduate Sarah Blanc. Blanc later became coordinator of the MFP collection and edited the interview volume, “I Never Will Forget (PDF),” for 2014.
Undergraduate and graduate student alumni from the Mississippi Freedom Project research trip have gone on to work for social justice in a variety of different areas, including organizing as community activists with organizations like Dream Defenders, as law students at Howard University and others, as research staff at the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, and graduate students in fields like history and anthropology at Georgetown, the University of South Carolina, and more. Read more about SPOHP staff and student alumni.
We at SPOHP are so proud of MFP alumni in all their endeavors, and encourage all students to live these familiar words out loud:
Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.
-Fannie Lou Hamer