Journalism Professor Releases Book Examining RFK’s Delta Visit

Ellen Meacham to sign copies new work Wednesday at Square Books.

Ellen Meacham

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi journalism professor Ellen Meacham details Robert F. Kennedy’s visit to the Mississippi Delta in 1967 in her new book “Delta Epiphany: RFK in Mississippi.”

Meacham’s book, published by University Press of Mississippi, examines the history, economics and politics of the Delta and how those factors influenced the lives of people whom Kennedy met there during that visit. She will sign copies at 5 p.m. Wednesday (April 18) at Square Books in Oxford.

The book was inspired by a description from fellow journalist Curtis Wilkie’s memoir of Kennedy in a dark shack trying to speak to a toddler who was paying more attention to crumbs on the floor.

“I wondered about the impact it had on Kennedy, because it’s mentioned as an important moment in all of his biographies,” Meacham said. “The next question I had was, ‘What happened to the baby?'”

After seven years of searching, Meacham found and interviewed children from the four families Kennedy encountered on his visit, including that toddler.

“As I got into the research, I realized pretty quickly that there was a big part of the story that had not been told,” she said. “Most of the contemporary news accounts and later historians had only looked at RFK on the stage. The people who were living the lives that moved him so were more of a ‘poverty stage set.'”

Meacham wanted to tell the stories of those people.

“It became very important to me to bring those families into the light and find out how they came to be in that place at that time, what struggles they faced and their accomplishments since,” she said. “I think it brings more balance.

“It’s not just a story of a hero or a saint, it’s about a real person meeting real people.”

The book also features about a dozen photos, including the cover, that are published for the first time.

“The photographs were essential to telling this story,” Meacham said. “They brought such a vivid realism that showed the impact of the visit on Kennedy in a powerful way.”

A working journalist for more than two decades, Meacham used her experience as a newspaper reporter in Mississippi, which gave her access to contacts within both politics and journalism in the state, putting her in a unique position to tell these stories.

“Ellen Meacham is a talented and perceptive journalist who recognized, nearly a half-century after the fact, the great impact of Robert Kennedy’s brief trip to the Mississippi Delta in 1967,” said Wilkie, a UM associate professor of journalism and fellow of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.

“It was a mission that changed his life, the tortured history of that region and the nation’s attitude toward hungry people in America. Though Ellen was not old enough to have been there, her investigation of the story has brought it back to life, and it is an example of her valuable work.”

ACT 8 Experience Brings Magazine Industry Leaders to UM

Journalism students can interact with industry leaders at eighth annual media conference

OXFORD, Miss. – “Print Proud and Digital Smart” is the message of this year’s ACT 8 Experience, a one-of-a-kind magazine media conference at the University of Mississippi.

The ACT Experience, which stands for “amplify, clarify and testify,” is hosted by the Magazine Innovation Center at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. This year’s conference, set for Tuesday through Friday (April 17-20), brings in the top names in every aspect of the magazine media industry for the only comprehensive conference of its kind in the country.

This year, the discussions focus on a multiplatform approach to magazine media brands, whether in print or digital. The main goal of the experience is to have students directly interact with industry professionals with the goal of landing a job in the magazine industry.

“The idea is that the experience is student-driven,” said Samir Husni, Ole Miss journalism professor and Magazine Innovation Center director. “That’s why these professionals come here. The presence of students in the audience has a positive effect on the speaker, in which they lose their guard and engage more freely with the future industry leaders when they are at an academic setting.”

Husni launched the annual conference in 2010 with 14 featured speakers. After just eight years, the conference has grown to feature more than 30 speakers and nearly 100 total attendees, including CEOs of major magazine and marketing companies, publishers, editors and other industry leaders.

Journalism and magazine students have opportunities to network with industry professionals from major companies including Hearst, Meredith, Trusted Media Brands, LSC Communications, Sappi Paper Co. North America, Democrat Printing, James G. Elliott Co., and Delta Magazine.

Jim Elliott, president of the James G. Elliott Co., has served as a sponsor for all past ACT conferences and has attended six. Elliott said this conference is by far his favorite.

“It is the most interactive and informative of all the conferences due to the way it is set up,” Elliott said. “It is not only the speakers and attendees, but also the interaction with the students that makes this so valuable. I’ve always gotten a number of great ideas from this conference, and as an added plus, a number of summer interns.”

Anna Grace Usery, a graduate student in integrated marketing communications from Elkmont, Alabama, hopes to strengthen her established relationships with industry professionals and gain more insight into today’s magazine industry.

“Even though it can be overwhelming to realize these professionals hold impressive titles, they still enjoy conversation with us students because they know we are the future magazine industry leaders,” Usery said. “They understand their love for all things magazines extends to providing an avenue for future leaders to succeed, which is the essence of this conference.”

Each year, students have received job offers as a result of the experience, Husni said.

“They have a captive audience with these CEOs, and some of them leave an impression,” Husni said. “Our ultimate goal as professors is to get a job for those students. I feel like we fail the students if we don’t provide them with jobs when they graduate.

“Anytime we put students first, including them in these events becomes the normal thing to do.”

Students also will accompany registered participants on a trip through the Delta to experience the music, food and culture of north Mississippi. The group will travel to Clarksdale to visit the Delta Blues Museum and the Shack Up Inn, ending the day with dinner and music at Ground Zero Blues Club.

“As a man who attends a dozen media conferences a year, Dr. Samir Husni’s ACT Experience at the University of Mississippi is the best,” said Bo Sacks, president of Precision Media Group. “There is no other event that mixes students and professionals in such an intimate and thoughtful environment.

“It is an opportunity for students to meet and mingle with top magazine leadership and sometimes even get a job. I have made lasting friendships there and look forward to it every year.”

ACT 8 Experience lectures will explore a range of topics related to the magazine industry, including storytelling, advertising, creating digital platforms, reaching audiences and creating the best print product.

All lectures are free and open to the public and will be conducted in the Overby Center Auditorium. Registration for the conference includes all meals, additional sessions and transportation to and from the Delta.

A full schedule and registration can be found at http://maginnovation.org/act/intro.

Ten Seniors Named UM Hall of Fame Inductees

Recipients honored for service, achievement and potential for success

The 2018 University of Mississippi Hall of Fame. Photo by by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi seniors have been inducted into the university’s 2017-18 Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors afforded students at Ole Miss.

The inductees were honored Friday afternoon (April 6) in a ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. A campus committee chooses Hall of Fame members in accordance with policy developed by the Associated Student Body. Selections are based on outstanding contributions in all aspects of campus life.

This year’s Hall of Fame members are Allen Coon of Petal; Christopher Feazell of Mendenhall; Terrence Johnson of Shuqualak; Jiwon Lee of Oxford; Megan McLeod of Highlands Ranch, Colorado; Savannah Smith of Corinth; Austin Spindler of Savannah, Tennessee; Elizabeth Taylor of Whitesboro, Texas; Jacob Thrasher of Birmingham, Alabama; Ingrid Valbuena of Maracaibo, Venezuela.

“Each of the students selected for Hall of Fame has a record of scholarship and service to the university community and has impacted the Ole Miss campus in a positive way,” said Mindy Sutton Noss, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students. “Hall of Fame is a fitting way to recognize the legacy that each of them leaves at the University of Mississippi.”

The 10 students were among 200 seniors recognized for inclusion in Who’s Who Among Students at the University of Mississippi.

“The Hall of Fame is a time-honored process that has identified students who have gone on to make a true difference in the world,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “This year’s inductees have made a mark on our institution and have developed abilities that will serve them well in their careers.”

Allen Coon

Pursuing a double major in public policy leadership and African American studies, Coon is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. As an ASB senator, Coon worked with NAACP student organizers to remove the Mississippi state flag from campus and co-organized the #OccupytheLyceum protest, a spontaneous sit-in demanding an administrative response to campus racism. He previously served as president of UM College Democrats and UM Voters Everywhere. After graduation, he plans to attain both a master’s degree in public policy and a law degree and become a community organizer and civil servant. Coon’s parents are Kay Kolwe Coon and Howard Coon, both of Petal.

Christopher Feazell

Feazell, an accountancy major, is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. He served in several roles over the course of his education, including vice president of programming for the National Association of Black Accountants, vice president of the Black Student Union, treasurer of the Accountancy ASB, Luckyday Scholar and the Columns Society. Fezell plans to pursue a master’s degree in taxation in the university’s Patterson School of Accountancy, pass the CPA exam and begin a career at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Atlanta upon graduation. His parents are Stephanie Berry of Mendenhall and Christopher Eugene Feazell of Mt. Olive.

Terrence Johnson

A journalism major, Johnson has served as president of the Men of Excellence, the largest male minority organization at the university. He also served as public relations director for the Columns Society, anchor for NewsWatch TV, co-president of the UM Association of Black Journalists, an orientation leader and coordinator. After graduation, Johnson plans to pursue a master’s degree in video storytelling and narrative writing at the University of California at Berkeley. His parents are George Lee and Angela Johnson of Shuqualak.

Jiwon Lee

Lee is a music performance major with an emphasis on flute and violin performance. She was drum major for the Pride of the South Marching Band, principal flutist of the Ole Miss Wind Ensemble and ensemble violinist for the LOU Symphony. A member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Lee was president of the Korean Student Association and recipient of the Marcus Guinn Spirit Award. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in music education and music performance at the university. Lee’s parents are Jongbok and Aeran Moon Lee of Oxford.

Megan McLeod

McLeod, an economics major with a minor in chemistry, is a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Columns Society, and founder of the Hotty Toddy Tutors LLC, a student-run tutoring company. She is founding vice president of the UM chapter of the American Medical Women’s Society, vice president of chapter development for Phi Mu fraternity and recipient of the Trailblazer Award from Fraternal Leadership and Learning. After graduation, McLeod plans to pursue a medical degree at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Her parents are Bill and Christine McLeod of Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

Savannah Smith

Smith is completing a double major in journalism and public policy leadership. A member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Trent Lott Leadership Institute scholar, she is Miss Ole Miss, executive director of the Big Event, vice president of the Columns Society, an orientation leader and an executive officer in Chi Omega sorority. After graduation, Smith will attend New York University to pursue a master’s degree in journalism with a magazine emphasis. Her parents are Tim and Tracy Smith of Corinth.

Austin Spindler

Spindler is a public policy leadership major in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. He has served as assistant director of the Big Event, senior executive assistant to the ASB president, ASB secretary, staffing director of the UM Food Bank and IFC vice president of public relations. Spindler plans to move to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career in consulting. His parents are Richard and Dana Spindler of Savannah, Tennessee.

Elizabeth Taylor

A sociology major, member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, Taylor served as a mentor in the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. She also served as a peer educator for Rebels Against Sexual Assault and was the first junior-entry student to receive the Barksdale Award. After graduation, Taylor plans to pursue a doctorate in sociology at the University of Missouri. Her parents are Elizabeth A. Taylor of Sadler, Texas, and the late Marshall Lee Taylor.

Jacob Thrasher

Thrasher, a chemistry major in the biochemistry track, served as president of Omicron Delta Kappa, past president of Rebels Against Sexual Assault and a panelist for the Huffington Post’s Listen to America Tour. An editorial cartoonist for the Daily Mississippian and Oxford Eagle, he received the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Region 12 Award for best political cartoonist. Thrasher has been accepted to graduate school at Yale University. Where he plans pursue a doctorate in biology and biological sciences. His parents are Christy Branton Thrasher of Birmingham, Alabama, and the late Michael Aaron Thrasher.

Ingrid Valbuena

Valbuena is an integrated marketing communications major and a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She served as vice president of administration for Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and was an orientation leader and coordinator. A member of the Columns Society, Valbuena also hosted “sad girls, bad girls,” a weekly program on Rebel Radio. Her plans are to earn a master’s degree in IMC and advertising and become a college professor. Valbuena’s parents are Marcos Valbuena and Omarly Acina of Maracaibo, Venezuela.

 

RFK’s ‘Delta Epiphany’ to be Discussed at Overby Center

UM professor to talk about her new book at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Bill Rose

OXFORD, Miss. – Ellen Meacham, author of “Delta Epiphany,” a new book on Robert F. Kennedy’s dramatic tour of the Mississippi Delta in 1967 and its impact on the region, will discuss her work at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 3) at the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.

Bill Rose, a former Overby fellow who was working as a journalist in the Delta at the time, will join Meacham in the discussion of her research and conclusions involving Kennedy’s foray to investigate the problems of hunger among poor people.

The event is free and open to the public, and a reception follows the program. Parking will be available in the lot adjacent to the Overby Center Auditorium.

“Ellen’s book is a valuable addition to the corpus of written material about Robert Kennedy,” Overby fellow Curtis Wilkie said. “Though other books have touched on Kennedy’s trip to the Delta, no one has concentrated on his mission among impoverished black families, an experience that lasted only one day but helped radicalize his politics for the remaining year of his life.”

This is the fourth in a series of programs at the Overby Center this spring dealing with social unrest in America in the 1960s that culminated in historic explosions in 1968 that included the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

Ellen Meacham

Meacham, a member of the Ole Miss journalism faculty, writes not only of the Congressional inquiry that concluded with stops in Greenville, Cleveland, Mound Bayou and Clarksdale in April 1967, but also explores the aftereffects that still have resonance in the Delta.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s trip, Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, led a well-publicized tour of the region last summer. In 1967, she was a civil rights attorney in Mississippi and served as Kennedy’s guide.

In one of Meacham’s final research efforts in a project that consumed nearly a decade, she traveled on the bus with Edelman.

“Delta Epiphany: Robert F. Kennedy in Mississippi” was published this spring by University Press of Mississippi.

Former Gov. William F. Winter has hailed the book.

“Ellen Meacham uses her superb talents as a historian and writer to record a transcendant … event in our state’s conflicted history,” Winter said.

Highly Anticipated Lens Collective Returns to UM

Events include mentoring, book signing and a tour of Delta locales

Students head to and from classes at Farley Hall, home of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi will host the Lens Collective, an annual multimedia workshop that features collaborations with mentors, students and eight universities, on March 28-31.

This year’s focus is on stories about civil rights in the Mississippi Delta.

“The Lens Collective is fun and intense,” said Alysia Burton Steele, UM assistant professor of journalism. “We have incredible mentors helping students and sharing their inspiring work.”

Three distinguished guests who mentor students and present their work are Smiley Pool, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist from the Dallas Morning News; Eric Seals, a nine-time regional Emmy Award-winner from the Detroit Free Press; and Josh Birnbaum, award-winning photojournalism professor at Ohio University and author of the coffee table book “Dream Shot: The Journey a Wheelchair Basketball National Championship” (University of Illinois Press, 2017).

Birnbaum will have a book signing as part of the activities. See https://www.lenscollective.org/ for the schedule.

“We plan to take a bus tour in the Delta, enjoy dinner with people we’re documenting and will premiere student work on the last night of the program,” Steele said.

Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, has partnered with the Lens Collective to provide a civil rights heritage tour of the area. The tour will include the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville, the historic town of Mound Bayou and a Mississippi Delta soul food experience at The Senator’s Place restaurant in Cleveland.

Herts, Lee Aylward and Sheila Winters of The Delta Center organized the tour and connected the Lens Collective with Delta residents whose stories are being documented.

“We are pleased to host for a second year this group of talented students and mentors from across the country,” Herts said. “They are documenting and preserving important Mississippi Delta stories.”

This is also the second year the Ole Miss journalism school has partnered and will sponsor all other events, which provide an opportunity for participants to build their resumes and portfolios.

“Universities that can provide immersive field experiences to their students like the Lens Collective are taking their education seriously,” said Charles Mitchell, the school’s assistant dean. “They understand that classroom alone is not sufficient for a media practitioner.

“They find out how much fun it can be and their college work is better because seeing what it’s really like being out in the field inspires them.”

Events are free and open to the public. Meals are reserved for faculty and students only. For more information about the activities, go to https://www.lenscollective.org/.

Overby Center to Host ‘A Conversation About Race’

Free event set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday

OXFORD, Miss. – As the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. approaches, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi is hosting a discussion of race in America, featuring two authorities on the subject.

Gene Dattel, author of “Reckoning with Race: America’s Failure,” and Otis Sanford, who wrote “From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics,” will conduct “A Conversation About Race” at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday (March 28) in the Overby Center Auditorium.

The event is free and open to the public. Parking will be available in the lot outside the auditorium, and a reception follows the program.

“These two native Mississippians know about race naturally,” said Curtis Wilkie, Cook Chair and associate professor of journalism. “We look forward to having both of them back at the Overby Center.”

A native of Ruleville who lives in New York, Dattel appeared previously at the Overby Center in connection with his 2009 book, “Cotton and Race in the Making of America.” Mississippian Morgan Freeman said, “Gene Dattel’s book masterfully captures America’s history and its painful legacy.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and a law degree from Vanderbilt University, he went to work in international finance. Dattel soon developed a reputation for his energetic exploration of racial problems in this country.

Sanford grew up near Como and graduated from UM in 1975. A frequent guest at the Overby Center, he had a distinguished career in journalism before joining the faculty at the University of Memphis, where he holds the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism.

A former managing editor of the Commercial Appeal, Sanford still writes a Sunday column for the newspaper. His extensive coverage of race in Memphis led to the publication of his book in 2017.

In its review, the Memphis Flyer praised Sanford for his “accuracy and grace” and called his work “a textbook case of how to handle the black and white realities of Memphis’s political evolution with appropriate shadings of gray.”

For more information, contact Curtis Wilkie at 662-915-1787.

Spark Series Covers Starting an Online Business

Free event is Tuesday at Jackson Avenue Center

OXFORD, Miss. – The process seems simple: Launch a business online; make money.

Except the process is not that straightforward, and the next Spark Series at the University of Mississippi covers what business owners need to consider before starting their online ventures, including avoiding pitfalls, digitally marketing their businesses smarter and more.

“Questions You Should Ask Before Launching Your Business Online” is set for 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday (March 20) at the Jackson Avenue Center, Auditorium A.

The free panel discussion is open to the public with no registration necessary. The panel includes Allyson Best, director of the UM Division of Technology Management; Stacey Lantagne, assistant professor of law at the UM School of Law; Neil Olson, former general counsel with mortgage technology company FNC Inc., and startup and tech business consultant; and Jennifer Sadler, UM instructional assistant professor of integrated marketing communications.

The event is intended for any new or existing business, any nonprofit or other organization, or any individual who is interested in a website, app or other digital effort.

“Life online is continuously evolving,” Lantagne said. “It’s important to think about how the law affects the ways you want to use the internet to grow your business. We want to make sure you make the law work for you.”

After the presentation, experts from around campus and the community will be available for individual conversations during an ask-the-expert reception.

The first Spark Series event in late February discussed questions potential business owners need to investigate before forming a limited liability company. The event was well-attended by new businesses and existing ones, and by members of the UM campus and the local community, Best said.

“Now we are going to spark a discussion on another critical point: doing business online,” Best said.

A number of issues should be considered when doing business online, such as contractual and intellectual property considerations, work-for-hire issues when designing a website or app, and security requirements for protecting a business.

“Copyright is as old as our Constitution, yet it still seems to have surprises in store for new entrepreneurs,” Olson said. “Let us show you how you can avoid some of the more unpleasant surprises so you can get on with making your new online presence a success.”

Tuesday’s discussion also includes Sadler, an expert in digital marketing and entrepreneurship.

Digital marketing starts and ends with the consumer, and in an era of big data, business owners can target their exact audience and reach them as they browse online, Sadler said. Some keys to doing this are researching the consumer, understanding their online behavior and providing an easy way to solve any problems they may have.

User-friendly websites and audience-tailored advertisements also help business owners when it comes to digital marketing, but making money online is still hard work.

“Many entrepreneurs believe that once the website or app is up that orders will immediately start coming in – instant success,” Sadler said. “The truth is that it rarely happens that way. It can take a new business roughly six to nine months to reach the top of Google search pages, and that’s only if you have the right website to reach your audience.

“We want to give attendees the tools they need to start strong and grow fast. From forming the business/website name to getting it online, we are aiming to equip entrepreneurs with information they can use today.”

The Spark Series – intended to inspire, discover and transform – will continue in the fall.

Sponsors of this Spark Series event include the Division of Technology Management, School of Law, Insight Park, Meek School of Journalism and New Media, Mississippi Law Research Institute, Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Mid-South Intellectual Property Institute.

Journalism Professor Presents Magazine Launch of the Year Award

Samir Husni announces honor for The Magnolia Journal at the American Magazine Media Conference

UM journalism professor Samir Husni presents the Magazine Launch of the Year award earlier this month at the American Magazine Media Conference in New York. Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for MPA – The Association of Magazine Media

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi journalism professor and Magazine Innovation Center director Samir Husni represented the university earlier this month at the American Magazine Media Conference in New York and presented The Magnolia Journal with the 2017 Launch of the Year Award.

Husni, known as “Mr. Magazine” for his extensive expertise of the magazine publishing industry, was the only university academic at the international conference. He was among the featured speakers of the conference, along with many other industry executives.

The publication is a lifestyle magazine launched by Meredith Magazines and Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”

“The connectivity of the content and the design made and continues to make this magazine fly off the shelves,” Husni said. “Under the leadership of editor-in-chief Joanna Gaines, this print product creates a very interactive experience for readers.

“All in all, The Magnolia Journal burst onto the scene, and in less than a year, floated to the top, deserving the Launch of the Year award – an honor well-deserved.”

Husni, along with a selection committee, chose the magazine from among 212 total publications that launched last year.

“It was a huge team effort, starting with Chip and Joanna Gaines and our execution on that,” said Doug Olson, Meredith president. “Secondly, Meredith doesn’t win many of these awards, so we’re super excited and very much appreciate the recognition.”

Though the Gaineses were not in attendance to receive the award, they displayed their gratitude in a video sent to Husni and played at the conference.

Husni will host his own annual magazine conference in April at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss. The ACT 8 Experience brings in experts from all areas of magazine publishing to speak on a variety of topics and connect with students.

Overby Center Begins Spring Program Series

First panel discussion Feb. 20 focuses on the integration of churches in Jackson

Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center, will speak on several panel discussions this spring. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics will host several discussions and lectures this spring, beginning with a discussion Tuesday (Feb. 20) about a campaign 50 years ago to integrate churches in Jackson.

The panel discussion “Integrating God’s House” will feature Carter Dalton Lyon, author of “Sanctuaries of Segregation: The Story of the Jackson Church Visit Campaign,” Ole Miss graduate Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center, and Warren Black, retired pastor of Oxford-University United Methodist Church.

Lyon explored the topic as a graduate student several years ago while working on his dissertation, which turned into a book last year. His research concentrates on civil rights activists from Tougaloo College and their mission to integrate Methodist churches in the 1960s because they believed the national denomination of the church would not approve of segregation.

Overby was in high school in Jackson during this time and witnessed attempts to integrate his church where many black people were arrested while trying to worship. Black was known as one of community’s progressive leaders during his time at the church in Oxford.

The schedule also includes other programs that reflect on the racial turmoil in the state in the 1960s, marking the 50th anniversary of many historic dates of the civil rights movement.

“It’s hard to believe it has been 50 years since the tumultuous events of 1968,” Overby said. “Our programs this spring will give us an opportunity to look at the politics of the 1960s and compare it to today.”

All Overby Center events begin at 5:30 p.m., with a reception following. The programs are free and open to the public. Parking is available in the lot adjacent to the Overby Center auditorium.

Other events in the series are:

March 6 – “Bill Rose Tells All”: Mississippi journalist Bill Rose is retiring after serving as an Overby fellow and journalism instructor at Ole Miss. He will discuss critical news stories and experiences during his long career.

March 28 – “A Conversation About Race”: Gene Dattel, author of “Reckoning with Race: America’s Failure,” and Otis Sanford, former managing editor of The Commercial Appeal and instructor at the University of Memphis, will discuss the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as the 50th anniversary of his death approaches.

April 3 – “Delta Epiphany”: Journalism instructor Ellen Meacham will discuss her new book that suggests Robert F. Kennedy’s politics were changed by his 1967 visit to the Mississippi Delta, where witnessed poverty and hunger. That visit led to his 1968 presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated. Overby fellow Curtis Wilkie, who covered Kennedy’s Delta trip for the Clarksdale Press Register, will join Meacham in the discussion.

April 10 – “Why Debates are Vital”: Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates for the past 30 years, will talk about the importance of debates in modern politics. She played a major role in bringing the 2008 presidential debate to the Ole Miss campus. Brown will be joined by Overby and Wilkie, both of whom covered many debates during their journalism careers.

April 17 – “Tales of Outrageous Injustice”: Radley Balko, investigative reporter with The Washington Post, and Tucker Carrington, director of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the UM School of Law, document how questionable testimonies by “expert witnesses” in state courts have sent innocent people to prison in their book “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist.” They will discuss how institutional racism and inadequate forensic evidence have influenced the judicial system in Mississippi.

Alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. Pens ‘Black Panther’ Superhero Novel

Film is expected to soar at the box office for opening weekend

UM alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. has written a novel for Marvel to reintroduce its 1960s superhero ‘Black Panther,’ the main character in a new blockbuster film.

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. was tapped by Marvel to reintroduce the world to the 1960s “Black Panther” superhero franchise through a new novel ahead of this weekend’s release of the blockbuster film about T’Challa, ruler of Wakanda. 

Holland, a Holly Springs native who graduated from the university in 1994 with a degree in journalism, was tasked in 2016 with retelling the story through a 90,000-word origin story novel based on material in six comics. The goal was to create a new world for the main character, T’Challa, set in modern times.

The novel was released last fall as part of efforts to promote the new $200 million movie, which stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, and features Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong’o. Rap megastar Kendrick Lamar produced the soundtrack. 

Being asked to write the novel, “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?” was a dream come true, Holland said. 

“I’ve been reading comic books my entire life,” Holland said. “When I was at Ole Miss, me and my friends would drive from campus all the way to Memphis to comic book shops on Wednesday or Thursday nights when the new ones came out and pick them up. 

“I told Marvel I’d love to take it on and they offered to send me some Black Panther comic books for research, and I said, ‘Don’t bother. I already have them all in my basement right now.”

The movie is poised for a majorly successful box office opening weekend. Drawing attention as one of the first superhero movies to feature a person of color as the main character, it follows the release of “Wonder Woman,” which featured the first female superhero star on the big screen.

Audiences are clamoring for something different from traditional Hollywood superhero movies, and there’s a much broader appeal than normal that is driving the high expectations, Holland said. 

“This is not a recycled superhero story,” he said. “It is not the third different actor playing the same character. This is something that is completely new, completely different as far as superhero movies go.

“One of the things we are going to see behind the success of this character is that we as Americans don’t need to see the same story over and over. We are accepting of new heroes and new mythologies, and in fact we’re more accepting of heroes of all colors and genders. America is ready for a different type of hero.”

In the film, T’Challa returns home to the isolated, but technologically advanced, African nation of Wakanda to succeed the throne that was recently vacated when his father, the king, died. The country is able to be technologically advanced because it’s the only source of an advanced metal known as vibranium.

When another nation attempts to invade Wakanda to take the ultrarare material, T’Challa is forced into a role as his nation’s protector. 

Jesse Holland Jr.

He is a complicated character, Holland said. 

“When people ask me about T’Challa, I tell them to imagine if the president, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the pope were all the same person,” Holland said. “On top of that, he’s a superhero.

“His superhero outfit is bound with vibranium, which makes him almost indestructible. He also takes a special herb that gives him super powers.”

“Black Panther” is drawing high marks from critics. The New York Times called it, “A jolt of a movie,” and said it “creates wonder with great flair and feeling partly through something Hollywood rarely dreams of anymore: myth. Most big studio fantasies take you out for a joy ride only to hit the same exhausted story and franchise-expanding beats. Not this one.”

Over six months, Holland wrote the updated origin story based on a 2005 version.

“It’s actually pretty cool to not have to start from scratch and to take a storyline by an absolutely great writer like Reginald Hudlin,” Holland said. “He based his work (in 2005) on the great work that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started with.

“To be able to take that work and make it your own and be able to add and subtract and mold it to something you’re happy with is just fabulous.”

Doing this kind of work is nothing new for Holland. Disney Lucasfilm Press commissioned him to write the history of the Star Wars franchise’s newest black hero, “Finn.” He told his story in the 2016 young adult novel “Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Finn’s Story.”  

He’s also penned award-winning nonfiction. His book “The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slavery in the White House” (Lyons Press, 2016) won the 2017 silver medal in U.S. History in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. 

He teaches creative nonfiction writing as part of the Master of Fine Arts program at Goucher College in Townson, Maryland. He is also a race and ethnicity writer for The Associated Press. 

Holland recently saw a screening of the movie, which he said is “fabulous.” He expects the release will create a major payday for everyone involved.

“From everything we’re seeing – all of the sold-out movie theaters, pop-up bars, pop-up art shows and pop-up screenings, it seems like this is going to be a record-breaking weekend for Marvel, and maybe the movie industry,” Holland said. “It’s going to be amazing to see the final numbers.”