Elvis Is Only the Beginning

By Helen Watkins Norman
Photography by Justin Fox Burkes


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In the Memphis and Shelby County Archives building’s cavernous Hall of Records, observed only by the occasional worker and dusty portraits of President Andrew Jackson and Memphis Mayor E.H. “Boss” Crump, Millie Worley was looking for clues.
 
The history sleuth pored over a massive, crumbling, handwritten volume that contains court arrest records from the 1860s. One of 14 Rhodes students enrolled in the college’s Institute for Regional Studies which began in summer 2003, the tenacious researcher had been there for days. Her mission: to determine the truth about the Memphis Race Riots of 1866.
 
Worley and her Rhodes Institute research fellows spent part of last summer soaking up what Prof. Tim Sharp describes as “the rich brew” of local culture and history. It’s all part of the research regimen, preparing them to write in, about and for the Mid-South.
 
The eight-week residential program of study and research accomplishes two major goals that Rhodes President William Troutt and the Rhodes Board of Trustees have set for the coming years: to build more bridges between Rhodes and the local community and to increase opportunities for undergraduate research.
 
The institute, now part of Rhodes CARES (the Center for Academic Research and Education through Service), was launched when the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust of Wichita Falls, TX, announced a $6.5 million gift to Rhodes in spring 2002. Approximately $550,000 of that gift was earmarked for the Institute for Regional Studies, helping to fund the program for six years. Rhodes, which is also contributing significant sums to the institute, hopes to raise additional money to fund the program permanently.
 
The first two weeks of last summer’s program, participants read broadly about the region’s music, history, politics, religion and economy. They attended seminars led by five noted Rhodes professors as well as visiting experts from Memphis and afar. They toured sites important to the region’s development, from Mud Island to Beale Street to historic Elmwood Cemetery to the Stax Museum of Soul Music to a sorting hub for Federal Express to the Civil Rights Museum and Shiloh Civil War battlefield.
 
Then guided by their faculty mentors, they spent five weeks doing research and writing a 30-page paper focused on some aspect of the Mid-South. Their summer projects led them to church basements and sanctuaries, special library collections and museums, the Internet, corporate office suites, a downtown foundation, racetracks and casinos and people’s homes and businesses across Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.

Memphis Soul

The 14 institute fellows gathered who for a class session on Memphis music, the inaugural session of the Institute for Regional Studies, met their professors Mike Nelson (political science), Tim Huebner (history), Tim Sharp (music), Luther Ivory (religious studies and race relations/civil rights) and Deborah Pittman ’71 (business).

According to institute director Tim Huebner, an associate professor of history, the professors were hand-picked to lead the institute in part because of the disciplines they represent.
 
“If you’re going to talk about Memphis, the Mid-South and the Mississippi Delta region, you have to talk about the music and about race relations and civil rights,” said Huebner.
 
The political complexion and history of the state and region and religion are also critical as is Memphis’s evolving role as a national distribution and transportation hub, he explained. Because there are a number of disciplines that relate to Memphis and the Mid-South, however, the faculty and subject areas will change year to year, Huebner said. This summer, the Institute is adding English to the lineup.
 
Institute fellows grappled with the history of the region, discovering from Prof. Huebner that “there is one South, but there are also many Souths. The South is not a wholly unified region.” They learned that Tennessee, with fewer slaves than its more southern neighbors, was the last state to secede from the Union and that the state is second only to Virginia in the number of Civil War battles fought on its soil.
 
They learned from assistant professor of business Deborah Pittman, a former Memphis banker, about the era of Congressman and Mayor Edward “Boss” Crump and the economic changes that occurred during the Democratic boss’s 44-year-hold on the region. They learned of Memphis’s development as a distribution center.
 
They learned from Michael Nelson, professor of political science, the important role Tennessee has played in national politics. The state produced three presidents between 1829 and 1869, and was the first of what were then the “western” states to send a president to the White House. Participants learned that Tennessee’s voting patterns on the eve of the Civil War still persist today. They also learned why Tennessee has produced so many individuals who have gone on to become national political figures. As guest speaker Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer newspaper noted, when it comes to national presidential elections, “Tennessee is a barometer for the rest of the nation.”
 
From Luther Ivory, assistant professor of religious studies and the only Memphis native among the five leaders, they learned what Memphis and Rhodes were like on the eve of the Civil Rights movement. During his teen years Ivory lived near Rhodes, walking past the college on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the designated days when African Americans could visit the Memphis Zoo across from the Rhodes campus.
 
With the fervor of a televangelist (he is also an ordained Presbyterian minister and former pastor of COGIC , Lutheran, Baptist, CME and Presbyterian churches) and the confidence of a scholar (he has written the book on the theological legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.), Ivory transported students into the black church. He spoke of the church’s importance in the lives of African Americans and in the development of the modern civil rights movement.
 
For two weeks the immersion continued. One morning participants were treading on the hallowed ground of Elmwood Cemetery, dead magnolia leaves crunching underfoot, as they eased in for a closer look at the Confederate Monument. Another afternoon they were in the Stax Museum of Soul Music gazing reverently at the Hammond B-3 organ once played by Booker T and the MGs or at Isaac Hayes’s blue Cadillac with its gold-plated windshield wipers.
 
“It made Memphis seem so much more three-dimensional than it was before,” junior Millie Worley said of the experience.
 
Teresa Clower, 21, a Rhodes senior, agreed.
 
“It was the most intense summer I’ve ever had,” said Clower, a political science major who examined how local churches have responded to the issue of school prayer. “This region was our classroom and there was so much to learn.”

The Community Is Their Oyster

While the intensive tutorial on the Mid-South was eye-opening, most participants would agree that the real crux of the Institute is the research experience, the chance to dig deep into a subject in which they are interested, the chance to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor.
 
“The program is unlike anything I have ever seen or heard,” said associate professor of history Tim Huebner, the director of the Institute and an authority on Southern history. “It gives students the opportunity to understand and experience what real academic research is. That means they’re not forced to write a research paper while they’re taking five different courses or while they’re trying to manage all their campus activities. We give students the opportunity to do research not only about Memphis in the past or right now, but also about this whole region. Our regional focus is unique in that we are giving students maximum leeway in the breadth of their topics.”
 
“Participants cannot have an outside job,” Huebner continued. “They cannot go to summer school. This is what they are doing. This is their summer job. They are getting paid (a $2,500 stipend) to do research.”
 
To apply to the program, a student must be a rising junior or senior and have a minimum 3.0 grade point average. Applicants are selected on the basis of a research proposal. The 14 participants during summer ’03 were selected from 28 applicants. Huebner expects the competition to increase as more students learn of the program.
 
Not only are the research fellows paid a stipend, their housing and meals are covered, and the program actually picks up the tab for any research expenses.
 
And what a range of topics the first Institute’s participants chose:
 
Daniel Anglin did research on Christopher Phillip Winkler, a now-obscure but once-prominent church musician and prolific composer in Memphis from the 1850s-1902, arguably the most important local musician of his time. The high point of Anglin’s research was the discovery of about 80 heretofore unknown compositions by Winkler. This past fall Anglin presented a recital of Winkler’s work, attracting the composer’s descendents from around the country.
 
Memphis music also proved a powerful lure for Emily Goodman and Brian London, who researched and wrote the definitive 25-year history of the W.C. Handy Blues Awards, an annual music celebration run by the privately-funded Memphis Blues Foundation.
 
With Professor Mike Nelson’s expertise on Mid-South gambling at their disposal, three students chose to focus their projects on gambling. Chris Ebersole, who holds the distinction of being the least southern of the Institute’s participants (he hails from Eagle River, AK), focused on the aftereffects of 10 years of casino gambling on Mississippi. Dan Calvert looked at why and how Tennessee finally passed a lottery in 2003. Chris Hathorn studied why a lottery keeps failing in Arkansas.
 
The focus shifted from gambling to its frequent nemesis, the church, with Lindsey Seifert, Marissa Foshee and Teresa Clower all focusing on the local religious community. Seifert looked at how various African-American churches express postmodern theology; Foshee, at racial integration practices in a handful of Memphis churches; and Clower, at the church’s response to the removal of school prayer in public schools.
 
In business, Mike Wisniowski examined several local companies’ use of interest rate swaps to hedge the risk of fluctuating interest rates. Logan Sevens studied the Security and Exchange Commission’s Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and its effect on local businesses—primarily on their audit committees. The act attempts to protect shareholders from abuse by corporate boards and executives.
 
History research ran the gamut from a study of rockabilly founders Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis (by Hailey Hopper) to the role of the Memphis NAACP in leading the local school desegregation battle (by Meg Chambers) to Millie Worley’s study of the Irish-Americans’ role in the Memphis Race Riot of 1866.
 
“Some people would say you can’t be an expert on something until you’re 30,” said Worley, 20, “but I would say that on this specific topic, I’m about as close to an expert as you’re going to get. Most researchers haven’t looked at some of the records I have...I may be the only one who has. While I still have a lot to learn, I’m probably the best person to ask if you have questions about (the 1866 riot).”

Marks of Distinction

The Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies involves Rhodes facilities, Rhodes professors and Rhodes students. But it is not a typical Rhodes course, participants agree.

First of all, there are no grades.

“Students are motivated differently,” said music’s Prof. Sharp. “They are truly seeking an answer to a question they own.”

Second, it is a model of interdisciplinary learning.

“This course forces all of us when we’re dealing with an issue—school prayer, business, the blues—to think of that issue from multiple perspectives,” said Prof. Luther Ivory. “What’s the music angle, what’s the political angle?” Discussion is “fluid and laid back and collegial.”

And you don’t have to be a music major to be selected for a music research project or a history major to pursue history research.

Each week during the research phase of the Institute, participants and professors meet weekly as a group to report their progress and their failures. There’s a great deal of exchange among students and professors. Business students offer suggestions to those working on music projects. History students point out new investigative paths to political science students. The final week of the program students give oral presentations of their research and are critiqued by their fellow students. This spring Institute fellows make oral presentations to the entire campus during the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Each professor supervises the work of three students and meets individually and in small group sessions with them throughout the eight-week period. Prof. Tim Sharp will not let his students stop digging, he said, “until they get down to a primary source, until they know something is a fact. They can’t just read it in a book.”

Finally, the most tangible outcome of the class is the research itself—research that will add to the Mid-South’s understanding of itself.

“The most important thing for us is to get this material into the hands of people who are interested in these topics,” explained Institute director Tim Huebner. That may mean providing research papers to local libraries and journals to historians and newspapers, churches and policy-makers. “I think there will be many outlets for publishing these papers,” said Huebner.

Living Their Research

On the last night of the Institute, the research fellows and their mentors gathered for an elegant dinner overlooking—but, of course—the Mississippi River. Robert Strandburg, a Rhodes psychology professor, was a special guest.

“What most impressed me,” said Strandburg, who has become the college’s new associate dean of academic affairs for undergraduate research, “was the conversation that night at dinner. I sat at a table with three other students and listening to them talk, I realized the conversation felt familiar, like conversations I had had with colleagues at academic conferences. These students were talking about their research. They were living that research. It was not just an assignment they had done and moved on.

“The Institute,” said Strandburg, “has given these students confidence and a sense of identity as scholars.”

Whole Lotta Research Goin′ On

Hailey Hopper, 21, wasn’t even born in 1956 when Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes won the triple crown of the recording industry, becoming the nation’s first song to top the pop, rhythm and blues and country charts. But she’s had a special connection with the rockabilly artist ever since she sold him Girl Scout cookies at age 9 in her hometown of Jackson, TN.

Last summer Hopper got to revisit the Perkins legacy through her research in Rhodes’ Institute of Regional Studies. Her topic: the birth of rockabilly and the cultural and religious influences that shaped its founding fathers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Perkins, who died in 1998, lived down the street from Hopper when she was growing up and was a friend of her grandfather. When Hopper, a history major, decided to apply for the Institute, she knew that Perkins would provide an interesting focus for her summer of research.

“Rockabilly is a mixture of country and blues,” Hopper said. “It is music that came out in the 1950s, especially from Sun Studios (the Memphis recording studio where Elvis also got his start). It was all these country boys taking the music they had grown up hearing on the Grand Ole Opry and mixing it with black music they’d heard picking cotton.”

Hopper’s research included stops at various music museums in Nashville, Jackson and Memphis as well as a visit to Sun Studio. She also interviewed family and musicians who had worked with the artists. One of those was W.S. Holland, a former drummer with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, who performed with them at the beginning and throughout their careers.

“Having a drummer with a band was new,” said Hopper. “The first time that Johnny Cash played the Grande Ole Opry, they wouldn’t let Holland play his drums. He had to play behind curtains. Cash told them that the only way he’d play there again was if they’d let his drummer out on stage with him.”

Hopper also interviewed Perkins’ oldest son Stan, a Jackson resident and drummer in Perkins’ band for 20-plus years. She writes of Stan’s memories of meeting performers like the Beatles and Eric Clapton, big fans of his father. The Beatles, she noted, recorded seven of Perkins’ songs, more than any other artist they recorded.

Hopper wrote: “Other performers like Marty Stuart, the Judds, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival were influenced by the rockabilly sounds of Perkins, Cash and Lewis. Even groups like Matchbox Twenty, Live and Third Eye Blind as well as artist Kid Rock contributed to a recent compilation of rockabilly remakes. Thus, the sound of rockabilly can still be heard.”

All Bets Off for Gamling′s Future in Arkansas

Arkansas has 600,000 acres of lakes, at least 146 Baptist churches and 85 Wal-Marts. But it doesn’t have one casino—or a lottery, for that matter. Chris Hathorn, 21, spent the summer trying to determine why.

Hathorn, a junior, focused his Institute research on why Arkansas has consistently refused to legalize casino gambling and lotteries.

“There seems to be every reason in the world from a theoretical standpoint why Arkansas would want to adopt these measures,” said Hathorn, a business and economics major who hopes one day to write for a major newspaper or magazine.

He cited Arkansas’s revenue needs and the state’s vehement opposition to increased taxes—conditions that seem to bode well for a state-run lottery. He noted that Arkansas already has one form of legalized gambling: pari-mutuel betting at its greyhound track in West Memphis and horse racing at Oaklawn in Hot Springs. Moreover, Arkansas is bordered by states where gambling is legal.

“Arkansas is an anomaly in the South in that time and time again gambling has come up and the state has refused except for the dog tracks and horse racing.” In Arkansas, dog- and horse-racing are considered “games of skill,” said Hathorn, and not “games of chance.” The latter is outlawed by Arkansas’s constitution. An amendment would be required to change Arkansas’s constitutional roadblock to gambling.

The issue of gambling hit home, said Hathorn, who is from the small town of Pineville in the center of Louisiana. Hathorn’s home state rushed full-speed into gambling in the 1990s under then-governor Edwin Edwards. Edwards was later convicted of racketeering and extortion related to casino gambling in the state.

“Gambling has been a major issue in the state as I was growing up,” said Hathorn. “This was the first time, however, that I’d ever looked at gambling from the perspective of policy, how these things come to fruition.”

Hathorn credits the strength of religious opposition to gambling as a major reason casinos and lotteries have failed in Arkansas. He also notes that gambling interests in surrounding states ( Mississippi’s casino industry for one) have worked to keep gambling from spreading to Arkansas in an effort to shore up their own futures. Moreover, the proponents of gambling have lacked the political leadership and support to push gambling through.

The gambling proposals that have emerged have also been flawed, often tying lottery proposals to casino gambling.

Hathorn’s institute mentor, professor of political science Michael Nelson, plans to study Hathorn’s research for his second book on gambling: The Politics of Gambling in the South.

“It’s gratifying to know that I am actually going to see some of this be useful to other people down the road,” said Hathorn.

Diversity in the Pews

In one 24-hour period last summer, Marissa Foshee visited one predominantly black church and one predominantly white church, attended four distinctly different worship services and filled four bulletins with scribbled notes about the worship experiences. It was all part of her research project for the Rhodes Institute.

Foshee, 22, a religious studies major/music minor from Montgomery, AL, examined how seven Memphis churches—two predominantly black, two predominantly white and three racially diverse—have worked to bring about racial reconciliation and integration.

Her inspiration for the project came from a class on Martin Luther King Jr. taught by assistant professor of religious studies Luther Ivory.

“I’m a huge fan of Prof. Ivory. I knew I wanted to research the issue of integration in the church,” she said, after hearing a quote from King that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11:00 on Sunday morning.”

In addition to observing the style of the worship services, Foshee interviewed church staff as well as Mid-South experts on racial reconciliation in the church.

Here are some of her findings:

  • Integration doesn’t happen without intentionality in reaching out to other races.
  • For integration to occur, churches must accept that racism is a sin.
  • It takes more than a few “events” to bring about diversity. It takes a lifestyle and a long-term commitment. Racial reconciliation must be a top priority and church leadership must share that vision.
  • The more racially diverse churches tend to have a greater diversity in their worship style.

“The integrated church that seems to be the most fruitful right now in terms of the growing membership and diversity, Christ the Rock, has the most diverse worship I have ever witnessed,” Foshee wrote. Christ the Rock Metro Church in Memphis is 50 percent black, 50 percent white. “They included songs from Third Day, a modern Christian rock band, contemporary praise and worship songs and modern gospel music with a gospel choir.”

Foshee also landed an internship with the local Grammy office (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) in Memphis, an opportunity that she discovered through her participation in the Rhodes Institute.

Chronicling the Blues

For two music-minded college students who love the blues, it doesn’t get any better than this. Working last summer out of the cluttered basement of the Memphis Blues Foundation downtown, Emily Goodman, 21, and Brian London, 20, pieced together the 25-year history of the W.C. Handy Awards, a Memphis institution.

The awards, named for the “father” of the blues, William Christopher Handy, were begun in Memphis in 1980 “to breathe life back into the blues, a genre that by the 1970s had nearly become forgotten,” according to Goodman and London.

Last June, as they were beginning work on their Institute project, Goodman, a Rhodes Singer and a senior music major from Wilson, NC, explained the process:

“We conducted interviews (with former executive directors of the foundation), looking over articles and programs from each year. We looked at the audiences...who showed up each year, what celebrities came to collect their awards and how that has varied over the years at the Handy Awards.”

They also assembled a list of all the nominees and the winners of the Handys over the last 25 years.

“No one knows this information in its composite form except my two students,” said Prof. Sharp.

“A lot of the research is not very glamorous,” said London, who in addition to working on the Handy research, studied banjo on the side with Dr. Sharp.

London and Goodman dug through large unlabeled boxes, piles of photographs and countless file folders.

“But it’s rewarding work. If I had a 40-page research paper on the history of calculus, I probably wouldn’t approach it with the same zeal,” joked London, a junior English major from Lewisburg, TN.

A special perk of the research experience was participating backstage in the 2003 annual Handy Awards at the Orpheum Theatre.

“It was our job to escort the winners to the press room where they would get their pictures taken and be interviewed,” said Goodman.

The pair got to meet such entertainers as Delbert McClinton, Bobby Rush, Ruth Brown, pianist Pinetop Perkins and Louisiana bluesman Chris Thomas King, who appeared in the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.

“Though plagued with constant leadership changes, legal battles and financial instability, the Blues Foundation has never failed to produce an awards program that could be deemed anything less than memorable,” they wrote.

Setting the Record Straight

Surprisingly little has been written about the 1866 race riots in Memphis, and what has been written is skewed. That’s the conclusion of Millie Worley, 20, a junior from Birmingham, who focused her summer research on the deadly post Civil War riots that killed 46 people, (two whites, 44 blacks), injured 75 and destroyed much of South Memphis.

On May 1, 1866, two horse-drawn hacks collided, according to Worley. The two drivers, one black and one white, fought after the incident and a small group of police officers (three current and one former) tried to arrest the black man. A group of black federal soldiers attempted to stop them and one white policeman was fatally wounded during the altercation. The two groups left the scene, pledging revenge. Over the next two days mobs of whites returned to the scene, burning more than 100 buildings, brutally shooting a youngster and an invalid and raping five unarmed black women. No white was hanged or jailed for his actions.

“In the past, research generally assumed that the rioting mob contained mostly Irish police and firemen and the riot erupted out of Irish-black tension,” said Worley, who hopes one day to go to law school and work in the district attorney’s office. What she discovered, however, in tracing evidence back to actual court records, city council minutes and payroll lists was that past historians had not done their homework.

Peeling back yellow acid-free wrappers, Worley carefully reviewed the voluminous court records for four years leading up to the riots, deciphering the handwritten notations and anachronistic abbreviations like (col.) for “colored” people. She looked for arrest records that might show previous racial profiling by officers who later participated in the riots. She found none. She also learned that only seven of the 68 people rioting were police officers.

The Congressional Report, upon which many historical accounts were later based, was biased against the Irish, Worley found. The committee writing the report wanted to overthrow the Irish rule in the city and the committee didn’t even interview police or fire department witnesses.

Consequently, many of the scholarly articles that followed “oversimplify the riot, especially by grouping the Irish-Americans into one large category and approaching the riot as a collective Irish action,” Worley wrote. She hopes to set the historical record straight, by submitting her findings to a scholarly journal for possible publication.