Thursday, November 26, 2009
Norman tells Mississippi story
By DEBAYO MOYO
Only a witness to the Civil Rights struggle in the then Jim Crow South can give a detailed account of events of the Mississippi past, here and now.
Dr. Cora Norman, a Rust College trustee emeritus and the first executive director of Mississippi Humanities Council, did just that in her new book, Mississippi in Transition: The Role of the Mississippi Humanities Council.
The book chronicles how MHC, in its early days, had played a significant role in the tide against the segregation practices in Mississippi. Norman tells the story well, of the unfolding changes in Mississippi during the civil rights turbulence of the ’60s and ’70s. She narrated the various individuals, both women and men, black and white, who had contributed to the growth and nurturing of MHC in enabling the organization to achieve most of its objectives over the years.
Norman highlighted the courageous eight women she identified as “agents of change” in Mississippi. These people from all walks of life had contributed to promoting the issues of women’s right, voting registration, education, multiculturalism, politics and health in Mississippi. Women listed include Nellie Nugent Somerville, Fannie Lou Hamer, Margaret Walker Alexander, Winson Hudson, Jessie Mosley, Jean Muirhead, Katharine Rea, and Frances Coleman.
At the time also when women were being rated below white men, Norman’s MHC would eventually champion activities that broke barriers and opened doors to women and people of color. MHC had by some measures helped integrate the Mississippi establishments and enhance racial and ethnic relations in the state.
Here’s one interesting read, page 253; a first account on voting registration experience from Winson Hudson of Carthage, Miss.:
“…When we went in to register, they would come and put a card down. It was just big enough for two eyes. It said, “The eyes of the Klan are upon you. You have been identified by the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”
“When we went in to register, they gave you a sheet of paper and an article in the Mississippi Constitution. When you get through writing it, then you got to interpret it. And so you do all of this. And then I’d go back, and they’d say, ‘The board said y’all didn’t pass.’ I’d say, ‘What board?’ ‘Well, we got a board and they said y’all didn’t pass.’ And we’d go back again.
“A lawyer from the Justice Department came here and investigated. When we went back to register, about the 20th trip, the registrar gave me this thing to fill out again, and instead of filling it out, I wrote down there, ‘It said what it meant and meant what it said.’ He say, ‘Well, so you passed.’ ”
Norman wants young women and men to read this book and understand the issue of how development and struggles of the past have enabled their lives and opportunities today. Perhaps, it should be a must read for all college students in the humanities.
Mississippi in Transition is edited by Judy Elgin, and published by Tennessee Valley Publishing, Knoxville, Tenn.
Editor’s Note – Dr. Debayo R. Moyo is chair of the Mass Communications Department at Rust College.
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