October 19, 2018  

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Oral History Project Collaboration between USM, Hattiesburg High Students

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Hattiesburg High School students Sharee Thomas, Kerrington Anderson and Chrystal Wilson interview Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree for an oral history project being done in collaboration with The University of Southern Mississippi. The project examines the history of segregation and desegregation of Hattiesburg’s public schools.

The techniques of oral history are being used by Hattiesburg High School students in a project designed to gain more information about the history of racial segregation and desegregation of the city’s public education system.

With assistance from The University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Educational Research and Administration, and the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, the students are interviewing former students, teachers and administrators who were on the front lines of the process of integrating the city’s schools, beginning in the late 1960s. Through the project, students will gain skills in interviewing, recording, editing and preserving these histories.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools had no place in American society, and the next year ordered that public schools desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” Over the next 60 years, the Hattiesburg Public School District experienced varying shifts in the racial makeup of its student population as a result of desegregation.

“In addition to learning how to do oral history, the students will learn about the local struggle for equal educational opportunities in their city. In doing so, we hope they will begin to understand how this local story fits in with the larger campaign for racial justice in America,” said USM professor Dr. Tom O’Brien, co-director for the project. “This project is a small part of that effort. 

“The project also brings together generations of people—black and white, young and old—to reflect on how far we have come with regard to race relations, decency, and fairness, and how much farther we have to go,” Dr. O’Brien said. “The students are central to this coming together process, which we hope will make us a stronger and healthier community.”

Others assisting with the project include Dr. Kevin Greene, co-director for USM’s Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage; Hattiesburg High School faculty member Ms. Mimi Wilson; and Dr. Anthony Harris, a Hattiesburg native and former USM administrator who is professor and chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership at Sam Houston State University. Dr. O'Brien is a member of the USM Department of Educational Research and Administration faculty.

Ultimately, the work of the project will result in, among other outcomes, a multi-media website that will feature archived video oral histories, rare photos and documents and personal biographies as well as the creation of a catalog of these interviews that will be available for use by researchers and the general public and housed at the USM Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage. Organizers also plan to hold a conference at Hattiesburg High School that examines key moments and memories of the school district’s segregation, de-segregation stories.

“Dr. O’Brien came to speak to us back in [October] about this project, and we’re very excited about working with him and USM to learn more about our local history,” said HHS senior Kerrington Anderson, who serves as student body president and is participating in the project as an interviewer.

For more information about this project, contact Dr. Tom O’Brien at thomas.obrien@usm.edu. For information about the USM Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, visit www.usm.edu/oral-history; for the Department of Educational Research and Administration, visit https://www.usm.edu/educational-research-administration.