Contact: Communications and Marketing
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Caroline Kennedy, the only surviving child of President John F. Kennedy, took time away from her scheduled book tour to make a special pilgrimage to the Mississippi Delta last week – her first to the region. Kennedy’s primary purpose was to share her thoughts on literacy, education and the power of poetry as the speaker in a rural literary program called the Community Book Talks Lecture Series.
Intrigued by the program’s link to a New York-based arts education program called the DreamYard Project, Kennedy accepted an invitation from the book talk team, Sarah Ruskey, director of the Carnegie Public Library and Jen Waller, director of the Coahoma County Higher Education Center (CCHEC).
After accepting numerous gifts from the locals – including a hand-carved Diddley Bo made by award-winning blues musician and folk artist James “Super Chikan” Johnson and the key to the city from Clarksdale’s mayor, Henry Espy – Kennedy opened her lecture by greeting an iconic figure in American History and one of the Delta’s most honored guests – James Meredith.
Meredith, in 1962, was the first African-American to enroll at the then-segregated University of Mississippi. This historic moment and President Kennedy’s role in the event is well documented in Ms. Kennedy’s latest book “Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy” (Hyperion), which includes transcripts and recordings from President Kennedy's time in office.
Author and editor of nine bestselling books on American history, politics, and poetry, Caroline Kennedy wrote the foreword to the book and has spent the past several weeks promoting it all over the country.
Meredith, 79, has reportedly spent the last 50 years of his life as a civil rights leader, writer, and political activist, but it is also said that he normally keeps a low profile, despite his historic significance. However, on Friday, October 12, to everyone’s surprise and delight, he chose to attend Community Book Talks event to hear Caroline Kennedy speak.
At approximately 6:01 PM, on the front terrace of the Cutrer Mansion in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Caroline Kennedy walked over to the podium and began her address by saying, “Before I begin this talk, what I would like to do is say hello to James Meredith…”
And with that act, another moment in history was realized – on both the 50th anniversary of her father’s presidency and the 50th anniversary of Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss. The moment was beautifully captured by Mississippi-based photographer Jennifer Roberts. It was Kennedy’s first time meeting Meredith.
The Kennedy administration acted to uphold Meredith's rights and on October 1, 1962 Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi. President Kennedy can be heard arguing with Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett about how to restore order at Ole Miss in the two 75-minute cd’s that accompany the annotated transcripts of the recordings, selected by historian Ted Widner from the 265 hours of taped material.
“I heard you had this series and I was going to be coming down south on this book tour… I don’t usually get sent down here to promote my books,” said Ms. Kennedy, “but I thought that this would be the perfect book to visit Oxford and other places in the south and I asked especially if I could come down here… And when I got this invitation, it seemed like it was all meant to happen.”
Kennedy went on to say, “As you all know, it is the 50th anniversary of my father’s presidency and this is one of the most important places to reconnect with that history.”
“To me, Caroline’s visit to Clarksdale and to the Cutrer Mansion feels almost divine in nature,” said Jen Waller, director of the CCHEC. “The fact that we were able to get her here at all, that she spoke to a crowd of 300+ people and that she connected with James Meredith means that all of the stars aligned at just the right time and in just the right way… I am still amazed, and still pinching myself, to see if this really happened.”
Kennedy concludes in the forward to the book, “I hope that people will be drawn into the drama and the daily routine of the presidency, that they will feel they have learned something about the kind of person my father was, and most of all, I hope they will be inspired to serve our country as he did.”
The Community Book Talks Lecture Series is funded by a special grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.
The purpose of the Carnegie Public Library is to provide opportunities for information, education, culture, and recreation through books, computers, videos, and other materials as well as offer library services, to the people of Clarksdale and Coahoma County. Service is available to all citizens of Coahoma County through tax support from the City of Clarksdale and the County Board of Supervisors.
The Coahoma County Higher Education Center (CCHEC), a partnership between Delta State University (DSU) and Coahoma Community College (CCC), was designed to enhance the outreach capabilities of both institutions. The partnership encourages regional growth and development by expanding educational opportunities for the people of Coahoma County, and the surrounding counties. The central location of the CCHEC campus gives the people of Coahoma County an advantage by offering a variety of educational opportunities to explore. Both institutions support programs at the CCHEC that target high needs in the area and spur growth and development within the region.