History Alum Otis Pickett on His Mentor, Charles Reagan WIlson
In 2008, I came to the University of Mississippi to pursue a Ph.D. in History largely because of Drs. Ted Ownby and Charles Reagan Wilson. While both of these men have left a tremendous impact on the studies of southern history and the field of southern religion, their academic pedigrees were not the reasons I came to work with them. I came to work with them because of what I had learned about their care for students. These two men had invested heavily in the teachers who trained me. My history professors at Clemson University and the College of Charleston were both products of working with Ted Ownby and Charles Reagan Wilson. Both of these students went on to become professors, important scholars in their fields and received jobs at top academic institutions, yet they also displayed a deep care for their students, they invested in their students and encouraged them to make a difference in the world.
When both of these professors suggested that I attend the University of Mississippi to work with Charles Reagan Wilson I did not hesitate because I knew Charles would be more than an advisor. He would be a mentor. Indeed, he modeled to me what it meant to become a scholar and a servant. I knew I would become a scholar who cared deeply for others, for this world and would be able to use my knowledge and credentials to make a difference in service to my students, to my university, to my state, my nation and to my fellow man. This is the great legacy of Charles Reagan Wilson.
As human beings we are all drawn to certain characteristics. We are drawn to people that have all the accolades, positions, titles, publications, degrees and power. People who have these things have influence and fame in their fields. However, what makes someone truly great is when they have all of those accolades and yet remain humble and continue to serve others in order to make others great. There is something in this marriage of both strength and humility that we are drawn to as human beings. Charles Reagan Wilson is the embodiment of this. His publishing record is beyond question, his teaching, service and impact on the field of southern history and southern religion are remarkable, yet everyone who knows Charles knows him as kind, considerate, thoughtful and caring gentleman. His investment into his students and others around him to make them great is his true legacy. If all scholars thought the way about their responsibilities as Charles does then the academy would be a much more attractive and influential space. Not only would it possess knowledge and research, but its practitioners would be trained to use that knowledge and research for the good of their fellow men and to invest in others. Charles is the epitome of what it means to be a scholar and a gentleman.
I ask that you please consider giving to the Charles Reagan Wilson fund so that we can continue to invest in students who desire to research and teach history while simultaneously investing in others and therefore in our future. We have entered a period in our nation’s history when historical literacy was never more needed yet we are seeing, more and more, a generation growing up that is largely ignorant of our human story. We have entered a period that is looking to science and technology for the answers and there is already heavy financial investment in these fields from a variety of sectors. However, it is the study of history and the humanities that give us the collective wisdom we need as a society to decide how we use this technology and the decisions we make moving forward will deeply impact generations to come. We need to produce more historians and teachers who are trained in the legacy of Charles Reagan Wilson. Men and women who are committed to their discipline, but who also use that position to invest in their students and in their communities.
Would you please consider giving and, in doing so, carrying on Charles’ legacy.
Otis W. Pickett, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi College
Co-Founder of the Prison to College Pipeline Program