Monday, April 24, 6 p.m.
Racial Politics in Memphis
Otis Sanford, an Ole Miss journalism alum who was an editor at the Commercial Appeal and now teaches at the University of Memphis, will talk about his new book, “From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics” with Charles Overby and Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie.

Memphis Columnist Otis Sanford to Talk of City’s Racial Politics

Otis Sanford, a long-time columnist for the Commercial Appeal, will be a guest at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics on Monday, April 24, at 6 p.m. to talk about the racial conflict and transition that has taken place in Memphis politics, from the time of E.H. Crump’s rule of the city in the first half of the 20th century to the modern era where African-Americans exert power.

Sanford has written about the subject in his new book, “From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics.”

He will be joined in the discussion by long-time political observer, Curtis Wilkie.

The program at the Overby Center Auditorium is free and open to the public. A reception will be held following the event, and arrangements have been made for parking in the lot adjacent to the auditorium.

Sanford, who grew up near Como, a north Mississippi town in the shadow of Memphis, is a 1975 graduate of the University of Mississippi where he majored in journalism. He served on the staff of major newspapers in Jackson, Pittsburgh and Detroit before settling at the Commercial Appeal, where he eventually became managing editor.

In 2005, Sanford was awarded the Silver Em, the highest honor given by the university’s journalism school to native Mississippians who excel in journalism or to those who have distinguished themselves in the state.

He is now a member of the faculty at the University of Memphis but continues to write a weekly column for the Commercial Appeal.

“Otis is not only a product of Ole Miss we value, he has become the most knowledgeable source on Memphis politics and it will be great to welcome him back,” said Wilkie.

Mississippi's Free State of Jones

A rebellion against the Confederacy by poor white farmers in Jones County loyal to the Union, joined by a few former slaves, led to the establishment of the “Free State of Jones” during the Civil War. These series of events were the focus of a discussion on April 10, by two prominent Jones County natives, retired U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering and Jones County Junior College history instructor and leading authority on the insurgency Wyatt Moulds, and Charles Overby, chairman of the host Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss.

The uprising in Jones County has been the subject of several books and was dramatized last year in a movie, “The Free State of Jones,” starring Matthew McConaughey in the role of Newton Knight, the leader of a guerrilla operation that succeeded in seizing control of part of the county. The breakaway movement eventually failed, but with the defeat of the Confederacy and the implementation of Reconstruction in the South, Knight continued to led an interracial struggle in the southeast Mississippi county.

Moulds has been a member of the faculty at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville since 1982, served as an advisor to Gary Ross, the director of the film, and is considered a leading authority on the subject of Knight’s insurgency.

Mississippians Say The Strangest Things

David Crews, the chief clerk for the U.S. District Courts in North Mississippi was at the Overby Center on March 27, to talk about his collection of intriguing – and sometimes odd – quotes from Mississippians. Crews, an Oxford resident and a bona fide renaissance man, enjoys a statewide reputation as a raconteur and an authority on many things "Mississippi."

Crews began his talk by referencing the programme header.

"That's not really accurate," he said, "The title should be: Mississippians say the most insightful, heartfelt, treacherous, wicked, humorous, absurd, poignant, powerful, and strange things.

"My book is an attempt through powerful words, lyrics, insights, and stories to more fully explore and understand Mississippi."

“David collects quotes the way some guys collect baseball cards,” said Overby. “Mississippians are great at talking and David has put together comments that are inspiring, outrageous and funny. The stories he tells behind the quotes are fascinating.”

Over the years, Crews saved quotes from politicians and writers as well as musicians and athletes. The book contains 65 categories of over 2,000 quotes from more than 300 hundred different Mississippians.

"There are two lines that sum up why I put this book together," said Crews. "The first is from Ms. Eudora Welty, who wrote: "One place understood helps us understand all places better." And Mississippi, I think is worth struggling to understand. Sometimes it is a struggle.

"And without a doubt I think this collection helps us better understand Mississippi from the perspective of our best writers, musicians, playwrights, artists, storytellers, and others," he said.

The second quote comes from Beth Henley's play Crimes of the Heart:

"It's a human need. To talk about our lives. It's an important human need."

"And without a doubt Mississippians love to talk," Crews said, "to weave stories, to write, to sing. It is in our DNA.

Revisiting Jefferson Davis and J. Z. George: U.S. Capitol Relics?

Should Mississippi still be represented in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall by two 19th century figures who were prominent in the secessionist movement? Or is it time for the state to honor more modern 20th century leaders?

Overby Center chairman Charles Overby, William “Brother” Rogers, president of the Mississippi Historical Society, and Marvin King, associate professor of political science and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi came together to discuss the matter.

Each state is allowed to select two people to be honored with statues in the U.S. Capitol. Eighty-six years ago the Mississippi legislature chose Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and George, who signed the ordinance of secession. After the civil war, George became chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court before serving 16 years in the U.S. Senate.

“There is no question that Davis and George were political leaders from Mississippi in the 19th century,” Overby said. “The question is whether there are 20th century Mississippians equally or more deserving to represent Mississippi today. Mississippi has an impressive list of accomplished 20th century citizens worthy of consideration. They range from Senator John Stennis to authors William Faulkner and Eudora Welty to civil rights leader Medgar Evers, along with many others.”

The Assault on the Media (02/17/17)

Four prominent veteran Mississippi journalists discussed the growing hostility to the press in a panel discussion here at the Overby Center.

The program is set in a time when news media credibility seems to be at a low ebb nationally. Meanwhile, Mississippi journalists trying to report on state government are increasingly meeting strong resistance from more secretive elected officials.

The panel included veteran Clarion-Ledger investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell, whose work helped send several former Ku Klux Klansmen to prison, Marshall Ramsey, the Clarion-Ledger cartoonist, Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting, and Kate Royals, the award-winning education reporter for Mississippi Today. Overby Fellow Bill Rose served as moderator.

"Journalism is about truth and we will never ever give up that right," said Agnew.

"You have to be persistent and willing to do what it takes," said Mitchell.

How Deep is Mississippi's Commitment to Education? (02/10/17)

The Overby Center's spring semester programmes began on one of the most controversial issues in the state. It featured Rep. Jay Hughes, an Oxford Democrat who has been outspoken in his criticism of the administration and the legislature’s approach to education, and Bracey Harris, an education reporter for the Clarion-Ledger.

Using a slogan “It ALL starts with education” for his frequent emails to constituents and other interested parties, the first-term legislator has closely tracked bills involving educational issues and sharply faulted a new formula devised by a New Jersey firm hired by the Republican leadership to determine levels of state aid for various school districts in the state.


The Overby Center for Southern Journalism & Politics’ mission is to create better understanding of the media, politicians and the role of the First Amendment in our democracy. The Center is funded through a $5 million grant from the Freedom Forum, a foundation dedicated to educating people about the importance of a free press and the First Amendment.

The Overby Center features programs, multimedia displays and writings which examine the complex relationships between the media and politicians - past, present and future. The Overby Center pays special attention to Southern perspectives.

Adjacent to the newly renovated journalism department facility at Farley Hall, the Overby Center is a new building that features 16,000 square feet of conference space. It includes a 225-seat auditorium, a multipurpose conference room that will accommodate 100 people for seminars and dinners, and a boardroom seating up to 24 people.

The center has state-of-the-art technology and video throughout the building, including a news wall with nine large-screen TV monitors for showing live news programs and current front pages from 12 Southern states.

The center is named for Charles L. Overby, editor of the Daily Mississippian at Ole Miss from 1967-1968. Overby was the CEO of the Freedom Forum and Newseum until his retirement in 2012.

Overby Center Auditorium

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