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SouthTalks Focus on Creativity in the South

By Rebecca Lauck Cleary

University of Mississippi

Stuart Rockoff’s presentation of ‘Shalom Y’all: The History of Jews in Mississippi’ explores life in the state’s Jewish neighborhoods. Submitted photo

Creativity in the South is the programming theme for the 2023-24 academic year at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. The fall SouthTalks series begins by recognizing that the U.S. South is a region of profound contrast.

“Extreme poverty exists uneasily alongside extreme wealth,” said Katie McKee, the center’s director. “Political and social conservatism digs into the same place that rooted the civil rights movement. Chronically underfunded school districts populate the very landscape that nurtures internationally renowned writers and artists and painters.

“This semester, we explore creativity in the South by asking how place shapes – and sometimes even requires – the creative expression linked to it. We define creativity broadly to include the processes of making and remaking ‘the South’ over time and through different mediums.” 

SouthTalks is a series of events, including lectures, performances, film screenings and panel discussions, that explores the interdisciplinary nature of Southern studies. This series is free and open to the public. Unless otherwise noted, events are set for Barnard Observatory’s Tupelo Room.

“Daily, I find myself and witness others being inspired by people, movements, moments – past and present – where innovation and creativity were necessary forces to move something forward,” said Afton Thomas, the center’s associate director for programs. “It is the combination of ideas and ingenuity that serve as the impetus for this year’s theme, Creativity in the South.

“All of the featured speakers and projects draw on this same inspiration in their work.”

The fall series begins at noon Wednesday (Sept. 6) with “How I Changed My Mind About How Minds Change” presented by David McRaney. Reflecting on the current contentious times, McRaney takes readers through how writing a book about the science of why it’s so hard to change people’s minds changed his own mind about how minds change.

This event is a partnership with the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric and Department of Philosophy and Religion.

Jessica Taylor, assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech, presents “Running Away from Early America” at noon Sept. 13. Her talk is about the creativity of escaping servitude and slavery in the 17th-century English colonies in the face of surveillance and threats of violence.

Photo-based artist T. Harlan Bozeman presents “(Un)Known Legacies” at noonSept. 20. Through working within the expanded field of photography, Bozeman uses the camera as a tool to recontextualize known and unknown Black legacies against his encounters working in the American South. 

At 4 p.m. Sept. 28, Julius Fleming Jr. presents “‘Go Slow, Now’: The Free Southern Theater, Civil Rights and the Racial Project of Black Patience.” In this talk Fleming, associate professor of English at the University of Maryland at College Park, considers how theater was vital to the civil rights movement.

At 4 p.m. Oct. 5, Jazmin Miller and Anya Groner tell the story of “Jonesland: A Legacy of Extraction and Survival.” Jonesland is one of many historic Black communities along the lower Mississippi River, and like many free towns, Jonesland’s future, and remarkable past, is at risk.

Join filmmaker Miller and reporter Groner to learn about the history of extraction, the survival of an extended Black family and the remarkable secret they kept for more than a century.

James M. Thomas, UM associate professor of sociology, discusses “Whiteness in Crisis?” at 4 p.m. Oct. 11. Through in-depth interviews with white people living in the South – a region where the nation’s color line has arguably been drawn brighter than anywhere else – this project examines how white people are making sense of both race and region in the 21st century. This SouthTalk is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

At 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24 in Paris-Yates Chapel, Shari Rabin presents “‘Jews, Heathens and Other Dissenters’: New Perspectives on Race and Religion in the American South.” This talk will explore how Jews fit into the complex power relations of the colonial South and the broader Atlantic world; what the extant evidence tells us about the religious lives they created; and why these histories are important for understanding broader dynamics of race and religion in the region.

Founding director Burgin Mathews introduces the Southern Music Research Center in Birmingham, Alabama, at noon Oct. 25. He will give a “tour” of the archive’s initial holdings, exploring images from Birmingham’s influential but unsung jazz history; lost-and-found tapes from Mississippi hymn singings; a cache of Southern punk flyers; recordings, photos and film from historic, music-rich Beech Mountain, North Carolina; and more.

At noon Nov. 1, William Dunlap and W. Ralph Eubanks present “Southern Light, Southern Landscape” in the Speaker’s Gallery of the University Museum. They plan to discuss the connection between the landscape of the American South and the ways light and landscape connect with art and literature. This talk is co-sponsored by the University Museum.

Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council, presents “Shalom Y’all: The History of Jews in Mississippi” at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9 in Paris-Yates Chapel. He will discuss how Mississippi Jews have worked throughout much of their history to lessen the cultural differences between themselves and their neighbors.

Vanessa Charlot, assistant professor of creative multimedia at the School of Journalism and New Media, presents “Down in the Delta” at 5 p.m. Nov. 16 in the Gammill Gallery of Barnard Observatory.”Down in the Delta” is a visual archive of the lived experiences and legacy of Roosevelt Davenport, a former sharecropper, and his family, who all worked and own a piece of the land on the Quito Plantation in Morgan City, where their ancestors were kept as enslaved people. This project sheds light on Black American roots and those who chose to stay in the Delta and create family, home and community.

Grace Elizabeth Hale discusses her new book, “In the Pines: A Lynching, a Lie, a Reckoning” at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 14, co-sponsored by and held at Off Square Books in Oxford. Hale, an award-winning scholar of white supremacy, tackles her toughest research assignment yet: the unsolved murder of a Black man in rural Mississippi while her grandfather was the local sheriff – a cold case that sheds new light on the hidden legacy of racial terror in America. 

The semester concludes at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 with thefall documentary showcase, a celebration of work by Ole Miss documentary studies students.

For assistance related to a disability, contact Afton Thomas at amthoma4@olemiss.edu or call 662-915-5993. Visit https://southernstudies.olemiss.edu/ for more information about all events.


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