Uncovering the past in Mississippi

For eight weeks last summer, Brandeis students were immersed in the legacy of the civil rights struggle

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For Civil Rights and Racial Justice in Mississippi, one of the Justice Brandeis Semester (JBS) programs, Professor David Cunningham, 11 Brandeis undergraduates, and two teaching assistants spent eight weeks in Mississippi combining academic learning with investigative research.

Teamed with a handful of students from Jackson State University (JSU) and the University of Mississippi, they studied the legacy of the civil rights movement by collecting educational and government records as well as firsthand accounts through interviews.

"We're doing research that is academically sound and rigorous and often uncovering new findings and new insights," says Cunningham, an associate professor of sociology.

Working in small groups in four locations across the state, students collaborated with JSU's Margaret Walker Center and the University of Mississippi's William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to support the Mississippi Truth Project by conducting an inquiry of the state's unjust and segregated past. Returning to Jackson each week to debrief, they shared insights on how to gain access to county courthouse documents, how best to sift through stacks of arrest logs or school board minutes, and ways to create an open atmosphere for individuals to share their often harrowing personal stories.

"This program takes advantage of all the things JBS provides in terms of opportunities for students," says Cunningham. "For one thing, we're able to leave campus and do something in a sustained way. We spend some of our time in class but the majority is spent working with community members gathering original and primary data. And there's also a social justice component."

At the conclusion of the program, students had created a repository of information that will be organized for and accessible to researchers, historians and communities.

Learn more about opportunities to gain college credit and real world experience through the Justice Brandeis Semester.