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University Archives, Downtown Hattiesburg Association Collaborate on Black History Month Project

Tue, 02/23/2021 - 17:26pm | By: David Tisdale

Exhibit in a downtown windowFaculty and staff in University Archives at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) recently assisted the Downtown Hattiesburg Association in commemorating Black History Month with the production of window exhibits currently on display through the end of February in the front windows of the building that once housed the Kress Department Store, located at 500 North Main Street.

The window exhibits feature images from the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, along with political campaign memorabilia of Black Mississippians who sought elected office, as well as material from University Archives’ Oseola McCarty collection. McCarty was a Hattiesburg washerwoman and famed USM benefactor who gave the bulk of her life’s savings to fund scholarships at the University.

“When I contacted the archives staff, they immediately agreed to do an exhibit even though they didn’t have much time to put it together,” said Leigh Ann Underwood, a member of the Association’s Promotions Committee. “They are an asset to Hattiesburg and a pleasure to work with, and we couldn’t have accomplished it without their help.”

Lorraine Stuart, an associate professor who serves as head of University Archives’ Special Collections and curator for Historical Manuscripts and Archives, said that although the opportunity to install the displays came at a hectic time, “we of course jumped at the chance.”

“As luck would have it, I had had an email from Aaron Sojourner mentioning exhibition panels in his mother’s – Sue Sojourner’s – collection that proved perfect for the installation,” Stuart said. “They focus on the fight for voting rights in Holmes County, which is a story that played out in several counties across Mississippi during the civil rights movement.”

The panels include images of grassroots activists Fannie Lou Hamer, Hartman Turnbow and Robert G. Clark among others, as well as citizens that turned up at “singing meetings” and court hearings despite the hot summer weather. University Archives staff also used a poster from the recently donated Pendergrass Political Collection.

Items on display downtown

Staff member with Oseola McCarty poster

For the second window display, items include from the collection of Oseola McCarty – “a beloved local figure whose generosity has done so much to help aspiring students obtain a college education from Southern Miss,” Stuart said. “We supplemented both displays with digital prints that Bourne Brothers comped for us. Everyone was happy to pitch in, particularly Jennifer Brannock, curator of Rare Books and Mississippiana, and Carla Carlson, assistant curator for Historical Manuscripts.”

University Archives staff members are in discussion with Underwood about other exhibition opportunities downtown. “It’s important to get our materials out where the public can view them and appreciate the history they hold, particularly for such a meaningful commemoration as Black History Month,” Stuart said.

For information about University Archives, which is housed in USM’s University Libraries, visit https://lib.usm.edu/spcol/collections/uarchives/.