Graduate Student Presenters

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Michael Lee Henley

Michael Lee Henley is a first year graduate student of Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi and recently graduated from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida where he contributed to the Civil Rights Library of St. Augustine digital archive.

“The Long Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine, Florida: Rev. Thomas A. Wright, Robert Hayling, and Florida Memorial College, 1954-1963”

Florida’s identity is often debated concerning whether or not it is a Southern state. Perhaps this is why the Sunshine State is often left out of the national narrative of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the fact that Florida once led the nation in lynchings per capita, the stories of the communities in the state during the early twentieth century are often forgotten. Additionally, although Florida was the state with the second highest number of sit-ins in the Spring of 1960, it is still often left out of grander narrative. Even within the scope of the long Civil Rights Movement, cities such as Pensacola, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and others are rarely discussed.
In no way is the lack of Florida’s appearance in civil rights historiography surprising, for the local movements in Florida were forgotten even during the era. When Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have Been to the Mountain Top” speech in Memphis declaring all of the places that he had been in the last decade, one pivotal campaign he fails to mention is the St. Augustine Movement. Not only has Florida’s movement been overlooked by contemporary scholars, it had even been overlooked by the national leaders who campaigned in the ambiguously Southern state. Ironically, when the St. Augustine Movement is mentioned by historians, its importance is in relation to the presence of King.
For this reason, I have chosen to research the St. Augustine Movement prior to King’s involvement. Though David Colburn has published a monograph on the local movement, he primarily focuses on the time in which King spent in the city. Conversely, my research examines the movement prior the King and examines the local movement from 1954-1963, focusing on the leaders Rev. Thomas Wright and Dr. Robert Hayling, as well as students from Florida Memorial College. In doing so, I demonstrate how the local movement started prior to King’s involvement and had been shifting in conjunction with trends within the national movement such as Brown v. Board, the Sit-In Movement, and the Birmingham campaign.

 

Jason Jordan

Jason Jordan is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds a master’s degree in history from Illinois as well as a bachelor’s in History from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. His research specializes in southern politics and race in the Jim Crow America.

“Inside and Outside Agitators: A. Phillip Randolph and Black Politics in 1940’s Memphis”

In the fall of 1943, black community leaders in Memphis began what would become a six-month long battle to bring labor leader A. Phillip Randolph to town to give a speech. For years, Memphis’ black leaders had been a part of a tacit voting alliance with the city’s corrupt political machine headed by Boss Edward Hull (E.H.) Crump. After decades of enduring the machine’s racialized paternalism with little to show, however, this coalition had in recent years begun to collapse. Following a number of violent racial conflicts with the machine, black leaders had two goals in bringing Randolph to town: (1) Randolph’s visit would bring national attention to the machine’s crooked activities. (2) Randolph’s consciousness-raising would inspire a fresh wave of local activism amongst Memphis’ black population. What was unforeseen at the time, however, was the controversy and conflict that Randolph’s scheduled visit would engender not only with the political machine but inside the very ranks of Memphis’ black leadership community as well.
This paper argues that this six-month period of both interracial and intra-racial conflict surrounding Randolph’s visit dramatizes two important aspects of the history of racial politics in Memphis. First, it reveals how competing visions of racial uplift amongst Memphis’ black leaders inadvertently worked to impede those very efforts while simultaneously bolstering the Crump machine’s political clout. Secondly, and more broadly, this moment in time marks the beginning of a transition in Memphis from what I argue were Jim Crow Era methods of black activism to Civil Rights Era methods of such insofar as local battles over race were now connected to and played out on a national stage as well. Ultimately, this narrative challenges historical memories that view local and national black freedom struggles as anything other than a tandem process of engagement.

 

Ansley Quiros and Anthony Siracusa

Ansley Quiros is a Robert Penn Warren Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate at Vanderbilt University, completing a dissertation under the direction of Dr. Gary Gerstle entitled, "′God′s on our Side, Today′: Lived Theology and the Civil Rights Movement in Americus, GA, 1942-1976." A native of Atlanta and graduate of Furman University in Greenville, SC, Ansley keeps finding herself in the South, happily, since she loves college football and bluegrass music.

Anthony C. Siracusa is a native Memphian currently working towards a Ph.D in History at Vanderbilt University. Siracusa studies the development of Nonviolence in 20th Century America, including the transnational roots of Nonviolence, and has written extensively about the activism and ministry of the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr. Siracusa graduated from Rhodes College cum laude with Honors in History as a Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Fellow in 2009. He was awarded a 2009-2010 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to study bicycle cultures in 8 countries across 4 continents, and he returned to Memphis to serve as the Community Service Coordinator at Rhodes College before beginning graduate work at Vanderbilt. He has remained active as an advocate for livable communities at the regional, state and national level, and he currently serves as President of Bike Walk Tennessee.

“Place and Protest: The Centrality of Nashville and Memphis in Civil Rights History”

Did the Christian nonviolent civil rights movement begin in Nashville and end in Memphis? Following the unexpected effectiveness of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, civil rights activists labored to duplicate the campaign′s success by developing nonviolent protest movements across the south. Foremost among these traveling activists was the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr., a devoted Christian minister, a war-resister, and a staunch advocate of Gandhian nonviolence who, beginning in 1957, used the idea of an American satyagraha to inspire and inform the student sit-in movement of the early 1960s. From his base in Nashville in 1958, Lawson organized a cadre of student leadership to permanently change America using this American form of disciplined, nonviolent protest. Ten years after the Nashville workshops began, Lawson served as the nonviolent general in the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 - Martin Luther King Jr.’s last campaign. But over a decade of protest that included two national civil rights laws and the emergence of black power, the potential for Gandhian nonviolence seemed to die with King in Memphis. King′s assassination in the Bluff City placed a haunting bookend on a decade of seemingly unstoppable nonviolent protest initiated by the Nashville students in 1958. What role did Nashville and Memphis play in fermenting or stunting nonviolent social change in America? What do these two cities reveal about the ideology of the movement and its shifting dynamic over time?

By comparing dimensions of Memphis and Nashville′s environmental, political, social, religious, and economic history, Quiros and Siracusa will demonstrate that each of these Tennessee cities proved critical to the evolving agenda of civil rights activism. The local civil rights organizations in each city varied greatly in their make-up and focus - as did the personalities, social organizations, and goals of each movement. While the leadership of Jim Lawson connects Memphis and Nashville, Kelly Miller Smith and the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC) took a very different approach to protest than Maxine Smith and the Memphis NAACP. By focusing on population and agriculture in 19th century middle and west Tennessee, Quiros and Siracusa will establish two distinct historical contexts from which civil rights protest emerges and develops. By re-examining the basic chronology of the civil rights movement in each city, Quiros and Siracusa will argue that the historical perception of a moderate Nashville and a “plantation mentality” Memphis is inaccurate and teleological. In short, decades of agricultural commerce and population shifts created discrete political theaters in Memphis and Nashville - historical contingencies forcing local activists to develop distinctive protest ideologies. Using 19th and early 20th century history to contextualize the political protest movements in each city, Quiros and Siracusa will contrast the civil rights story in Memphis and Nashville to demonstrate how each city changed between 1958 and 1968, illuminate the role of civil rights leaders in shaping those cities, and, perhaps most significantly, point to the ways both Nashville and Memphis changed America. From sit-ins to school integration to movements for economic justice, a comparative study of civil rights activism in Memphis and Nashville will reveal the national implications of these cities and their local battles for power.

 

Stephanie Rambo

Stephanie Rambo is a first year M.A. in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She received her B.A. in English from the University of Southern Mississippi.

“Architectural Reminisces of the South: Prevailing Symbols of the American Civil War in Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard

While many believe we live in a post-racial society, the architecture around us tells a different story. In Mississippi, particularly, reminisces of the American Civil War are alive and well in the physical and the consciousness. However, it is both the presence of these buildings and monuments, as well as the absence of others, that propose a problem. These structures are situated to commemorate and honor the memories of different figures and events, (some controversial and some not) allowing their presence to function in our memory. Many of these structures, such as those named in honor of the Confederacy, appear to be not only “out of place,” but disorienting in a post-racial society. In my paper, I will discuss how these monuments and buildings in different parts of Mississippi act not only as a reminder or symbol of the American Civil War, but how their presence in Natasha Trethewey’s work Native Guard addresses this issue between time and space.

 

Allison Tharp

Allison Tharp is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi, with an emphasis in protest literature and rhetorical criticism. She teaches introductory composition and fiction courses, and has presented her scholarly work at various conferences.

“History in the Makin’”: Alice Childress as Revisionist

“‘Mammy’ is part of the lexicon of antebellum mythology that continues to have a provocative and tenacious hold on the American psyche” (Wallace-Sanders 2). While initially serving the role of ameliorator between a divided North and South, and reframing America’s “national household” (Wallace-Sanders 66), the mammy figure continued to have an integral presence in American culture well into the Civil Rights movement and beyond, leading to “an invitation for all Americans to remember a time when Aunt Jemima cooked for the national family” (Wallace-Sanders 62).

Despite the mammy’s “provocative” and “tenacious” hold on the “American psyche” (Wallace-Sanders 2), calls to replace this image have been sounded from various disciplines. With our stereotypical notions of the “mammy” and the “housewife” still looming large in our public memory, revisionist historians, like Susan Tucker and Katherine Van Wormer, have worked to recreate our understanding of the American past, and to create a fuller and truer version.

Alice Childress’s Like One of the Family, a fictional text that offers testimony like that now preserved in oral history, is a revisionist narrative in two distinct ways. First, Childress’s experimental narrative revises the image of the black domestic within culture by presenting Mildred Johnson, a more authentic version of a black woman. On a broader level, we can view it as revisionist history. Though telling the fictional stories of Mildred, Childress provides a counter narrative to current renditions of the black domestic figure and argues for the authenticity of black domestic identity.

Through an analysis of the text and of relevant cultural documents, I argue that there is still a need to push for a revisionist history of the “mammy,” and scholars can do so by emphasizing texts like Childress’s in the classroom and in writing.

 

Katie White

White’s graduate studies in art history at Brigham Young University have focused on early photographic volumes of war. Her main interest in them is in looking at how meaning is assigned to historical events through such mediums and questioning the overall ability of the photograph to act as a historical document.

“The War That Does Not Leave Us: The Photographs of Alexander Gardner and Memory of the Civil War in Turn-of-the-Century America”

The Civil War does not leave us. Some one hundred and fifty years have passed and it still lingers deep in the American psyche. Yet, I argue it was not the years directly following the war, but those of the turn of the century, that were most formative to public memory of the American Civil War. In these years such interest manifested itself most noticeably in material culture. I submit that textual collections of reproduced photographs, taken during the war by photographers like Alexander Gardner, played a major role in the needed development of a secure turn of the century American memory following trauma surrounding questions of nationalism, masculinity, and reconciliation between the North and the South.

These photographic collections that had long been tucked away prior to the turn of the century were soon being rapidly reproduced and dispersed. I believe that the photographs included in these reproductions, as well as the way they were socially contextualized through text and layout, can be greatly credited for the way memory of the war exists and is used today.

To expose how American culture and these photographic reproductions were connected to construct Civil War memory at this time, I will focus on a set of images created by photographer Alexander Gardner directly following the battle of Gettysburg. Just as renowned as the battlefield they were taken on, these photographs make an excellent case study in that the roots of their popularity are no contemporary phenomenon but stem directly from a turn-of-the-century United States struggling to define its past and confront its own future.