Regional Honors Institute in Vicksburg, MS: July 20-22
By Emily Hudgens
The weekend that will forever live in infamy as “Watersheds, Great Floods, and Lanterns on the Levee: Mississippi’s Heritage of Transformation and Change.” Alternatively, the weekend that the Mighty MS/LA soaked up all of the rich history, culture, and sights Vicksburg had to offer. Modeled after Phi Theta Kappa’s Summer Honors Institute, our MS/LA Regional Honors Institute consisted of informative breakout sessions, outstanding general session speakers, and unforgettable Place-as-Text adventures.
We began our weekend on Friday with the Honorable George Flaggs, Mayor of Vicksburg, welcoming us to his great city.
We also had the pleasure to hear from Mrs. Stacy Mahoney, the Executive Director of our meeting location: The Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation.
During our dinner, we showed a portion of our HIA related film selection, O Brother Where Art Thou, which parts of the movie were filmed in the very location we were in! We chose to show this Coen Brother’s film because of how well it depicted a controversial issue, and just how the characters transformed the public’s opinion about slavery in the south.
After dinner, we had an Honors in Action panel and heard from three esteemed advisors and heard their tips and experiences with Honors in Action.
From left to right:
Dr. Pat West (Omicron Alpha, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jefferson Davis), Carla Falkner (Iota Zeta, Northeast Mississippi Community College), and Deborah McCollum (Gamma Lambda, Hinds Community College, Raymond)
We then broke out into our seminar groups led by outstanding Faculty Scholars:
Gold Group: Carla Falkner and Ray Harris (Iota Zeta, Northeast Mississippi Community College)
Blue Group: Robin Lowe and Heather McCormick (Upsilon Sigma, Itawamba Community College, Fulton)
Silver Group: Apryl Trimble (Alpha Beta Xi, Hinds Community College, Utica) and Teresa Wells (Omicron Alpha, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jefferson Davis)
In these breakout sessions, we discussed how we can use the city of Vicksburg, our reading: “Lanterns on the Levee”, O Brother Where Art Thou, and the Vicksburg Military Park as possible Honors in Action projects. We also talked about the Honors Study Topic as a whole, and why transformation is incredibly vital to our lives.
Saturday was full of Place as Text activities. Our first stop was the Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi River Museum. The museum included walk-through displays and activities, and there was an actual river vessel named Motor Vessel: Mississippi that we had the opportunity to tour.
Our second stop was the Old Court House Museum, with special guest speaker Mr. Gordon Cotton. Gordon Cotton was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1937. He attended Mississippi College where he earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He was a high school teacher in Warren and Holmes Counties, worked at the Hinds County Gazette, and was a reporter for the Vicksburg Evening Post. He was Director of the Old Warren County Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg for 30 years. He retired in 2007. He wrote a weekly column for the Vicksburg Evening Post called Old Courthouse Comments. Cotton was awarded the Meritorious Leadership in Mississippi History, Genealogy, and Historic Preservation award from the Order of the First Families of Mississippi in 2005. Most of his books are histories, such as Asbury, Of Primitive Faith and Order, Old Hopewell Cemetery, Antioch, Vicksburg and the War, Vicksburg Town and Country, and A History of the Old Court House.
We were honored to have Mr. Cotton speak to us about the history of Vicksburg, and more specifically of the Old Court House Museum. Mr. Dr. Ruckel even said that Mr. Cotton was hesitant to speak to us because he was about at the end of his rope with talking in front of people. But afterward, Mr. Cotton told Dr. Ruckel that speaking to the MS/LA region lit a spark inside of him to continue using his expertise to speak to more groups in the future. We even were able to participate in his written interactive tour of the museum
After a fantastic lunch at Main St. Market, we were back at the Old Court House Museum. This afternoon our speaker was David Maggio, a licensed tour guide from the Vicksburg Military Park. He holds the title of “one of the best tour guides” from the park, and his presentation showed us exactly why. We were all ears as he presented his deep knowledge of not only the park itself, but of the extensive history of the battles fought at Vicksburg.
We ended our Place as Text day with a walking Ghost Tour of Vicksburg. While no spirits were awakened, MS/LA saw plenty of historic buildings and learned many of the true “ghost” stories behind them.
To end our phenomenal weekend in Vicksburg, we heard from, and exercised with, Mrs. Linda Fondren who founded Shape up Vicksburg. In 2009, Linda initiated Shape Up Vicksburg, a campaign to help residents of Vicksburg, Mississippi, lose weight after Mississippi was deemed the “fattest state in the nation” for the sixth consecutive year. Shape Up Vicksburg is a non-profit organization that provides tools and resources to members of the community who want to change their lives but lack the financial means to do so. Shape Up Vicksburg has already resulted in the collective weight loss of more than 15,000 pounds among participants. For her efforts, Linda was chosen for a Top Ten CNN Hero of the Year Award for 2010. She, along with distinguished leaders, such as First Lady Michelle Obama, was one of The Grio’s 100 History Makers in the Making for her fight against obesity. She was also named 2011 Woman of the Year for the City of Vicksburg.
All in all, our MS/LA Regional Honors Institute was not only a huge success, but an informative, scholarly, and enjoyable weekend.