Although Kathryn Stockett’s wildly popular book “The Help” is a work of fiction, the story line and plot characters depict a well-documented era of racial strife in Mississippi history.
The best-selling novel, which spawned a blockbuster movie by the same title, will be the subject of a panel discussion sponsored by the Committee on Services and Resources for Women (CSRW) at The University of Southern Mississippi on Wednesday, March 28 in room 218 of the Thad Cochran Center. The event begins at 7 p.m. and admission is free.
“The panel offers an opportunity to hear from prominent members of our community about events many of us did not witness,” said Dr. Nicolle Jordan, associate professor of English at Southern Miss, who serves as the CSRW co-chair. “It is also an opportunity to address challenging issues our nation faces regarding race relations, particularly women’s experiences of racial conflict in the South.”
The panelists include Forrest County Justice Court Judge Deborah Gambrell Chambers; University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Vice-President/Executive Officer Frances Lucas and New York publicist Stella Connell. Dr. Kim LeDuff, associate professor in the Southern Miss School of Mass Communication and Journalism, will serve as the moderator.
In “The Help,” an aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids’ point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis. Stockett used Jackson, Miss., as the backdrop for her first book which spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list.
Connell, who founded the Connell Agency in 1998, read “The Help” shortly after its release in 2009 and acknowledges that she was profoundly affected by the book’s overtones.
“It did leave me with a great deal of discomfort as a white Southerner, knowing that one group of people in modern American culture treated another so terribly, and that it was accepted for the most part by the status quo,” said Connell.
Cynthia Littlejohn, an instructor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Southern Miss, serves as CSRW co-chair with Jordan. The committee sought to highlight March as Women’s History Month by promoting a topic that touched the lives of countless Mississippians.
“If students, faculty, staff and community members hear one another’s perspectives and reactions to the panelists’ stories, perhaps we can all acquire some wisdom about what the civil rights era meant and how it is still relevant today,” said Jordan.
For more information about the panel discussion, contact Dr. Rebecca Woodrick at 601.266.6618.