Covering Civil Rights

Here’s what some of our reporters said about working on this project.

Benjamin Warnick

benwarnick“When I first received the assignment, I was unsure how I would approach such a sensitive topic. Covering race in Mississippi makes many writers anxious, as our state’s history is filled with some awful chapters. I could only hope that I would have the right words to say in my interview.

“Over the course of the project, I found more peace, as my research birthed a fascination with both the good and bad parts of our history.

“I found Mattie Fox through one of my coaches from high school. He goes to church with her, and he knew of her unique story related to Dr. King.

“I was a bit nervous before my meeting with Fox, as I am with many of my interviews. After a few minutes of conversation, I knew she was kind, knowledgeable, and exactly who I needed to interview.

“After the interview, I truly understood the importance of preserving Dr. King’s legacy. In a time when our country is struggling to progress civilly, writers must shine a light on those who still believe in the right way to create change, as Dr. King so passionately dreamed of.”

T’Keyah Jones

tkeyahjones“I was actually surprised about the topic and found it interesting. As (the instructor) elaborated more about the project, I was ready to dive right into it. I had a person in mind instantly and couldn’t wait to really explore.

“Over the course of the project, it really opened my mind and eyes to see that history isn’t just recorded in textbooks … History is in the person sitting next to us – teachers, preachers, custodians, directors and so many other people.

“My thoughts did change after the interview because it made me really see that there are some people who refuse to actually make equality and unity real. We speak about it all the time. There are posters about it. There are television shows about it, but how many of us honestly practice these (ethics)? This project gave me the courage and challenged me to not wait on others, but take the initiative myself and show others that we are and will be better when we work together and honestly accept each other.”

Morgan Quinnelly

morganquinnelly“Once I started to tackle the project, it became my first priority, main worry, and watching it come together was exciting. I found my main subject by contacting the department chair of the (University of Mississippi) African American Studies Department. He promptly responded to my email with the name and phone number of his mother-in-law.

“Initially, I did not get a response from her and panic set in. I visited a local church and interviewed another lady, who I ended up using as a secondary source. When I found that I did not have enough information on my second source alone to write my project, I called my first one again on a whim, and she answered. We had the most lovely chat, and I am incredibly thankful for her contribution to this project. Both women were very forthcoming with their beliefs, and it was a pleasure to speak with them.

“Interviewing was initially stressful, but once I was on the phone with my main source, the conversation was effortless and very enjoyable. I could talk with her all day. She told me about her life experiences, what it was like being a teacher when the schools were integrated, and other topics. It was very insightful to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

“After interviewing my subject, I became excited to complete the project and share her perspective. It was almost as if the project was designed with her in mind; everything came together seamlessly once I had her input.”

Malia Carothers

malia-carothers“When I first got this assignment, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I enjoy learning about history. Throughout the course of this assignment, my excitement intensified because I was able to basically relive the moments of history with Mrs. Davidson. It was better than reading a history book, because this experience was coming from someone I actually knew, and it felt real.

“Interviewing Mrs. Davidson was a great experience. She made sure that I was comfortable and never hungry. She was filled with joy. As she said, ‘My biggest blessing is that I am still enclosed in my right mind.’ With someone being 100 years of age, you would think that they would be settled in and not doing much moving, but Mrs. Davidson is a different story. She is a busy bee. After interviewing Mrs. Davidson, it just made me want to learn more about her life and the time period when she was younger. The excitement never left.”

Denver Haggard

dsc0001“When I first received the MLK final project, it scared me, to say the least. I knew that this was not my comfort zone or area of expertise. I thought and thought about who my subject would be for this interview, but I struggled to nail that perfect person.

“Thankfully, one of the ladies who works at the office I work at referred me to a former employee of the firm. After contacting and speaking with her, she was eager and willing to share her experience of the assassination with me.

“This was such a humbling experience. I was invited into their love-filled home and greeted with a big smile. The Pearsons have a precious child with special needs. Honestly, I thought this might make it uncomfortable for me, but in contrast, it made the experience so much more sincere. Erica is an exquisite girl who could warm any cold heart.

“Immediately, after walking in the doors of their cozy, Christmas-decorated home and speaking with the family, my preconceived thoughts about the project changed completely. Being that the interview was about racism, my nerves were at a max. However, I have never felt more welcomed and accepted during an interview as I was at the Pearsons.”

Katherine Johnson

katherinejohnson“When we learned about this assignment, I was incredibly intimidated. I realized the strict parameters on the sources we needed to find and could see that it would be challenging. I knew that I would have to be interviewing a total stranger about a topic that seemed rather sensitive, which presented its own wave of fears.

“The search for an interview source was long and discouraging, for it was hard to know where to begin. As a white student, I was petrified of offending anyone with the details of the project. After finding a source, though, I realized my fears where completely misplaced.

“The man I connected with was up front and honest with his description of the times he endured. He presented me with more than enough information and was not hesitant to let me into his memories. There was a major shift in my attitude during this project, but it allowed me to grow as a writer and a journalist.

“Finding a source was more difficult than writing the actually story, in my opinion. However, I ended up sitting down with Jimmie Willingham. He is an X-ray technician and assistant to my friend’s father, Ed Field. It was through this connection that I found him.

“My interview was shorter than I expected. I feel that is attributed to Jimmie’s lack of timidness when talking about the assassination of King. He was a man of few words, but he was precise and clear on what he was sharing.

“Willingham’s openness allowed me to feel comfortable enough to ask those hard questions and go to tougher places in his memories. I was relieved of my fears and hesitations as the interview continued. He taught me about the world we live in, in comparison to the past, about how we need to grow and where we need to be going. His perspective is genuinely unique and I was lucky to get to chat with him.

“My thoughts about the project changed drastically after my interview. I realized how widespread the assassination was felt; it was not consolidated to the African American population in any sense. My time with Willingham allowed me to understand how this event molded the world that we see today. He shared with me his ideas on further breaking down the racial barriers in our society, and impressed that these were a continuation of King’s ideals.

“In my mind, this project changed from being about something isolated in the past to a topic that remains current and important in our modern world.”

Sarah Kane

sarahkane2“When I was first assigned this project I thought it was going to be just like the rest of our assignments we had been given. Also, I was a very timid reporter when I first found out about the project, so my initial thoughts were followed by nervousness. As the semester passed, and as I became more confident in myself as a reporter, the more inspired I became about getting to dive into this assignment.

“At first, I was completely unsure about how I was going to find someone to interview. I first called nursing homes in the local area and didn’t have the best luck. I finally decided to ask a member of the community who I knew, and she gave me a couple of names of people she thought would be willing to sit down with me.

“When I sat down with Ms. Carter, I was thrilled. I knew that this interview would enable me to obtain information about an event I’ve always pondered. This interview was unlike any other interview I had done all semester. Where my other interviews were direct and to the point, this interview was unique, characterized, and extremely personal. This interview made me realize why I enjoy reporting and writing. I love getting to know new people, and it’s icing on top of the cake that I get to tell ordinary people’s stories.

“After I interviewed Ms. Carter, my thoughts about the assignment changed completely. I realized that this was more than just another project. This assignment was very special and the content needed to be delivered in a very respectful and proud way. I look at life in a different way now because of my interview with Ms. Carter, and I am extremely honored that I got to take part in this assignment.”