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Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, whose portrait graces the cover of "Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom," recently enjoyed a visit to the White House.

MDNHA, Delta Jewels partnership visits the White House

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When University of Mississippi journalism professor Alysia Burton Steele embarked on a journey to record oral histories from African American church women in the Mississippi Delta over three years ago, she was not sure exactly where the journey would take her.

It started at as labor of love to reconnect with her recently deceased grandmother, which led to the publishing of her critically acclaimed book “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” The book led to an oral history partnership with the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, a partnership that culminated in an opportunity for Annyce Campbell, featured on the book cover, to visit the White House in Washington, D.C.

“When they said they wanted the woman whose portrait graces the book cover to attend the presentation, I knew that we had to get Mrs. Campbell to the White House,” said Steele. “She was so proud when President Obama was elected. So much so that the walls in her home are filled with portraits of the president and first lady.”

The visit occurred March 12 during a trip to the nation’s capital for a presentation at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. The Smithsonian program was held in honor of Women’s History Month and the National Park Service Centennial, which is about reconnecting people with their national parks, especially those from underrepresented communities. The White House is part of President’s Park, a National Park Service site.

Campbell still lives in the Mound Bayou, Mississippi home where she and her husband of 69 years raised their nine children. The election of the first African American President of the United States was something she never imagined would happen in her lifetime. Her goal was to enable her family to have opportunities she never enjoyed. She was thrilled that she and her daughters would get a chance to experience the visit together.

“That moment — visiting the White House with my daughters — was more than my mind could conceive,” said Campbell. “I held my ID in my hand for so long. How many more stops do I get to make? Where do we get to go next? Who do we get to meet? I can’t fully express the joy of that trip. Everyone should have an opportunity like this in their lifetime.”

The trip to the White House was not part of the original itinerary. It wasn’t until Campbell landed in D.C. that the tour was finalized.

Annyce Campbell, seated, poses in the White House with her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Annyce Campbell, seated, poses in the White House with her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Mossi Tull, board member for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, sponsored Campbell’s travel to Washington.

“My grandparents were from Kentwood, Louisiana, and I spent many summers down there,” he said. “Visiting with Mrs. Campbell and her daughters brought back so many wonderful memories for me, and reminded me of the importance of my own family. We laughed. We smiled. We celebrated the fact that we were all together in that moment. It was truly a wonderful afternoon.”

Through the efforts of Maggie Tyler, Southeast Region National Heritage Areas program manager, Campbell was able to participate in the tour with her daughters Emily Harris and Alma Campbell, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State.

“I was so excited to walk up to the White House gates with them and give Mrs. Campbell her tour ticket and introduce her to the NPS ranger working that day,” said Tyler. “Everyone was so gracious to Mrs. Campbell and her daughters and they were all beaming from ear to ear.  It’s these small moments that make me proud to work for the National Park Service.”

The Delta Center serves as the managing entity of the MDNHA. The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of the Mississippi Delta’s history and culture through education, partnerships, and community engagement. According to Herts, serendipitous moments like this are precisely why their efforts are so important.

“This White House visit is significant on so many levels,” said Herts. “It represents a lifelong dream come true for Mrs. Campbell, her family and her community. It represents the kind of powerful connections that are being made between people and national parks, which is what the National Park Service Centennial is all about. And it represents a story that will be told again and again, which is part of a rich oral history tradition that we are celebrating and honoring with Alysia Burton Steele.”

Steele spent the early years of her career as a photojournalist and editor. She never viewed herself as an oral historian, but through the Delta Jewels project has discovered the craft to be her new passion. Working with the MDNHA and The Delta Center, Steele has been empowered to share the importance of telling stories that have often been left untold and to demonstrate the positive effect conversations can have on communities.

“It’s pretty simple, really, why this important. We’re not going to learn and grow if we don’t talk to each other,” said Steele.

Reena Evers, daughter of Medgar Evars and Myrlie Evers-Williams, enbraces Annyce Campbell after a presentation of "Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom" at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, DC.

MDNHA, Delta Center partner with Delta Jewels author for Smithsonian presentation

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Annyce Campbell has lived in the same house in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, for over two-thirds of her life. She raised 12 children in the home, teaching them to respect themselves and to respect their community. She raised them quietly and diligently, wanting them to have more opportunities in their lives than she had in hers.

On March 13, Campbell was recognized for her strength and commitment at a Women’s History Month and National Park Service Centennial presentation at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. The event was a Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership program organized by the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, and University of Mississippi journalism professor Alysia Burton Steele, author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” The book is a collection of oral histories and portraits featuring 54 African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta. Campbell’s portrait is featured on the book’s cover.

“My grandmother used to tell me that you learn something new everyday,” said Campbell. “I passed that on to my own children. You have to learn to love life, to love living, and to be appreciative of every moment we’re given.”

For Steele, the presentation served as a reinforcement for the importance of gathering oral histories. Her family sat in the audience to hear her speak for the first time, finally under-standing what she strives to do as a journalist. Seeing the way the audience embraced Campbell was also a poignant moment.

“Mrs. Campbell was glowing all weekend,” Steele said. “I was so happy to have helped make this trip happen for her.”

Alysia Burton Steele (from left) poses with Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, who is featured on the cover of Steele's book "Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisodom." Seated next to Campbell are her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, also of Mound Bayou.

Alysia Burton Steele (from left) poses with Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, who is featured on the cover of Steele’s book “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisodom.” Seated next to Campbell are her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, also of Mound Bayou. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning serves as the managing entity for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. The MDNHA creates partnerships that promote and empower the Mississippi Delta’s people and communities to tell their stories and to celebrate their pride in the region’s unique and diverse cultural heritage.

“After a year of planning, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is excited to see that this collaborative effort was a success,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center and MDNHA. “This would not have been possible without a team of strategic partners. Mossi Tull, a member of the Smithsonian Anacostia board, sponsored travel for Mrs. Campbell and her family. Maggie Tyler with the National Heritage Areas program made important connections with the National Park Service. And, of course, Alysia Burton Steele’s oral histories and photography provided critical subject matter for educating audience members about the Mississippi Delta’s cultural significance. Everyone brought something to the table.”

The MDNHA is one of 49 National Heritage Areas, which are cultural heritage partnerships with the National Park Service. All areas are being encouraged to commemorate the National Park Service Centennial.

According to Tyler, National Heritage Areas program manager for the National Park Service, this year’s centennial celebrations are intended to engage the next generation of visitors, supporters and advocates, and the 49 congressionally designated Heritage Areas around the country are an integral part of the process.

“National Heritage Areas help us achieve this goal by exposing grassroots movements, heritage tourists, and community members to the benefits of having a partnership with the National Park Service in their community,” said Tyler.

Dr. Rolando Herts (l to r), director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, and Reena Evers, daughter of Medgar Evers and Myrlie Evers-Williams, pose with Maggie Tyler, Martha Raymond and Kathleen Durcan of the National Heritage Areas Program, National Park Service.

Dr. Rolando Herts (l to r), director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, and Reena Evers, daughter of Medgar Evers and Myrlie Evers-Williams, pose with Maggie Tyler, Martha Raymond and Kathleen Durcan of the National Heritage Areas Program, National Park Service. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian presentation attracted over 70 guests who were eager to hear from Steele and Campbell, as well as to learn about the MDNHA. In addition to receiving words of wisdom directly from Campbell, audience members were treated to a presentation from special guest and Mound Bayou native Reena Evers, daughter of civil rights activists Myrlie Evers-Williams and Medgar Evers. Myrlie Evers-Williams also is a Delta Jewel.

Tull, board member of the museum, was moved by the presentation. “Mrs. Evers family has endured, struggled and fought through things no family should have to face,” he said. “Having her speak with such grace, strength and aplomb was a reminder and inspiration for all of us that face difficult situations to endure as well.”

The Smithsonian presentation follows a series of successful Delta Jewels presentations which have engaged over 600 Delta residents and visitors from diverse backgrounds in several Mississippi Delta communities including Clarksdale, Cleveland, Charleston, Indianola, Itta Bena, Mound Bayou, Ruleville, Vicksburg and Yazoo City.

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Delta Center to present First Tuesday Blues session

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The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University will present a First Tuesday session focused on the International Delta Blues Project on March 15 at 12:10 p.m. in the Fielding Wright Art Center.

The session will have a special focus on the Blues Studies program that has launched at Delta State.

First Tuesday guests will be treated to a lecture from renowned Blues historian Scott Barretta, host of Highway 61 Radio and recipient of the 2016 Mississippi’s Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for Mississippi heritage. Barretta will teach the Sociology of the Blues course for the International Blues Scholars Program, a new online undergraduate and graduate certificate in Blues Studies that is being offered during the 2016 summer session. The online program will be available to Blues students and aficionados around the world.

The Delta Center is the home of the International Delta Blues Project, an initiative aimed at advancing Delta State University as the academic home of the Blues. The project is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Foundation in Jackson and consists of the following components:

 The interdisciplinary Blues Studies program that includes courses offered through various academic units at Delta State including music, languages and literature, social sciences and history, and the Delta Music Institute.

 The International Conference on the Blues, an educational and cultural conference that has featured renowned and emerging Blues scholars, as well as award-winning Blues musicians.

 The Blues Leadership Incubator, a series of lectures and workshops for the public and business community aimed at providing a deeper understanding of economic opportunity related to Blues tourism and the creative economy.

First Tuesday is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and is a program by the Art Department and the First Tuesday Committee. The events are normally scheduled for the first Tuesday of each month during the fall and spring semesters. First Tuesday features lectures, readings and presentations representing diverse perspectives in the arts and humanities. All events are free and open to the public.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops. For more information, visit www.deltacenterdsu.com.

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Delta State offers events before GRAMMY Museum Mississippi opens

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In anticipation of GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi’s grand opening March 5-6, Delta State University is offering a series of events gearing up for the unveiling of only the second GRAMMY museum in the world — located right next to Delta State’s campus.

The Bologna Performing Arts Center kicks off the schedule Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. by bringing some of the GRAMMY’s Los Angeles roots to the Delta with the performance of “BODYTRAFFIC.”

Internationally recognized for performing commissioned work by many of today’s top choreographers, “BODYTRAFFIC” is one of the most talked about young dance companies. Tickets range from $25-39. For more information, call the ticket office at 662-846-4626.

The BPAC will also be providing full tours of its facilities, including the stage and backstage areas. A BPAC staff member will reveal what the stars and VIPs see. To schedule a free private tour, call 662-846-4625.

Delta State art professor Ron Koehler, will be leading free scheduled tours of the Hazel and Jimmy Sanders Sculpture Garden, located in front of the BPAC and GRAMMY Museum Mississippi. Some of the sculptures have also been established across campus to provide a unique artistic influence. Tours will take place Tuesday at 10 a.m. and Thursday at 1:30 p.m., beginning in front of the museum. For more information, contact Koehler at 662-846-4720.

The Delta Music Institute has planned a series of events leading up to the grand opening. DMI student bands present free live performances Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 3 p.m. in DMI Studio A. Featured bands include Ol’ Skool Revue, DeltaRoX and B4Y2K. For more information, contact the DMI office at 662-846-4579 or dmi@deltastate.edu.

Also on Tuesday and Thursday, from 3-5 p.m., the DMI will provide open house tours and live performances in studios A, B, C and the “Sandbox.” Live session demonstrations will take place in each studio and students will record music through the state-of-the-art technology and equipment. For more information, contact the DMI 662-846-4579 or dmi@deltastate.edu.

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning on campus will be providing two scheduled presentations.

In partnership with the College of Education & Human Sciences, the DCCL presents “Down Home” Delta Cooking Session on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., free of charge, in the first floor lobby of Ewing Hall. Food is a big deal in the Mississippi Delta, and this session features a faculty member and students cooking and conversing about authentic Delta delicacies like okra and tomatoes, pimento cheese and barbecue. The demonstration features Dr. Virginia Webb and the Student Dietetic Association. For more information, contact the DCCL at 662-846-4311.

On Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the DCCL presents the gallery talk “A Cast of Blues,” featuring Sharon McConnell-Dickerson, the artist behind the historic “A Cast of Blues” collection. The 55 original “life casts” are three-dimensional sculptures created with damp gauze and plaster, which capture the facial structure of legendary blues musicians. The event is free and also takes place in the first floor lobby of Ewing Hall. For more information, contact the DCCL at 662-846-4311.

The public is also welcome to explore the University Archives located at the Charles W. Capps, Jr. Archives and Museum Building on campus. Free of charge, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Archives presents a variety of topics related to the history, people, places and events of the Mississippi Delta.

Exhibits and museums currently available for viewing include:
* Delta State University’s 90th Anniversary Exhibit
* Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum:
An exhibit that begins with the stories of the first Chinese sojourners who ventured to the Mississippi Delta.
* Shop History: The Delta Cream Donut Legacy:
This special exhibit pays tribute to a local icon of the Delta landscape.
* Lucy Somerville Howorth Seminar Room:
Explore some of the women who have dedicated their lives and efforts to encouraging success in the Delta, as well as promoting the Delta to the world.
* “Inning by Inning: A Life in Baseball,” the Dave “Boo” Ferriss Baseball Museum:
This museum captures the life and experiences of legendary DSU baseball coach Ferriss and his relationship with baseball throughout his lifetime. Contact University Archivist Emily Jones for viewing times at the Ferriss museum.

For more information on the Archives exhibits, contact Jones at 662-846-4781, or ejones@deltastate.edu.

GRAMMY Museum Mississippi will officially open its doors to the public on Saturday morning. The grand opening will be celebrated with a slate of activities from March 3–6. For more information, visit http://www.grammymuseumms.org.

Delta Jewels with Alysia Burton Steele, Dr. Rolando Herts, and Jacqueline Dace, former project manager of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum at the 2015 Winning the Race conference. The Delta Jewels oral history partnership program will return to Delta State on Wednesday, February 17.

MDNHA, Delta Center honor Black History Month with Delta Jewels partners

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The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area’s Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership has yielded a series of events promoting oral history education and awareness. These events have commemorated the 2016 National Park Service Centennial, which aims to engage diverse communities and develop lifelong connections with the public, especially youth.

The MDNHA continues its celebration of the NPS Centennial through the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership. In February, the MDNHA is presenting the following oral history partnership programs in honor of Black History Month:

 Wednesday, February 17, hosted by the Diversity Committee at Delta State University

 Thursday, February 25, hosted by the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation in Vicksburg

 Friday, February 26, hosted by the Alcorn State University Wesley Foundation to be held in Norman

The Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership was formed in 2015 and features “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom,” a collection of oral histories and photographs of African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalism professor Alysia Burton Steele from the University of Mississippi. Since that time, Delta Jewels has been entered into the Library of Congress.

Steele also has been selected to receive the Preserver of Mississippi Culture Award from the Mississippi Humanities Council on Friday, February 12 at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson. Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the MDNHA and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, nominated Steele for the award.

“I am so grateful that the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, The Delta Center, and the Mississippi Humanities Council see the importance of this work,” said Steele. “I partnered with the MDNHA to share oral histories throughout the state. This has helped spread the message that all of our elders – regardless of race, place, or gender – have voices and stories that need to be heard and collected by the next generation. By doing this, we all can be preservers of Mississippi culture.”

The partnership has engaged over 500 Delta residents and visitors through community gatherings in Clarksdale, Charleston, Indianola, Yazoo City, Ruleville, and Mound Bayou, as well as Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena. Another program was held recently at Jackson State University in collaboration with the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute @ COFO and the Margaret Walker Center.

“We are very pleased that there is ongoing demand for the Delta Jewels oral history programs,” said Herts. “Based on the positive feedback that we have received so far, it is clear that these programs have tremendous educational and cultural value that resonate with communities in and outside of the Delta region.”

Stacey Massey, Executive Director of the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation, is excited about hosting a Delta Jewels program in Vicksburg.

“The Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation is thrilled to play host to the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership,” said Massey. “We are honored to provide a space where these oral histories and portraits will be shared with those in the Vicksburg community.”

This will be the second time that a Delta Jewels program has been presented at Delta State and the first time at Alcorn State. Alcorn State is the oldest public historically black land-grant institution in the United States and is included on the board of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.

To learn more about hosting a Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership, contact Rolando Herts at rherts@deltastate.edu, or call The Delta Center at 662-846-4311.

The MDNHA is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. The area was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at www.msdeltaheritage.com.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.