The Society of Mississippi Archivists honors the life and service and mourns the February 21 passing of Bettye Brown, the Local History Assistant at Columbus-Lowndes Public Library’s Billups-Garth Archives. Since she began working at the archives in 2008, Brown helped untold numbers of patrons discover their family stories, worked on the development of print and digital resources, and assisted Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science students with their historical research projects. MSMS history teacher Chuck Yarborough wrote of her, “Her contributions to our students were contributions to our community’s future. We often say that we stand on the shoulders of others. A host of MSMS alums stand on Bettye’s shoulders, and she will be sorely missed.”
Mona Vance-Ali, who worked with Brown in the archives, said, “It was Bettye’s smiling face and dedicated work that helped make our repository a success. For thirteen years she assisted students, interns, and patrons with their research and projects. She leaves behind many fond memories. She was a colleague, but most importantly a friend.”
Bettye Brown’s work will live on through the lives she touched and the records she preserved for future generations. The Society sends its deepest condolences to her loved ones.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) was founded in 1902 and is the second oldest state archival program in the country. Though initially founded to protect the “Southern identity” and preserve records of the Civil War, the agency has expanded its reach and mission and now collects, preserves, and provides access to the many and varied archival resources of the state of Mississippi and is heavily involved in managing Mississippi’s historic landscapes and structures.
MDAH is currently run by a Board of Trustees composed of nine individuals drawn from across the state. Members are nominated by the Board itself and confirmed by the Senate. Senate Bill 2727 would strip this nominating power from the Board and transfer it to the Executive Branch of the State of Mississippi. The Society of Mississippi Archivists condemns this action in the strongest possible terms and urges members of the Mississippi House of Representatives to vote “no” on this action. We also urge Mississippi residents to contact their state representatives and share their concerns about the proposed course of action. That this action was proposed without any public notice before the Senate vote is particularly troubling.
Under its current configuration, with former Governor William F. Winter as President of the Board for fifty years and now Judge Reuben Anderson, the Board has worked in a nonpartisan way to preserve this complex history. Working together despite their own political differences, the Board successfully raised resources and support for a new Archives and History Building in 2003, followed by the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History in 2017, allowing Mississippi to not only be a destination for researchers, but also offering a place where difficult, controversial stories can be told by trained historians and archivists in a truthful way without concern for political fallout.
It is critical, now more than ever, that this work continue without political pressure. In 2017, just after the initial opening of the two museums, New York Times art critic Holland Cotter visited. Cotter was especially struck by the brutally honest approach to Mississippi history that the Museum’s curators took, explaining that “to a startling degree, and despite being a state-sponsored institution, the museum refuses to sugarcoat history.” We are also a state that just took a very small step out of this dark, racist past by finally changing the state flag in June 2020, in large part due to the potential major loss of revenue and financial support from entities like the NCAA and other organizations who threatened to pull events and funding from the state. We cannot go back. Placing the Board of Trustees in the hands of the Executive Branch invites significant politicization of the work of the agency and threatens to undo the good that the MDAH has done in telling the stories of this state in a candid, evidence-based way.
Mississippi is a state with a complex and difficult history that still struggles with issues of civil rights and racial justice. The ability to continue work in the preservation and accessibility of Mississippi history unencumbered by political interests is critical to the success of the mission of MDAH. The independence of the MDAH Board has been central to its integrity, and it should remain that way.
The Board of the Society of Mississippi Archivists
The Primary Source, journal of the Society of Mississippi Archivists, is a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to supporting the work and research of archivists, librarians, and historians in Mississippi, but also welcomes papers from archivists, librarians, and historians outside of Mississippi.
The April 2021 issue will be a special edition focusing on archival work during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be two sections. The first section will be for peer-reviewed articles, on topics that include, but are not limited to, the following topics in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic:
Archives management (staff and resource management; designing, implementing and managing long- and short-term processing projects, etc)
Innovative processing techniques and procedures
Innovative approaches to reference and instruction and providing access
Activities and projects related to social justice in the archives (Promoting Inclusion in the Archival Profession; Seeking, Collecting, and Promoting Collections from Marginalized Groups; Developing Collection Policies that Promote Inclusion; Including Marginalized Histories in Instruction; Creating Anti-Racist Descriptive Practices; Celebrating Cultural Histories of Marginalized Communities; Researching Marginalized Communities or Social Justice Topics
Exhibit design and implementation (digital and non-digital)
Reviews of books of interest to archivists, librarians and historians.
Articles submitted for peer review should be between 3,000 and 6,000 words and formatted in Chicago style.
The second section will be for informal personal reflections on pandemic experiences, limited to 500 words each.
The Society of Mississippi Archivists will hold our annual meeting online again this year, due to Covid concerns. The meeting will be held April 15 and 16 2021, via WebEx.
Registration is free and will be open shortly.
Theme: “Creative Problem Solving in Archives: Covid, Low Budgets, Natural Disasters, Oh My!”
This past year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, has required archivists to use creative problem solving skills, whether it be how to safely space out a reading room, how to safely offer instruction and reference, or how to prove to stakeholders that archival work can be done remotely. But creative problem solving is not new to archivists- all of us have dealt with insufficient budgets, supplies, and staffing, or perhaps faced damage related to mold, building leaks, or natural disasters. How have you handled these issues creatively?
Please share your proposal in roughly 250 words.
This call is open to non SMA members and graduate students.
Proposals are not restricted to the conference theme. All proposals related to archives will be considered.
SMA’s Virtual Table Talks are one-hour informal discussions to promote the sharing of knowledge between archivists working in Mississippi galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. Each talk will feature a speaker who will share their experience and knowledge on a given topic. For the 2020-21 season, SMA is looking for presenters who can speak to what activities or projects their institutions are completing in relation to Social Justice in the Archives. Presentations unrelated to Social Justice will also be considered, but preference will be given to topics directly related to the theme.
Presentation ideas include, but are not limited to:
Promoting Inclusion in the Archival Profession
Seeking, Collecting, and Promoting Collections from Marginalized Groups
Developing Collection Policies that Promote Inclusion
Including Marginalized Histories in Instruction
Creating Anti-Racist Descriptive Practices
Celebrating Cultural Histories of Marginalized Communities
Researching Marginalized Communities or Social Justice Topics
If you are interested in serving as a speaker for a Virtual Table Talk, please contact Carrie P. Mastley (email@example.com) no later than December 4, 2020. Please include your name, institution, presentation title, and a description of your presentation (description not to exceed 200 words). In your description, you may wish to include how your activity/project originated, how you instated or completed the activity/project, why it is important to our profession and patrons, what problems or issues it might resolve, and any insights or lessons learned. Final presentations should be no longer than 45 minutes in length.
Tentative Spring Series Schedule: February 19, May 21
Many thanks to Vic Jones of MUW and Jennifer Brannock of USM for their work putting together a new guide to primary sources in Mississippi. For future reference, a link to the guide has been added under the Resources section of the website.
SMA’s next Virtual Table Talk is scheduled for November 20 at noon CT. Baldwin Chiu, Larissa Chiu, and Emily Jones will be presenting “My Artifact Needs an Agent: How to Celebrate and Be a Good Steward of Popular History.”
This talk will feature filmmakers Baldwin and Larissa Chiu, producers of the award-winning documentary, Finding Cleveland, and Emily Jones, archivist and curator for the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum. Over the course of her career, Jones has witnessed researchers “meet” their ancestors through the materials available in the Museum’s collection. For her, these encounters have had a strong impact on how she engages with the collection as well as her community of users, especially since she does not culturally or racially represent the collection for which she stewards. In this talk, attendees will observe and engage in a discussion regarding the importance of cultural awareness and the implications of serving as an advocate and steward of a cultural heritage collection.
The Society of Mississippi Archivists will be hosting its second Virtual Table Talk entitled “Community Collaboration: The Margaret Walker Center and the Scott-Ford House, Inc.” This talk will be given by Angela D. Stewart and Dr. Alferdteen Harrison on Friday, September 25 at 12:00 pm (CT).
The Margaret Walker Center, located at Jackson State University, is an archive and museum dedicated to the preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of African American history and culture. Founded in 1996 through the efforts of Dr. Alferdteen Harrison, Scott-Ford House, Inc. is devoted to preserving two homes in the Farish Street Historic District of Jackson, Mississippi for use as a historic house museum complex. One of its most recent projects, developing an oral history database, is currently underway with the assistance of the Margaret Walker Center. This presentation will describe the cooperative work between these two institutions and explore collaboration as a means for preserving and celebrating the histories of marginalized communities. The presentation will also discuss how the Margaret Walker Center benefits from the collaboration with the Scott-Ford House, Inc. and how this collaboration can be a template for future community collaborations.
Click here to register. Registrants will receive an invitation to the WebEx event room the week of the event date. Registration will close an hour prior to the event. A recording of the event will be made available via SMA VTT’s YouTube channel.
Did you miss our first Virtual Table Talk on Friday? Watch the recording here!
Carrie Freshour, Ted Fisher, Arlene Sanders, Sykina Butts, Tyler Wells, Michelle Johansen, and Emily Jones of Delta State University present “‘We have no leaders, we are all leaders!’: Collecting and Celebrating the 1969 Black Student Sit-In at Delta State College.”