COLUMBUS, Miss. – Dr. Erin Kempker, professor of history at Mississippi University for Women, was recently selected as a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar.
As a participant, she will attend a summer institute supported by the NEH, which focuses on "Finding Mississippi in the National Civil Rights Narrative: Struggle, Institution Building, and Power at the Local Level. The three-week program will be held at Jackson State University, starting June 9.
Kempker will be one of 25 scholars at the institute whose role is to learn all they can and bring what they learn back to their respective campuses and communities to disseminate.
"I believe that I was selected because I made a compelling argument for how I would use the resources and knowledge gained from attending the institute to support undergraduate research projects, community presentations and new scholarship.
"Overall the institute seeks to understand the civil rights movement in Mississippi and how this state fits into the larger national narrative of the civil rights movement. We will meet with activists and scholars of the Mississippi movement and we will take several field trips around the state to visit important sites," she explained.
Even though Mississippi was the heart of the civil rights movement, Kempker said students know very little about it.
"The work I do at the institute will help enrich the history curriculum at MUW. Through coursework and other programming and service projects I will implement curriculum related to Mississippi civil rights history and actively publicize the work and the history of the movement across the campus and throughout northeast Mississippi," she said.
Kempker's interest in the institute is both academic and personal.
"As a woman's historian of 20th century grassroots politics, I am deeply interested in the civil rights movement and learning more about how activism manifested and was harnessed at the local and state levels.
"On a more personal note, I live in Mississippi and the overwhelming majority of MUW students and their families are from Mississippi. The institute will help me better understand my community and its history. Most importantly, I see participation in the institute as providing me the opportunity to enrich academic life at MUW, through my teaching, research and institutional service. In 2016, MUW will celebrate the 50th anniversary of racial integration. Part of the reason I applied to the institute is to ensure that I can help support MUW as it plans significant efforts to commemorate integration," she explained.
Kempker was chosen from a national applicant pool to attend one of 30 seminars and institutes supported by NEH. The endowment is a federal agency that, each summer, supports these enrichment opportunities at colleges, universities and cultural institutions, so that faculty can work in collaboration and study with experts in humanities disciplines.
She was honored to be chosen for the program.
"The civil rights movement and the people who participated in it define courage for me. Their story and history is essential to understanding the American experience because it gets at the most basic conundrums of the American experience, such as, slavery and freedom, equality and segregation," Kempker said.