Wednesday, October 18, 5:30 p.m. The South's Role in JFK's Election Tom Oliphant and Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie, co-authors of a new book, “The Road to Camelot.” They will talk about Kennedy’s maneuvers in the South during his 1960 campaign.
Tuesday, October 24, 5:30 p.m. Testaments to History Two new state museums – the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum – will open in Jackson December 9. Directors Rachel Myers and Pamela Junior will talk about how Mississippi’s past influences the present and the future.
Tuesday, November 7, 2:30 p.m. Seeing Sri Lanka Eleven Ole Miss students traveled to Sri Lanka over the summer to produce a magazine and remarkable video of an ancient culture that has survived 30 years of brutal civil war and a devastating tsunami to thrive anew
Tuesday, November 14, 5:30 p.m. Crime and Punishment in Black America James Forman Jr., a Yale Law School professor, author of the critically-acclaimed “Locking Up Our Own,” will discuss his book and how some approaches to control crime have actually had a devastating impact in poor black communities.
Directors to Offer an Advance Look at the New State Museums
In advance of the December 9 opening of two impressive Mississippi institutions in Jackson, the directors of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will be at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics on the Ole Miss campus this month to talk about the new facilities and how their exhibits were chosen.
Rachel Myers, director of the state history museum, and Pamela Junior, head of the civil rights museum, will talk with Overby Center chairman Charles Overby in an Oct. 24 program at 5:30 p.m. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the Overby Center Auditorium and free parking is available adjacent to the building. A reception will follow the program.
“At a time when Mississippi’s history continues to be debated, the directors will explain how they chose the topics and artifacts featured in the two new museums – and how Mississippi’s past influences the present and the future,” said Overby.
The museums’ dedication represents the culmination of a massive project to preserve the state’s history. Their buildings will be neighbors in a growing complex in downtown Jackson controlled by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
This program will be the fourth in the Overby Center series this fall commemorating the 200th anniversary of statehood for Mississippi.
JFK's Bid to Win The South
Tom Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie, co-authors of “The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK’s Five-Year Campaign,” will focus on a dominant issue covered in their new book – John F. Kennedy’s shifting strategy to win support in the South during his long effort to win the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination and the presidency – in a conversation with Overby Center chairman Charles Overby on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 5:30 p.m.
The program will be held in the Overby Center Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public, and free parking is available in the lot adjacent to the building. A reception will be held afterward.
“The Road to Camelot” explores Kennedy’s perilous attempt to court segregationist Southern Democrats who controlled the politics of the region at the time while trying not to antagonize African Americans in the North whose vote was critical in many states there.
By placing emphasis on the regional aspect, the Overby Center continues to highlight Mississippi issues in connection with the 200th anniversary of statehood this year.
Oliphant and Wilkie worked together on the staff of the Boston Globe for more than 25 years prior to their retirement. They interviewed many of the survivors of the Kennedy campaign and did extensive research at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston to gather valuable and hitherto undiscovered material for the book.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, a prominent presidential historian and author of “The Bully Pulpit” and “Team of Rivals,” said of the book, “Two of our most gifted reporters have found the perfect subject to match their love of politics, their interviewing skills, and their literary talents. The result is a freshly told, endlessly riveting story that captures the reader every step along the way.”
Oliphant, who lives in Washington, is a frequent visitor to Oxford. His interest in bringing the first presidential debate to Ole Miss in 2008 was instrumental to the university’s selection. He is a Pulitzer Prize winner, the author of four other books, and served for years as one of the commentators on PBS’ NewsHour.
Wilkie is also the author of four earlier books and has been a fellow at the Overby Center since it was established on the Ole Miss campus in 2007.
Mississippi Textbook Controversy
Charles W. Eagles’ latest book, “Civil Rights Culture Wars” was the subject of the Overby Center program on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
Eagles, who recently retired after more than three decades as a history professor at Ole Miss, talked about his book with K.B. Melear, a professor in the school’s education department. Published earlier this year by the University of North Carolina Press, the book deals with an epic battle in the 1970s with the politically-controlled state textbook commission to win approval for a new history textbook that covered the civil rights movement, poverty, and issues confronting women, workers and native Americans in Mississippi. The issues had been ignored by textbooks in use in the state.
In 1974, “Mississippi: Conflict and Change,” edited and written by James W. Loewen and Charles Sallis, challenged the textbook orthodoxy with modern accounts of the state’s troubled history. Its rejection by the textbook commission set off a long battle in federal court to gain approval for its use in public schools. In many ways, the fight anticipated the “culture wars that continue today.
An investigative Hechinger Report, published this month and written by Sierra Mannie, an outstanding journalism student at Ole Miss who graduated in 2016 with a degree in classics, charges that most school districts in the state “still use textbooks that give local civil rights milestones short shrift.”
Eagles’ book was hailed by Charles Bolton, author of “William F. Winter and the New Mississippi: A Biography.” Eagles’ “fascinating account,” Bolton said, is the first to really tell the story. “Like the textbook itself, ‘Civil Rights Culture Wars’ significantly broadens our understanding of Mississippi history.”
Eagles was featured in an Overby Center program eight years ago following the publication of his history of the 1962 integration crisis at Ole Miss, “The Price of Defiance.”
Journalistic Courage Under Fire
The Overby Center began its 11th year on the Ole Miss campus with emphasis on the 200th anniversary of Mississippi statehood and a program on Tuesday, Sept, 26, about the role of journalists during the crisis surrounding the integration of the school 55 years ago.
The program focused on journalism professor Kathleen Wickham’s new book, “We Believed We Were Immortal.” It included a short film about a reporter slain during an all-night riot – the only fatality suffered among journalists who covered the civil rights movement through the 1960s – as well as a conversation between three well-known figures at Ole Miss. Wickham was joined in a discussion with Don Cole, vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Douglass Sullivan-Gonzales, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, who served as moderator.
The talk was preceded by an short film by Mykki Newton about Paul Guihard, the French journalist who was shot and killed during the turmoil. The mystery surrounding his death has never been solved.
Haunting Echoes from RFK's Delta Visit. By Overby Fellow, Curtis Wilkie
Fifty years after Robert Kennedy’s dramatic tour to witness the devastation of poverty and hunger in the Mississippi Delta his trip is still being remembered and setting off repercussions.
Five years ago the Overby Center hosted civil rights icon Marian Wright Edelman for a program about the journey that turned Kennedy into a passionate defender of the poor in America and led Edelman, then a young lawyer fighting segregation in Mississippi for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, to become the nation’s chief advocate for disadvantaged children as president of the Children’s Defense Fund. It was Edelman who challenged Kennedy and other senators on a committee studying poverty to come to Mississippi and see the situation for themselves in the spring of 1967.
This July, Edelman returned to the region with an entourage of activists in the state and a larger press corps than that which accompanied RFK on the original trip. Her purpose was to again call national attention to the Delta and to problems she believes are being met with indifference by Mississippi’s political leadership and the administration of President Trump. At her last stop in Marks, she declared it was “absolutely disgraceful” for children to grow up impoverished in the richest nation on earth, at a time when the state government refuses to take advantage of expanded Medicaid assistance and other organizations fail to apply for funds to support summer feeding programs for children.
For the few of us still living who followed the 1967 expedition by Kennedy, there were haunting echoes across a half-century of political and social struggle -- and evidence that the fight for equity goes on in spite of moves by the state and federal government to cut back on programs to help the poor.
Edelman invited Hodding Carter III, who had been a young editor of the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, and me – a youthful reporter in 1967 for the Clarksdale Press Register -- to accompany her group. Not as journalists this time, but as friends of her work. (With the death of Bill Minor this past spring, I believe Hodding and I are the only survivors of a group of about a dozen reporters who made the RFK trip.)
As we made our way from an overnight stop in Greenwood up through the Delta to Glendora, Jonestown and Marks some scenes seemed unchanged. Miles of unbroken cotton and soybean fields, were verdant this year because of heavy rain. In places there is another crop – corn -- that was practically invisible here fifty years ago. The Delta also appears to be gripped by a new emptiness. Many white people have abandoned the region, taking their wealth with them. The presence of African-Americans is diminished, too. Those who once worked and lived on the land have retreated to little rural communities or left the state altogether. Yet poverty endures.
Passing a privately-operated penitentiary in Tallahatchie County, Edelman was scornful of a society more interested in investing in prisons than in people. Along the way, she met with local residents and encouraged them to keep up their labors on behalf of beleaguered health clinics, food banks and educational programs. Before she left the state, Edelman delivered a ringing call to arms to a large crowd gathered at a high school in Marks, urging them to vote out of office those determined “to destroy the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid and the CHIP program.”
Now 78, Edelman succeeded in attracting notice. Journalists helped fill her bus, and she was accompanied by vans carrying television crews and documentary teams. There was plenty of coverage, and I allow myself to be hopeful some good will come of it. Still, I wonder about its long-term effect in a state that seems resistant to such initiatives.
A mythology grew up around Kennedy’s experience in the Delta. Just as his brother had been confronted by destitute poverty in the mining towns of West Virginia during his 1960 presidential campaign and evolved into a champion of programs designed to lift the poor, Bob Kennedy was said to have left Mississippi with a commitment to use his influence to ensure that hunger could be eliminated in America. Edelman recalled that he had been “deeply moved and outraged” by what he saw here.
I’d like to think Kennedy departed the state with an appreciation that he had allies in Mississippi; a knowledge that not everyone here was part of the political apparatus that had fought him and his brother so desperately in the battle over James Meredith’s admission as a student at Ole Miss in 1962. RFK had been warmly and enthusiastically welcomed to the campus for a speech in 1966. Invited by the law school student body, Kennedy proved to be so popular that his speech was moved to the Tad Smith Coliseum to accommodate the crowd. A year later he stood out as the most enthusiastic member of the Senate delegation that came to Mississippi after testimony in Washington by a young attorney named Marian Wright. She advanced the trip and met a Kennedy aide named Peter Edelman –part of a cadre of young RFK staff members who were pushing the senator to the left on domestic issues and opposition to the Vietnam War. She married Edelman a year later, moved to Washington and created the Children’s Defense Fund.
Following Kennedy’s visit to the Delta there was a burst from government and private circles to address hunger. This took place, of course, during the decade of the “War on Poverty.” Interest seemed to wither away within a few years of Kennedy’s death, but his travel to the land that historian James Cobb calls “the most Southern place on earth” continues to hold a fascination.
Twenty years ago, a progressive Democratic senator from Minnesota, Paul Wellstone, made a well-publicized trip to the Delta to emulate Kennedy’s travels and to revive the subjects of poverty and hunger. As a reporter for the Boston Globe, I covered Wellstone’s trip, too. He started in Tunica and progressed southward to Cleveland and catfish country around Belzoni. Wellstone had the best of intentions, but like Kennedy, he was doomed not to live long enough to see any real fruits from his efforts. Wellstone was killed in a plane crash in 2002.
Ellen Meacham, a member of the journalism faculty at Ole Miss, has also been intrigued for years by the Delta’s role in radicalizing Bob Kennedy, in rebranding him from his image as a privileged figure who once worked for witch-hunting Joe McCarthy in the 1950s to the man who embraced striking farm workers in California in the months before he died in Los Angeles in 1968. Ellen was part of the press contingent on the bus this year. She is writing a book about the impact that single day in the Delta had on Robert Kennedy as well as on the people with whom he visited. The book will be published next spring. It will be called “Delta Epiphany.” That seems a perfect title.
ABOUT THE OVERBY CENTER
The Overby Center for Southern Journalism & Politics’ mission is to create better understanding of the media, politicians and the role of the First Amendment in our democracy. The Center is funded through a $5 million grant from the Freedom Forum, a foundation dedicated to educating people about the importance of a free press and the First Amendment.
The Overby Center features programs, multimedia displays and writings which examine the complex relationships between the media and politicians - past, present and future. The Overby Center pays special attention to Southern perspectives.
Adjacent to the newly renovated journalism department facility at Farley Hall, the Overby Center is a new building that features 16,000 square feet of conference space. It includes a 225-seat auditorium, a multipurpose conference room that will accommodate 100 people for seminars and dinners, and a boardroom seating up to 24 people.
The center has state-of-the-art technology and video throughout the building, including a news wall with nine large-screen TV monitors for showing live news programs and current front pages from 12 Southern states.
The center is named for Charles L. Overby, editor of the Daily Mississippian at Ole Miss from 1967-1968. Overby was the CEO of the Freedom Forum and Newseum until his retirement in 2012.