MDNHA, Delta Center announce Delta Jewels oral history partnership

Alysia Burton Steele, center, with Delta Jewels church mothers at a Delta Jewels Community Gathering in Yazoo City. Mississippi Valley State University will host the inaugural Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership program on Oct. 29 as part of the university’s Zelma T. Howard Lecture Series.

Alysia Burton Steele, center, with Delta Jewels church mothers at a Delta Jewels Community Gathering in Yazoo City. Mississippi Valley State University will host the inaugural Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership program on Oct. 29 as part of the university’s Zelma T. Howard Lecture Series.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently forged the “Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership” with Alysia Burton Steele, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism professor at the University of Mississippi. Steele is the author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom,” a book of oral histories and portraits of over 50 African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta, including civil rights icon Myrlie Evers-Williams. The book has received national media coverage, including The New York Times, NBC, National Public Radio, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, Southern Living, Essence and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The partnership will provide opportunities for MDNHA and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University to present oral history programs and workshops with regional, statewide and national organizations. The partnership is designed to make oral history education and awareness accessible to diverse communities, as well as to promote Mississippi Delta culture and history on a broader scale.

Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Miss. will be the first organization to host an oral history program under this new partnership.

“Mississippi Valley State University is honored to host the inaugural program for the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership,” said La Shon Brooks, Chief of Staff at MVSU. “Providing a space where these culturally enriching oral histories will be shared with our students, faculty, staff and community members aligns with the public education mission of our institution.”

MVSU’s oral history program is part of the Zelma T. Howard Lecture Series sponsored by the university’s Department of English. The presentation will take place at the William W. Sutton Administration Building, Auditorium 103, on Oct. 29 at 10 a.m. The event is free and open to the public.

The MDNHA and The Delta Center partnered with Steele earlier this year to host a series of Delta Jewels community gatherings aimed at promoting cultural heritage and oral history awareness. The events took place in several Delta communities including Clarksdale, Charleston, Indianola, Yazoo City, Ruleville and Mound Bayou. The Mound Bayou gathering was hosted in conjunction with the city’s 128th anniversary celebration in July.

The gatherings attracted over 500 guests from throughout the Mississippi Delta region and the nation. Steele and the Delta Jewels also presented sessions at Delta State University’s Winning the Race conference. Continued demand for these presentations led to the creation of the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership.

“This new partnership will help the MDNHA to fulfill various aspects of its management plan approved by the National Park Service, including oral history education, promoting Delta culture and history, and telling Delta stories,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the MDNHA and The Delta Center. “The partnership also serves as a vehicle for the MDNHA to offer expanded Delta Jewels programming in the Mississippi Delta and beyond.”

“I am excited about this partnership, and I believe we will reach diverse groups of people,” said Steele. “These presentations and the book’s contents transcend race, age, class, gender and geography. I have received messages from readers in Italy, France, New Zealand and Australia. I believe everyone can relate to having a special elder in their lives and I want to inspire people – all people – to record their family history.”

To learn more about hosting a Delta Jewels oral history program or workshop, contact Herts at rherts@deltastate.edu, or call The Delta Center at 662-846-4311.