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The Integration of Mississippi College: A Talk with Dr. Carr

Chief Diversity Officer at PLNU, Dr. Jeffrey Carr, will be giving a talk on the integration of Mississippi College as part of the One Book One San Diego program. The event will take place on October 3 at 7 p.m. at the San Diego Downtown Central Library.

Presented by KPBS, the One Book One San Diego program seeks to bring the community together through reading and discussion of a selected book. One Book Advisory Committee member Robin Lang says the committee selects, “a book with a wide audience that can be a catalyst for discussion in the community.” The 2018 selection is March: Book One by John Lewis, a graphic novel about Lewis’s life and work within the civil rights movement. Lang works as an Instructional Services Librarian at Point Loma Nazarene University and coordinates many of the engagement events that are led by PLNU professors and faculty. She met with Carr this summer to brainstorm ways to engage the PLNU community and learned of his historic work with Lewis.

Lewis was the youngest person to speak at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963 and “pushed this country towards passing the Voting Rights Act” just two years later in 1965, according to Carr. When the law finally passed, Lewis and his team were instrumental in registering black people to vote by going door-to-door; Carr was on this team.

He says Lewis recruited and trained Carr and others on what to say and how to say it to get as many black citizens registered. Carr recalls it being very difficult because they were “trying to change culture overnight, a culture that for over 100 years were oppressed and told that they could not vote.” People believed that registering would put them in danger and it was up to Lewis, Carr and their team to encourage them nonetheless. Though difficult, Carr loved doing it and describes it as his “first official taste of stepping out and helping change.”

That said, Carr and his family had been actively participating in promoting social change for years. His sister was the first person of color to be accepted and enrolled at Mississippi College and faced countless challenges in her first year, forcing her to transfer to the historically-black Jackson State University. Despite receiving numerous acceptances to already-integrated universities, Carr followed in her footsteps and attended Mississippi College because “it was one of the most well-regarded academic programs in the state as well as in the South overall.”

The Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (BEOG) Program, now known as the Pell Grant, required colleges to be integrated to receive any federal student financial aid and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in awarding federal funding. As a result, Mississippi College and many others begrudgingly integrated. Carr says, “the most difficult part about integration was having to be immersed in a very unwelcoming, belligerent and inhospitable environment.” Carr and his family were no strangers to this kind of treatment. Attending predominantly-white schools in elementary and high school as well, their family regularly experienced vandalism, intimidation and violence. Carr says, “I knew what we were fighting for, which was equality.”

Carr’s talk on October 3 will give more detail into his experiences at Mississippi College and with Lewis. PLNU Professor of American Literature, Dr. Karl Martin, will be guiding the interview-style conversation and Q & A.

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Eliza Jason

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