Historians and other scholars from across the country converge at the University of Mississippi next week to examine the political, religious and social aspects of the state’s civil rights movement.”Over the past decade or so, historians have been studying specific stories of the civil rights movement in extraordinary detail,” said Ted Ownby, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
Those reports are to be shared starting Thursday (Feb. 18) during a three-day symposium, “The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi,” which combines the Porter Fortune Jr. History Symposium and Future of the South Conference. All events are free and open to the public, and no registration is required.
The Thursday and Friday sessions are slated for the Johnson Commons Ballroom. Saturday’s events take place in the Tupelo Room of Barnard Observatory. The conference is sponsored by the Department of History and the CSSC.
Historians and scholars approach the study of the civil rights movement in various ways, Ownby said. Some, such as John Dittmer, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University and a participant at this year’s symposium, argue the best way to understand the movement is by studying local people and de-emphasizing well-known national leaders.
“Dr. Dittmer is a nationally recognized authority on the civil rights movement,” Ownby said.
Author of the award-winning “Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi” (University of Illinois Press, 1995), Dittmer addresses the symposium at 3 p.m. Friday.
The idea for this year’s conference theme was sparked as a result of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture’s work on the Mississippi Encyclopedia. Most of the scholars slated to attend contributed to the encyclopedia’s section on civil rights, which has yet to be published, Ownby said.
“The symposium aims to shed light on the people who started movements to vote, to attend school, to address laws and economic issues, to demand respect and safety, and how they defined the issues, what strategies they took and what challenges they faced,” Ownby said.
Specific topics include Medgar Evers; the roles of groups such as the NAACP, SNCC and the KKK; and issues of religion, education and politics. Also, scholars and activists are to discuss the civil rights movement and its importance to the future of the South during two Saturday sessions.