Politics Dominate Autumn Schedule at UM Overby Center

Twelfth year of programing continues with Wednesday evening discussion

OXFORD, Miss. – Fresh off the success of bringing the popular MSNBC program “Morning Joe” to Oxford, the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics is preparing a slate of election year-themed discussions on campus.

The center’s 12th year of programs at Ole Miss began Friday (Sept. 14), with an evening at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts featuring “Morning Joe” hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, along with historian and commentator Jon Meacham and biographer Walter Isaacson.

All remaining Overby Center programs this season are slated for the center’s auditorium, where events are free and open to the public. Arrangements have been made for free parking in the lot next to the auditorium.

“A broad array of nationally recognized journalists and commentators will give our audiences valuable insights,” said Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center.

The fall lineup features:

  • Wednesday (Sept. 19), 5:30 p.m., “In the Dark” Investigative journalists for an acclaimed podcast will talk about their yearlong probe into the reasons why a Winona man has been tried six times for a quadruple murder. Curtis Flowers has been in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman for 21 years even though he has won repeated appeals. Madeleine Baran and Samara Freemark will reveal how their work focused on the prosecutor, the witnesses and how justice works – or doesn’t.
  • Sept. 25, 5:30 p.m., “Deep South Dispatch” – John Herbers was a Mississippi reporter who covered the early stages of the civil rights movement for United Press International before moving to a distinguished career at The New York Times. At the end of his life, he collaborated with his daughter, Anne Farris Rosen, on a memoir about his experiences in the South in the 1960s that was published this year. Rosen will talk about her father with other journalists in Mississippi during that period.
  • Oct. 10, 5:30 p.m., “Showcasing an Outstanding Alumnus” – James Autry, an Ole Miss graduate who rose to become editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens and then took over as general manager of the Meredith Corp.’s magazine empire, returns to Oxford to talk about his years as an executive, educational speaker, consultant and poet. His latest volume of poetry, “Mississippi,” has just been published.
  • Oct. 19, 11 a.m., “Election Thoughts” – Two-and-a-half weeks before this fall’s critical congressional elections, political journalist Peter Boyer will be on hand to discuss the chances of a Democratic takeover on Capitol Hill. A native Mississippian, Boyer attended Ole Miss. His background ranges from The New Yorker to Newsweek, from Frontline to Fox News. He is a national correspondent for The Weekly Standard.
  • Nov. 14, 5:30 p.m., “Reading the Returns” – A pair of veteran Mississippi political handlers with opposing partisan interests – Republican Austin Barbour and Democrat Brandon Jones – will debate the outcome of the Nov. 6 election as well as a prospective runoff later in the month for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Thad Cochran.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Yale Law Professor and Author Set for Tuesday Lectures

James Forman Jr. to provide a critical look at the criminal justice system

James Forman Jr. Photo courtesy Harold Shapiro

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi will host James Forman Jr., author of the acclaimed new book “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” for a series of lectures and events Tuesday (Nov. 14) on campus.

Forman, a professor at the Yale Law School, will speak at the UM School of Law’s Weems Auditorium at 12:45 p.m., followed by a book signing. He speaks again at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, with a reception following. All events are free and open to the public.

Forman teaches and writes in the areas of criminal procedure and criminal law policy, constitutional law, juvenile justice, and education law and policy. He is particularly interested in schools, prisons and police.

“I’ve known James for all of my professional career as a lawyer,” said Tucker Carrington, UM assistant professor of law and director of the George C. Cochran Innocence Project. “I was fortunate to be his colleague when we were both public defenders in D.C.

“Professor Forman will downplay his talent, but he was a superb trial lawyer – whip-smart, personable, thoughtful and deeply passionate about his clients and their plight. Juries got it immediately; they loved him. He has brought those same qualities to his teaching and to the subject matter of his new book: the complex reasons behind our national problem with over-incarceration.”

For the Overby Center program, Carrington will conduct a conversation on social issues with Forman.

“We believe it will be a provocative program and a strong way to wind up our fall series,” said Curtis Wilkie, the university’s Overby fellow.

After graduating from Brown University and Yale Law School, Forman clerked for Judge William Norris of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit and then for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the United States Supreme Court. He then joined the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., where for six years he represented both juveniles and adults charged with crimes.

During his time as a public defender, Forman became frustrated with the lack of education and job training opportunities for his clients. In 1997, he, along with David Domenici, started the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, an alternative school for dropouts and youth who had previously been arrested. The school has since expanded and is run inside D.C.’s juvenile prison.

“Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017) argues that law enforcement initiatives by black officials have had devastating consequences for black communities. The book has been listed on the National Book Award Longlist, among other critical praise.

For more information, contact Carrington at 662-915-5207 or carringw@olemiss.edu.

Women and Entrepreneurship Week Kicks off Monday

Campus and community agencies partner to host slate of events

OXFORD, Miss. – A new weeklong observance at the University of Mississippi focuses on women and minorities in entrepreneurial businesses, with a goal of encouraging more women to launch their own business ventures.

The inaugural Women and Entrepreneurship Week begins Monday (Nov. 13), hosted by the university’s Career Center, School of Engineering and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, housed in the School of Business Administration. The series of events is sponsored by the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation and the Mabus Agency of Tupelo.

Staff at the CIE have wanted to host an event for almost two years to demonstrate to women that entrepreneurship is a vibrant pathway to a career, said Cobie Watkins, the center’s director of student and alumni programs.

“Historically, men have possessed a greater hold on the entrepreneurial market, but that’s changing now,” Watkins said. “We want women to see they can be just as successful in this field as men.”

More women are imagining themselves as business owners and entrepreneurs – almost 42 percent in 2015, up from 36 percent in 2012 – and those numbers are continuing to grow, Watkins said.

The center’s goal is to have students think about starting their own businesses and broadening their opportunities to become more innovative, said Richard J. Gentry, associate professor of entrepreneurship and CIE strategy director.

“The job market today is much less stable than it was a generation ago,” Gentry said. “A primary mission of a college is to help students appreciate the range of employment opportunities in both small and large businesses.

“WE Week is a central part of that and we’re so happy to be partnering with our friends across campus to present it.”

The week features four events, each of which focuses on a different aspect of business. The events are designed to coach students in professional development areas that affect women students with entrepreneurial aspirations.

The first event, “Be You: Branding Your Life,” is set for noon Tuesday (Nov. 14) in the Overby Center auditorium. It includes regional experts who will advise attendees on how to best market themselves in their careers.

Up next is a small business panel, set for 2 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 15) in Holman Hall, Room 30.

“We believe entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial careers are going to continue to shape the economy of Mississippi and the region,” Watkins said. The speakers and panelists at these events will be a wonderful example for our attendees.”

Set for noon Thursday (Nov. 17), “Up, Up and Away: Following Your Passions Beyond Expectations” will feature representatives from Sierra Madre Research, a startup in Calhoun City, and Juli and Richard Rhett, a couple who scored a deal with entrepreneur Richard Branson on the television show “Shark Tank.”

The closing event, at noon Friday (Nov. 18), will feature Brittany Wagner from Netflix’s “Last Chance U,” discussing her success story. Both Thursday and Friday’s events will be in the Overby Center auditorium.

“I feel like these topics will offer good information to so many students who are interested in these areas for their careers,” said Casey Cockrell, assistant director of employer services at the UM Career Center. “There is something for everyone all week.”

A committee of six women, ages 19 and up, developed the events with the goal of getting attendees to think about the career challenges they face as women, Watkins said.

“We took those ideas and narrowed down the list to showcase subject areas and speakers that would represent a multitude of viewpoints of women in their careers and women as entrepreneurs,” she said.

“The world of work is constantly changing and trends develop,” Cockrell said. “Right now is a good time to learn about entrepreneurship as it might be the best and most rewarding career path for a student.”

Overby Center Fall Lineup Focuses on State’s History

Opening program Tuesday looks at journalists covering university's 1962 integration

Tom Oliphant, a former Boston Globe reporter, will return to campus to discuss ‘The Road to Camelot,’ a book he wrote with Overby fellow Curtis Wilkie. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics begins its 11th year at the University of Mississippi with emphasis on the state’s 200th birthday and a program about the role of journalists during the crisis surrounding the integration of the school 55 years ago.

The opening program, at 4 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 26), is built around journalism professor Kathleen Wickham’s new book, “We Believed We Were Immortal.” The presentation will include a short film about a reporter slain during the all-night riot – the only fatality suffered among journalists who covered the civil rights movement through the 1960s – as well as a conversation between three well-known figures at Ole Miss.

Wickham will be joined in the discussion by Don Cole, UM assistant provost. Douglass Sullivan-Gonzales, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, will serve as moderator.

“The fall programs at the Overby Center will reveal fresh insights into some historic issues,” said Charles Overby, chairman of the center. “These programs once again reaffirm that William Faulkner was right about the past not being past.”

Free and open to the public, the discussion and all the remaining fall events are in the Overby Center auditorium.

The talk will be preceded by an eight-minute film about Paul Guihard, the French journalist who was shot and killed during the turmoil. The mystery surrounding his death has never been solved. The film was prepared by Mykki Newton, a former television journalist and staff member at the university’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

Tuesday’s event will be followed by five other programs during the fall semester:

– Oct. 10, 5:30 p.m. – Charles Eagles, a longtime member of the history faculty at Ole Miss, will discuss his new book, “Civil Rights Culture Wars,” with K.B. Melear, professor of higher education. Eagles’ book deals with a controversy that spanned much of the 1970s over efforts to introduce a new textbook that fully chronicles Mississippi’s troubled racial history into public high schools in the state. Earlier textbooks sugarcoated slavery and glorified the Confederacy.

– Oct. 18, 5:30 p.m. – John F. Kennedy’s audacious plan to win Southern support in 1960 by courting prominent segregationists in the region, while at the same time trying to enlist civil rights activists in Northern states, will be the subject of a conversation with Tom Oliphant and Overby fellow Curtis Wilkie, who worked together as journalists for the Boston Globe for more than a quarter-century and are co-authors of a new book, “The Road to Camelot.” Charles Overby will act as moderator.

– Oct. 24, 5:30 p.m. – Six weeks before the dedication the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the directors of both museums, Rachel Myers and Pamela Junior, will talk about how they chose the topics and artifacts to be featured in the facilities at a time when Mississippi’s history continues to be debated.

– Nov. 7, 2:30 p.m. – A group of Ole Miss students, along with Overby fellow Bill Rose and Ji Hoon Heo of the journalism faculty who accompanied them, will discuss their summer trip to Sri Lanka and their work to produce a magazine and video presentations about the exotic land where an ancient culture has survived a brutal civil war and a disastrous tsunami in recent years.

– Nov. 14, 5:30 p.m. – James Forman Jr., a Yale Law School professor, author of the critically-acclaimed “Locking Up Our Own” and son of a prominent civil rights leader, will discuss his belief that some approaches adopted by prosecutors and African-Americans to control crime actually have had a devastating impact in poor black communities. He will be joined in the conversation by Tucker Carrington, director of the Innocence Project at the UM School of Law.

For more information about the Overby Center, visit http://overbycenter.org/.

Overby Center to Salute Mississippi’s 200th Anniversary

Programs examine state's history and look to the future

State Rep. Jay Hughes will discuss Mississippi’s commitment to education Friday at the Overby Center.

OXFORD, Miss. – In recognition of the 200th anniversary of Mississippi’s statehood, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi will put special emphasis on Mississippi programs during the spring semester.

“The people and events in Mississippi’s past provide an interesting glimpse into our state’s future,” explained Charles Overby, chairman of the center, in announcing the lineup.

The first of six events – “How Deep is Mississippi’s Commitment to Education?” – will concentrate on one of the most controversial issues in the state. Rep. Jay Hughes, an Oxford Democrat who has been outspoken in his criticism of the administration and the Legislature’s approach to education, will be joined by Bracey Harris, an education reporter for the Clarion-Ledger, for a conversation at 6 p.m. Friday (Feb. 10).

Using the slogan “It ALL starts with education” for his frequent emails to constituents and other interested parties, the first-term legislator has closely tracked bills involving educational issues and sharply faulted a new formula devised by a New Jersey firm hired by the Republican leadership to determine levels of state aid for various school districts in the state.

“Jay Hughes has become one of the most urgent voices in the Legislature,” Overby fellow Curtis Wilkie said. “Our program is designed to give him an opportunity to expand on his thoughts, while offering members of our community a chance to question him during a Q&A session.”

The program, like all Overby Center events, is free and open to the public. Arrangements are being made to provide parking in a lot adjacent to the Overby Center.

Following most of this spring’s programs, a reception also will provide opportunities for members of the audience to mingle with special guests.

Other events on the Overby agenda this spring:

– Feb. 17, 1:30 p.m. – “Assault on the Media.” Four prominent Mississippi journalists  discuss a growing hostility toward the press. Overby fellow Bill Rose will moderate a panel discussion that includes Jerry Mitchell, prize-winning investigative reporter at the Clarion-Ledger; the newspaper’s popular cartoonist Marshall Ramsey; Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting; and Kate Royals, another award-winning education reporter for Mississippi Today.

– March 8, 6 p.m. – “Revisiting Jefferson Davis and J.Z. George: U.S. Capitol Relics?” William “Brother” Rodgers, director of programs at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Marvin King, an Ole Miss political science professor; and Charles Overby will consider whether the subjects of Mississippi’s two statues in a capitol hall for all 50 states are appropriate today.

– March 27, 6 p.m. – “Mississippians Say the Strangest Things.” David Crews of Oxford has compiled a collection, “The Mississippi Book of Quotations,” and will talk with Overby about the new publication, his choices in it and his longtime interest in memorable lines by people from the state.

– April (date to be determined) – “The Free State of Jones.” Retired federal judge Charles Pickering, a native of historic and colorful Jones County, will join Overby and others in a discussion about the breakaway movement during the Civil War, a fascinating piece of Mississippi history that was recently celebrated in books and a movie.

– April 24, 6 p.m. – “Racial Politics in Memphis.” Otis Sanford, an Ole Miss journalism graduate who writes a column for the Commercial Appeal and teaches at the University of Memphis, will talk about his new book, “From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics.”

Westbrook Pledges Major Gift to UM Journalism School

Endowment will support new construction, featuring consumer research lab

Leslie Westbrook visits with (from left) Jason McCormick, development officer for the Meek School of Journalism and New Media; UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter; and Will Norton, UM journalism dean. UM photo by Bill Dabney

Leslie Westbrook visits with (from left) Jason McCormick, development officer for the Meek School of Journalism and New Media; UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter; and Will Norton, UM journalism dean. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – In true Rebel style, University of Mississippi alumna Leslie Westbrook bucked the confines of her generation and became one of the nation’s most successful consumer market specialists with Fortune 500 clients.

“Like all good Southern ladies in that era, I planned to marry my college sweetheart and teach school,” said Westbrook, a Jackson native who was named Miss Ole Miss in 1968. “I was to start the family and add to it the station wagon and dogs. Well, I cancelled the Big Fat Southern Wedding.”

Instead, she landed a job in Procter & Gamble’s Market Research Department and left Mississippi for Cincinnati. The bachelor’s degree in education that Westbrook earned from UM in 1968 would have served her well for teaching, but she required weeks of on-the-job training for her new career as a consumer research specialist and marketing strategist.

“There is a great need to offer extensive consumer research training to students who are majoring in integrated marketing communications through the Meek School of Journalism and New Media,” Westbrook said.

Determined to see students adequately prepared to enter her profession, Westbrook has pledged $500,000 to the university. The Leslie M. Westbrook Journalism Quasi Endowment will ultimately support the construction of a new consumer research laboratory bearing Westbrook’s name.

“Leslie is very generously giving for an area to which she devoted her entire professional life,” said Will Norton, UM journalism dean. “She’s basically saying how thankful she has been for her Ole Miss education and that she wants first-class opportunities that will enable students to prepare for a similar career.

“This is the first major gift for the new building, and it means a great deal to have such a significant kickoff.”

Westbrook said she has discussed the school’s needs with Norton and Meek School namesake Ed Meek over the past couple of years.

Leslie Westbrook instructs students at the UM Meek School of Journalism and New Media. UM photo by Bill Dabney

Leslie Westbrook instructs students at the UM Meek School of Journalism and New Media. UM photo by Bill Dabney

Besides providing financial support, she participates in faculty support, teaching a Global Brands course during May intersession and co-teaching, guest lecturing and meeting with students several other times a year. She also serves on the board of the university’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.

“We found the perfect fit,” she said. “Everything that I learned and put into practice in my career is taught in IMC over the course of the four-year program.

“I can speak from actual experience, from the business world, about how IMC can be utilized in a career and with a wider variety of choices: consumer research, marketing, branding, public relations, advertising, writing and more.”

In class, Westbrook often shares case studies from her work with such brands as Pringles, Pampers, Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee and the Dairy Queen Blizzard.

“I love my time back at Ole Miss, passing it forward, interacting with students,” she said. “If I can impact even one student, I am fulfilled.”

Westbrook’s gift will benefit the university community and beyond, Meek said.

“Leslie’s gift will represent the beginning of a major campaign to build a new building and dramatically expand the reach of the Meek School,” Meek said, adding that Westbrook enjoyed an extraordinary career in corporate practice nationwide. “Her focus is a unique laboratory that will create tremendous instructional, research and service opportunities for students and faculty

After Procter & Gamble, Westbrook joined New Product Insights, a nationally revered new product consulting firm in Kansas City, Missouri, where she practiced qualitative research as a marketing strategist for seven years before starting her own company in Easton, Maryland. During her career, she met with many Fortune 500 companies which later became clients of Leslie M. Westbrook & Associates Inc.

For the past 20 years, she has lived on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay near Washington, D.C., with her husband, Paolo Frigerio of Milan, Italy.

“The loyalty, support and dedication of our alumni like Leslie is a key element to the university’s continued excellence,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “Her gift will have a transformative effect on the Meek School of Journalism and New Media as we build for the future.”

The Leslie M. Westbrook Journalism Quasi Endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the endowment name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., University, MS 38655; or visit http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.