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School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Professional Development

Center for Black Studies

In 2005, the Center for Black Studies was established to affirm the university’s commitment of fulfilling its diversity initiatives. Southern Miss was desegregated in 1965 when Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong became the first African-American students enrolled at the university. Fifty years of progress is evident in the wide-ranging programming, research, teaching, and service activities organized and supported by the Center for Black Studies. 

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What do we do?

The mission of the Center is two-fold:

  • To promote research and provide educational opportunities related to the history and culture of African Americans and the Black Diaspora;
  • Facilitate connections between the University and the various social, political, and economic entities that address Black experiences.




A Civil Rights Pioneer

Measure of Progress: The Clyde Kennard Story


Measure of Progress: The Clyde Kennard Story is a documentary produced with the hope to spark an open dialogue about race relations and make Kennard's voice heard, not just at the University, but in the community. The documentary was produced by Steele, Ji Hoon Heo and Bobby D. Steele Jr., in partnership with the Freedom50 Research Group — Johnson, Jenkins, and USM's Rebecca Tuuri and Loren Saxton Coleman.  


Since its establishment in 2005, the Center for Black Studies has sponsored programs featuring scholars, creative artists, and community activists as guest lecturers on wide-ranging topics relevant to the study of black people and race relations in general. 

Notable Past Events

Clyde Kennard Lecture Series

A three-part lecture series presented by an interdisciplinary cohort of University of Southern Mississippi professors, including Dr. Sherita Johnson, Dr. Loren Saxton Coleman, Dr. Cheryl Jenkins and Dr. Rebecca Tuuri who presented the critical perspectives of the Clyde Kennard case in relations to racial progress at USM. The series was presented by the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Historic Eureka School, USM Center for Black Studies and the Freedom50 Research Group.


From Demonstration to Legislation: Local Activism and the Legacy of the Voting Rights Act

A community panel / dialogue commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The panel featured members of the Hattiesburg community who were actively involved in local and state-wide demonstrations calling for the passage of voting rights legislation and scholars whose work focuses on voting rights and voter disenfranchisement in the American South. The panel discussion was followed by a voter registration drive in Hattiesburg’s Mobile/Bouie area organized by the Black Studies Student Alliance.


Desegregation at Southern Miss featuring keynote address by Soledad O’Brien

Former CNN news anchor, reporter and award-winning journalist, Soledad O’Brien, was the keynote address for the 50th Anniversary of USM’s desegregation. The featured program, “Celebrating 50 Years of Progress: Desegregation of USM” involved discussion of the historical event.

“That is an important mission for the center, through our research, teaching and service activities,” Director of the Southern Miss Center for Black Studies Sherita Johnson told the Hattiesburg American back in 2005. “Having O’Brien on campus for this occasion illustrates the university’s commitment to educating and empowering the next generation of leaders.”


Freedom Day

A re-enactment of the march on January 22, 1964 when groups of civil rights activists from across the country partnered with local Hattiesburg residents to challenge the discriminatory practices barring African Americans from voting in Forrest County, Mississippi.


Freedom Summer Dialogues

Monthly public forums (from February to May) about social and political challenges prevalent in the state of Mississippi and the nation at-large, fifty years ago and presently. Dr. Anthony Harris (local veteran of the civil rights movement) and Robert “Bob” Moses (Organizer, “Mississippi Summer Project” and SNCC Field Secretary) were featured guest speakers during the series.


Freedom Summer 1964-2014 Conference

A commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, when hundreds of volunteers came to Mississippi in 1964 launching a massive voter registration drive for African Americans. It featured keynote speakers Charles E. Cobb, Jr. (SNCC, Field Secretary and award-winning journalist) and civil rights historian Emilye Crosby (Geneseo College at SUNY), which appealed to a diverse collection of other scholars, activists, students, local citizens, and other professionals. 

A special edition of The Southern Quarterly based on the Freedom Summer commemorative events at Southern Miss.


Poetry Reading & Workshop

Poet Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie visited the University of Southern Mississippi as part of a speaking tour for her book, Karma’s Footsteps (Flipped Eye Publishing, 2011). As a writer, educator, and performer, Ekere’s creative work on silence, sexism and racism appealed broadly to members of the University’s campus and the local community.


The Help: Controversy and Mystique

A panel discussion open to the USM campus and surrounding communities to address the impact of The Help (2011), a popular novel by Mississippian writer Kathryn Stockett.


Black Power and Yellow Power

A lecture and Q & A with Dr. Rychetta N. Watkins, assistant professor of English at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Watkins discussed her book, Black Power, Yellow Power, and the Making of Revolutionary Identities (University Press of Mississippi, 2012).


Book Donations for Jamaican Youths

Dr. Sherita L. Johnson (Associate Professor, Department of English) collected over 500 children's books (new and/or slightly used) to take to Jamaica as part of a service learning project with the Caribbean Studies Program. These books were donated to the Blossom Garden Child Care Facility, an orphanage in Montego Bay, Jamaica and the Granville Place of Safety for Girls in Trelawny, Jamaica. 



Affiliated Minor

Black Studies Minor       

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School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Professional Development

110 Elizabeth Harkins Hall (EHH)
118 College Dr. #5112
Hattiesburg, MS 39406


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730 East Beach Blvd
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Room 228
Long Beach, MS 39560

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