Charles Hughes (Rhodes College), Christopher Stacey (Louisiana State University-Alexandria), and Chuck Westmoreland (Delta State University) will present on “Three Histories of Pro Wrestling in the South.” Stacey’s talk, “Rasslin’ and Race in the Mid-South and Memphis Wrestling Territories, 1959–1992,” will examine several wrestlers, including Sputnik Monroe, Rocky “Soulman” Johnson, Ernie Ladd, and the Junkyard Dog, and their impact on the history of race and race relations in the South. Wrestling promoters and bookers such as “Cowboy” Bill Watts, wishing to make a profit, capitalized on changing demographics and political climate in the South saw the benefits of pushing African American wrestlers. Stacey will argue that pro wrestling’s relationship with professional football and the changing political culture in the South also facilitated the featuring of more African American stars. Integration of southern public facilities and the civil rights movement meant that in order to preserve kayfabe, professional wrestling, too had to follow suit. Hughes will speak on “Pro Wrestling’s Hip-Hop Wars: How Racial and Regional Politics Fueled Wrestling’s 1990s Boom,” and Westmoreland will lecture on “From Big Bill to Black Saturday: Professional Wrestling and Television in the American South, 1958–1984.”
Janet Allured’s lecture, “Methodist Women in the South: Agents of Progressive Change, 1939–2000,” will focus on the influential role that white and black southern Methodist women played in social reform movements not just in the South but in the nation. The mid-twentieth-century Methodist Church’s structure and ideology, she shows, produced social justice leaders like Jessie Daniel Ames (of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching), Thelma Stevens and Peggy Billings (antiracist activists from the Mississippi Delta town of McComb), Theressa Hoover (an African American progressive from Arkansas), and Texas’s Sarah Weddington (of Roe v. Wade fame), among others. Professor of history and director of women’s studies at McNeese State University, Allured teaches courses in the history of the New South, Louisiana, American women, and the modern United States. She received her PhD in history from the University of Arkansas in 1989 and is coeditor of Louisiana Women: Their Lives and Times, vol. 1, with Judith Gentry, and Louisiana Legacies: Readings in the History of the Pelican State, with Michael Martin.
In her talk, “Taking the South with Me,” filmmaker Jing Niu will discuss her artistic roots (and influences) in the American South and how her upbringing has influenced her career in the film arts through documentary work, journalism, and now fiction films. Niu is a first-generation Asian American who grew up working in take-out restaurants in the South and who would later, against the advice of her parents, become an artist and filmmaker. Prior to creating independent films in Los Angeles, she produced videos for Wired magazine, covering stories at the intersection of technology and lived experience. Nui is a member of AMWA (“Asian Mamas Working in the Arts”), an alliance of pan-Asians who mobilize through programming and political actions. Her latest short, Hornet’s Revenge, premiered at the 34th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Niu’s recently completed documentary The Traveler Takamure was awarded the Helen Hill Memorial Grant for best film by a female filmmaker at the 2018 Indie Grits Film Festival. Niu will spend this fall in Memphis as a Crosstown Artist in Residence writing a new webseries.
Amira Rose Davis will present “Sights Unseen: Black Women Athletes and the (in)Visibility of Political Engagement,” a brief history of black women’s athletic activism that focuses on how black women athletes have been hypervisible yet oft-ignored symbols of various political struggles on and off the playing field. An assistant professor of history and women’s gender, and sexuality studies at Penn State University, Davis received her doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins University. She specializes in twentieth-century American history with an emphasis on race, gender, sports, and politics, and her research traces the long history of black women’s athletic labor and symbolic representation in the United States. She is currently working on her forthcoming book manuscript, “‘Can’t Eat a Medal’: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow.” Davis is also the cohost of the feminist sports podcast, Burn It All Down.
In this lecture, Stephanie Rolph will discuss her new book, Resisting Equality: The Citizens’ Council, 1954–1989. Rolph is a native of Jackson and a Millsaps alumna (1999). She earned her MA in 2004 and her PhD in 2009 from Mississippi State University, where she specialized in the history of the American South. An active scholar in post-1945 southern politics and conservative ideology, Rolph’s work has appeared in The Right Side of the Sixties and in the Journal of Southern History. Her first book, Resisting Equality: The Citizens’ Council, 1954–1989, was recently published by LSU Press.
Lisa Richman is interested in the ways images can reinforce, script, or challenge the national imaginary of who is a citizen. Historians and artists have examined the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) Photographic Collection as a broad and deep account of the Depression-era US experience and as a valuable collection of early documentary photography. During the Depression, FSA photographs had everyday life implications for those experiencing rural poverty; the images were made and circulated in order to garner support for rural rehabilitation programs. Simultaneously, the images were circulated as visual representations of “Americans” and the rural US citizen. In her talk, “‘Introducing America to Americans’: FSA Photography and the Construction of Racialized and Gendered Citizens,” Richman considers the FSA-OWI Photographic Collection project within the historical moment in which it was created, with a specific focus on the influence of dominant constructions of race, motherhood, and poverty. Specifically, Richman looks at photos of Mexican-American mothers and families that were made but were left almost wholly unseen—invisible. She argues that representations of Mexican mothers reflected and reinforced the gendered racialization of Mexicans in the US at the time. Analysis of representations of Mexican mothers unveils a history of marginalization and exclusion through the lack of existing images, the lack of varied representation, and the lack of circulation. She looks at the cultural stories that were reinforced and disseminated by FSA photography and the continued resonance that these stories have in the contemporary moment. Richman is a researcher and teacher at Adrian College with a doctorate in American culture studies from Bowling Green State University.
Jeff Washburn is a PhD candidate and graduate instructor in the Arch Dalrymple III Department of History at the University of Mississippi. His talk will be “Whose Civilization Plan Was It? Chickasaw Manipulation of Federal Agents in the Early Nineteenth Century.”
Patrick Elliot Alexander is University of Mississippi associate professor of English and African American studies and cofounder of the University of Mississippi Prison-to-College Pipeline Program. In his lecture “Writing to Survive, Writing to Revive: Death Row, Willie Francis, and Imprisoned Radical Intellectualism in Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson before Dying,” Alexander will revisit the Jim Crow–era plot of Ernest Gaines’s novel A Lesson before Dying in the more contemporary carceral context of its publication. Alexander’s lecture reconsiders the cultural significance of Gaines’s most acclaimed novel in light of its release during our post–civil rights era of racialized mass incarceration, an epoch in which reports of prisoner abuse have soared from within a profit-driven system of social isolation responsible for the punitive confinement of one in every ninety-nine US adults and more black men than had been enslaved in 1850. It is Alexander’s contention that in Lesson, Gaines—through his depiction of an astute critic of the justice system who also happens to be a wrongfully convicted black death row prisoner—introduces to the field of African American fiction what Dylan Rodríguez has theorized in critical prison studies scholarship as an imprisoned radical intellectual. By revisiting the extensive, largely unexplored process that Gaines went through to create this death-sentenced protagonist—including Gaines’s repeated requests while writing Lesson to visit with a man on death row at Angola (Louisiana State Penitentiary); his witnessing of imprisonment on death row and the execution of prisoners as a young writer; and his prolonged reflection on the botched electrocution and re-execution of Willie Francis, a black adolescent from his home state of Louisiana—Alexander makes the case that Gaines’s novel amplifies the voices of a growing body of intellectuals behind razor wire who expose and oppose slavery’s vestiges in the prison system, vestiges that show up as racial bias, prisoner abuse, and premature death.