By Emily Howorth
University of Mississippi
The Department of Archives and Special Collections at the University of Mississippi Libraries commemorates the university’s 1962 integration with two lectures and an ongoing exhibition.
The lectures offer a unique historical perspective and new digital science examining the response to integration.
From the depths of the archives
The materials that line the showcases of the Archives and Special Collections department bring the history of the turbulent integration of the university to life: empty tear gas canisters. military passports. Changes scrawled on a reporter’s telegraphed manuscript.
The Paving the Path: James Meredith and the Integration of the University of Mississippi exhibit features documents, photographs, and artifacts from the UM library collections.
“When people see primary source documents, there’s an ‘aha’ moment,” said Greg Johnson, director of special collections, blues curator and professor. “When we see a tangible example of something from the past, we see it more concretely than we could if we’d just read about it, which brings us closer to feeling the full weight.”
The exhibit is a community effort and includes cases curated by Johnson; Jennifer Ford, senior manuscript curator and professor; Leigh McWhite, archivist for political newspapers; Danielle Townsend, Special Collections Librarian (audiovisual); and Lauren Rogers, library specialist. Each showcase has a unique theme.
A case is dedicated to James Meredith, his early life, the experiences he had before he matriculated. Another case focuses on UM’s past commemorative activities and examines how the university has changed over the years. Another examines professors’ reactions to integration, including vocal supporter James Silver, a historian and author of Mississippi: The Closed Society.
The materials are drawn from the university libraries’ extensive collection of artifacts, documents, and images related to integration, a portion of which can be accessed in the eGrove: Integration of the University of Mississippi collection.
Among the thousands of rare documents in the library’s integration-related collections are telegrams, correspondence, and letters from individuals such as President John F. Kennedy, Josephine Baker, Malcolm X, and others; underground student newspapers; and photos taken on campus during the integration and riot.
Paving the Path opened on September 19 and will remain open through March 2023. It is located in the Seymour Lawrence Room on the third floor of the JD Williams Library within the Archives and Special Collections department.
The exhibition is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except during university holidays.
The full list of case viewer features:
- The University of Mississippi Students and the Battle of Oxford
- The Faculty and Integration of the University of Mississippi
- Context of K-12 education in Mississippi
- local journalists
- US Marshals, police and military roles in the riots and aftermath
- University of Mississippi after 1962
- James Meredith’s autobiographical impulse
- A legacy of civil rights
A new way of depicting history
Two librarian scholars will present their research during a presentation Tuesday noon (September 27) in the Faulkner Room at the JD Williams Library. “Dear Mr. Meredith: Mapping Letters Supporting and Dissenting James Meredith’s Integration of UM” shows how digital science can improve the interpretation of historical events.
Abbie Norris, Assistant Professor and Librarian, Digital Initiatives, and Adam Clemons, Assistant Professor and Librarian, Digital Humanities and Data Visualization, followed the project to better understand the national response to university integration.
For their research, Norris and Clemons examined archived letters to Meredith that contained sender addresses in the United States. The letters had previously been classified as supporters and opponents of integration. Norris and Clemons then digitally mapped the addresses according to “pro” or “anti” sentiment.
They were interested in investigating whether the results might challenge preconceived notions about prospects for integration in different geographic areas.
“Racism isn’t just a Southern problem,” Norris said. “It’s a whole problem of the United States of America. There are anti-integration letters from places like California and elsewhere. We hoped this mapping project would add some complexity and nuance to a complicated subject.”
Future direction of the project may include mapping more letters, transcribing them, or conducting sentiment analysis that conveys the range of responses.
“Our hope with this project is that it will be accessible and reach a wider audience so that people can interact and play with it,” said Clemons. “Our project grew out of a desire to create a Digital Humanities project that showcases what the library can offer to the university and academic community.
“This is an example of digital science and an incredible collection.”
A legendary alumna
Dottie Chapman Reed (BA 74), the university’s first African-American admissions counselor, will present on Thursday (September 29). “Coming Full Circle: My Journey through the University of Mississippi, to Many Points Beyond and Back” will focus on the life story of Chapman Reed and her efforts to preserve oral history.
Her lecture will be held at noon on the third floor of the JD Williams Library in the Department of Archives and Special Collections. The Center for the Study of Southern Culture is co-hosting the event.
Chapman Reed, who lives in Atlanta, will talk about her childhood in Water Valley, her time as an Ole Miss sophomore in the early years after integration, and her career.
She recently donated a collection of personal materials and scrapbooks to Archives and Special Collections. The collection spans her time as a student and her long and successful career in American business. Chapman Reed donated the materials in hopes that the university’s contribution will help continue to build the community.
“The university has made progress in several areas and still has a lot to do as a flagship university,” she said. “I believe, as others have said, that there is an obligation to lead Mississippi, the South and the nation. As a leader, it has to stand up and face a difficult past, and ultimately it can.
“The university needs to reach out to and engage with the broader surrounding communities, especially communities like where I come from, Water Valley.”
Chapman Reed is collaborating with the Center for the Study of Southern Culture on an oral history project called Black Families of Yalobusha County. The effort comes from a newspaper column she wrote in the North Mississippi Herald.
“We are very pleased to have Mrs. Chapman Reed with us,” Johnson said. “All of the work she has done documenting the lives of African American families in Yalobusha County is incredibly important, as is her experience of working at university not long after integration.
“Special Collections is also very grateful to Ms. Chapman Reed for the donation of her important archival collection.”