My work as assistant director of the Mississippi Humanities Council frequently intersects with my off-hours interests. Perhaps my biggest passion-project the last several years has been my volunteer work with the League of Women Voters, building to my current position as co-president of our state League. This year, these two spheres of my life have come together around a critical challenge facing both my state and our nation: voter engagement and education, including both an honest reckoning with our voting rights history and ongoing work to enrich the civic knowledge of voters.
2020 has been a perplexing year on many fronts: a pandemic has driven us all into semi-isolation and disrupted our sense of "normal"; renewed calls for racial justice are forcing us to again confront our nation's political, economic and social inequities; and one of the most contentious national elections in my lifetime, just over a week from now, will require us all to make choices in exercising our most fundamental right--and perhaps most important responsibility--as American citizens: to vote and to vote knowledgeably.
2020 also marks several significant anniversaries in the history of voting in our nation; it is the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment which gave African American men voting rights, even though they continued to be barred from the polls by various state laws for another century; it is the centennial of the 19th Amendment granting women access to the polls; and it is the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which finally removed the most obvious, but not all, barriers for African Americans to vote.
In our work at the Mississippi Humanities Council, we frequently use the humanities to address issues of voting, voter education and access to voting. We also strive, through the humanities, to bolster citizens' understanding of and engagement with our institutions of government.
Despite these momentous anniversaries, barriers still exist for full access for all to the polls. In our work at the Mississippi Humanities Council, we frequently use the humanities to address issues of voting, voter education and access to voting. We also strive, through the humanities, to bolster citizens' understanding of and engagement with our institutions of government. Indeed, our national affiliate and chief funder, the National Endowment for the Humanities, was founded on the tenet that an educated and informed electorate is essential for a healthy democracy. Like the League of Women Voters where I spend my off-hours, the NEH and the Mississippi Humanities Council do not engage in partisan politics; our sole agenda is to bring a humanities perspective to discussions on democracy and related issues.
As Election Day approaches, we are working on several fronts, including projects through our grants program, to focus attention on the historical--and still present--inequities in access to voting. For instance, the League of Women Voters of Mississippi, with MHC grant support, has been working with Mississippi Public Broadcasting throughout this 19th Amendment centennial year to provide a full and accurate retelling of the woman suffrage movement, carefully examining who benefited and who was left out when the amendment was ratified. The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council received an MHC grant to launch its "Oxford to the Ballot Box" project last month, conducting community conversations and events examining voting and elections and how they make our democracy work. We are working with Mississippi Public Broadcasting to develop a series of radio programs that will take a deep dive into various issues related to voting and voting rights.
While much of the nation's attention is focused on battleground states, the outcome of the November 3 election will have a significant impact on Mississippi, which is among the most dependent on federal funds. For that reason, the Mississippi Humanities Council is committed to being an information provider--where truth, objectivity and accuracy are paramount--to our citizens, so they may be informed participants in our democracy.
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