Dittmer book noted in coverage of museum opening

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A New York Times op-ed piece examining the path that led to last weekend’s grand opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History notes the contributions of a DePauw University emeritus professor of history in a column headlined “In Mississippi’s Museum Openings, a Victory for ‘Local People.’”

“In 1994,” writer Jemar Tisby begins, “the historian John Dittmer wrote ‘Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi,’ which helped reshape the way scholars thought about the civil rights movement.

“Most of the well-known histories at that point focused on the big names -- the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the NAACP, Rosa Parks,” Tisby continued, “but Mr. Dittmer’s book turned attention to the activism of sharecroppers, domestic servants and everyday people. It argued they were the ones who really forced a transformation.”


Dittmer is a nationally recognized authority on the civil rights movement and was in Mississippi for Saturday’s opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

In the award-winning book, Dittmer, who resides near Fillmore, wrote, “This grass-roots insurgency focused its efforts around community organization, engaged in direct action protest to dramatize its program, and won major victories, culminating in the Civil Rights Act.”

The retired professor told Mississippi Today, “I don’t know of any museum that hits racism so straightforwardly and so hard. As you walk in you see the names of people that were lynched. This is not trying to cover anything up.”

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is “the first state-sponsored civil rights museum in the country.”

In the Mississippi piece, Kendra Ablaza writes that the new museum, “focuses on ground zero of the African-American struggle for equal rights from 1945 to 1976. It features 22,000 artifacts and recreated scenes such as the storefront of the Bryant Grocery that 14-year-old Emmett Till walked through before his encounter with a shopkeeper that led to his murder in the summer of 1955, as well as a classroom reproduction that shows the differences between schools for white students and those for African-American students during segregation.

Dittmer’s book, “Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi,” won the Bancroft Prize, generally considered the most prestigious award in the field of American history writing. Dittmer also authored 2009’s “The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights, Race and the Politics of Health Care in America.”

The historian delivered the principal address to DePauw’s Class of 2009 at the university’s 170th commencement and received an honorary doctoral degree.

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