College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Invisible Histories Project Receives Mellon Foundation Grant

Partners With Three UM Institutes

Southern Studies oral history/queer southern history students with IHP co-founder Josh Burford. Photo courtesy of Southern Studies.

Southern Studies oral history/queer southern history students with IHP co-founder Josh Burford.

APRIL 30, 2019 BY AFTON THOMAS

In March, The Invisible Histories Project (IHP) received a $300,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. IHP included the University of Mississippi on the grant, which will support the collection, preservation, future research and accessibility of LGBTQ history in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

The Invisible Histories Project-Mississippi is a satellite of the Invisible Histories Project, founded in 2016 by Joshua Burford and Maigen Sullivan and based in Birmingham, Alabama.

After three years of foundational work, IHP officially began collecting historical documents and materials in February, 2018, in Alabama. Since February, the project has collected and donated to Alabama IHP repository partners 16 unique and new archive collections, and they have identified 31 more collections from LGBTQ individuals or organizations that will be donated in the next two years. Collections range from an early twentieth-century chapbook written by Joe Hulse, which includes queer themes, to the Blk Pearl Collection, an organization dedicated to providing emotional, financial, and social support services to LGBTQ People of Color in Selma, AL.

Mississippi partners on the grant include the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, and UM Special Collections and Archives. The goal of the project is to expand and make publicly available manuscript and oral history collections that document LGBTQ histories of Mississippi.

Jessica Wilkerson (history and Southern Studies), Amy McDowell (sociology), and Jaime Harker (English and Isom Center) are the primary faculty involved in the project.

Wilkerson and McDowell have started working on several components of the IHP project. Wilkerson’s fall 2019 southern studies graduate seminar will be expanding an oral history project on Mississippi LGBTQ history, begun last spring. Wilkerson and McDowell also received an Isom Fellowship to help support the expanding LGBTQ oral history and archiving project. And McDowell is currently in the process of archiving an LP collection at the University of Mississippi. The collection belonged to Charles Smith, the DJ of Rumors gay bar in Shannon, MS, featured in the 2006 documentary film “Small Town Gay Bar.”

Hooper Schultz, who just defended his master’s thesis on gay and lesbian rights movements in the South and will be entering the MFA program in documentary expression offered by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture in the fall, is currently one of the LGBTQ History Scholars for IHP and was very involved in the Queer History South conference held in March. The conference was also attended by Harker, McDowell, and Wilkerson, as well as UM students including Ellie Campbell and Mary Knight (southern studies) and Maddie Shappley and Kate Vana (sociology).

Along with receiving $10,000 each year to support the project, IHP-Mississippi will be part of “the IHP model.” IHP’s staff will provide support through site visits, helping to locate research opportunities, advising on queer history courses and research development, connecting institutions to repositories and community organizations, providing branding and paperwork, developing a site plan of goals and outcomes, and providing trainings for students and faculty.

Burford and Sullivan will be visiting Oxford this summer to meet with the project team and develop a site plan for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Burford giving a talk on IHP at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture in Oxford, MS. Southern Studies photo

Burford giving a talk on IHP at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture in Oxford, MS.

The seeds of IHP-Mississippi were planted last year when Josh Burford visited the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and gave a talk about IHP, and met with Wilkerson and her Queer Southern History class, which was developing an oral history project.

During that visit faculty and staff at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the Isom Center, and UM Special Collections and Archives began exploring the possibility of starting a satellite project of IHP at the University of Mississippi.

According to Wilkerson, “The project provides a unique opportunity to collaborate across campus departments and units, as well as across the Southeast, to bring together scholars devoted to interdisciplinary research. I’m excited to work with my colleagues on a cutting-edge, necessary project to document queer and southern history.”

More information on the Invisible Histories Project can be found online at www.invisiblehistory.org.