During our 50th Anniversary Celebration, the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage will continue to dig deep into our collection to bring you significant stories of Mississippians from all walks of life.
On the 25th Anniversary of the Mississippi Humanities Council’s founding, Dr. Cora Ellen Norman made this observation on being selected as the group’s first Executive Director. “If I were being interviewed for [the] job today, there is no one in the humanities in the nation that would hire me. I had no background in the humanities.”
Indeed, someone with a master’s in chemistry and physics seems an unlikely choice to champion the humanities in our state, but it turned out to be the right choice. Norman brought a passion and commitment to the task of developing programs for the betterment of all our citizens that far outsized her slight stature. In this interview from 1997, recorded soon after her twenty-four-year tenure ended, she pulls no punches in recounting the challenges they faced.
1997 – In 1972, Cora Norman was working in Continuing Education at the University of Mississippi. In this episode, she recounts being hired as director of a new statewide Public Humanities program. Early Mississippi Humanities Council programs focused on improving education. Norman recalls the reluctance of school superintendents to host these public forums.
Convincing civic groups to host Humanities Council events required spending a lot of time in the field. Norman explains how limited staffing made being out of the office even more difficult.
The Mississippi Humanities Council Speaker’s Bureau “features our state’s finest historians, writers and storytellers talking about a wide variety of subjects related to Mississippi and beyond.” Norman reflects with pride on the positive impact the program had during her tenure as director.
Dr. Cora Ellen Norman, 94, passed away on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021.
Dr. Dollye Robinson grew up in a musical family, two blocks from what is now Jackson State University. In this episode, she recalls how being surrounded by music inspired her to become a band director. While attending Lanier High School, Robinson would often rehearse with the Jackson College band. She remembers how that experience landed her a music scholarship after graduation.
As a music major at Jackson College in the 1940s, Robinson joined the Duke Otis Orchestra. She describes the challenges of being a female, first-trumpet player in an all-male dance band.
After Robinson graduated from Jackson College, she became an assistant band director at a high school in Brookhaven. She explains how being teased by alumni from other colleges, over the meager size of the Jackson College band, led her to return to her alma mater to help recruit new members.
In 1952, Robinson became the Assistant Band Director and Instructor of Music at JSU. She left long enough to earn two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and has served JSU as the head of the Department of Music, Chair of the Division of Fine Arts, Associate Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
Mississippi Moments is written and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
Henry Walton of Mendenhall, Mississippi, grew up in Waycross, Georgia, the son of a high school principal. He was seven years old when his father took him to see a performance by Birch the Magician and it inspired him to take up magic as a hobby.
In this episode, Walton discusses that experience and the Gilbert Mysto Magic Sets he later received for Christmas. He began collecting books on magic, learning card and coin tricks to fool his friends and family. Walton also recalls how a high school variety show gave him the chance to debut as a magician before a large audience.
After WWII, Walton traveled the South, installing telephone office equipment for Western Electric. While stationed in Tampa, he met a man well-known by magicians for building quality magic apparatus. He remembers how Warren Hamilton offered to build him an entire magic show and sponsored his membership in the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
After moving to Mississippi and getting married, Walton decided to take up magic, again, as a hobby. When Birch the Magician came to Jackson to perform, Walton took his wife to see his childhood inspiration. It was there he met Jackson magician, Gene Grant, and the two men became friends. He recalls how they formed a Mississippi chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (local chapters are called “rings” after the famous linking rings trick). Soon, “Ring 98” was attracting members from across the state to their monthly meetings where they performed for each other and the public at special events.
PHOTO: Walton performs at Jackson Mall, 1974.
In 1938, two aspiring young writers, Greenville native Shelby Foote and his best friend Walker Percy, drove to Oxford in search of legendary author William Faulkner. Percy refused to get out of the car, but Foote walked up to the front door of Rowan Oak, knocked and introduced himself. Thus began a friendship that would last until Faulkner’s death in 1962.
In this episode, Foote describes Oxford’s native son as a gracious and interesting host and yet a deeply unhappy man who struggled with drinking and depression. Someone who was a deep thinker and yet preferred the company of the common man over the intellectual – a hunting story over a critical analysis of his work.
Foote concludes by sharing what, in his opinion, makes Faulkner such an exceptional writer and relates a humorous story about one of his famous binges.
Imogene Borganelli of Greenville graduated from Ole’ Miss with dreams of becoming a medical technician. “My father had been a superintendent and my mother had been a teacher and I said, I did not intend to teach school. I didn’t want to starve to death.” It was the chance to coach girls’ basketball at Shaw High School in 1950 that lead her to become a teacher, anyway. In this episode, she remembers when her team beat the team of her friend – coaching legend Margaret Wade.
The Mississippi Humanities Council was founded in 1972 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Borganelli details the first Scholar-In-Residence Program. Borganelli served on the Mississippi Humanities Council for six years. She looks back with pride on her time with the Council and reflects on its importance to the state.
Podcast Extra - Dr. Cora Norman was the founding Executive Director of the Humanities Council and served on it for 24 years. Borganelli describes her friend as the epitome of the what is good about the Humanities.
In 1964, a group of young professionals in Jackson began thinking about forming their own theatre company. James Child discusses the decision to open the New Stage Theatre.
Child also recalls the challenge of finding a place to stage their productions with practically no money to spend and shares his memories of the opening night of New Stage Theatre’s first production: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe on January 25th, 1966.