The SpotLight

Story G. E. Light

From March to June, the John Grisham Room in Mississippi State University’s Mitchell Memorial Library hosted the exhibit, “African American Treasures from the Kinsey Collection.” Spanning the breadth of African American history in the Americas from the 16th century to present day, the collection of documents, books, artwork and ephemera seeks to “give personality, voice and a name to the accomplishments” of African Americans.

Shirley and Bernard Kinsey were civil rights activists who met at Florida A&M. Their interest in collecting materials related to African American history, experiences and accomplishments began after their son’s third grade report for Black History Month brought about the realization that there were countless unknown stories beyond the big names like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and Rosa Parks.

Bernard became a collector, at once focused (artifacts of the African American experience) and scattered (20th century paintings, correspondence by famous folk like Martin Luther King Jr., documents of the slave trade, books —- including first editions by lesser-known black authors along with the more famous ones like James Baldwin and Phillis Wheatley — and ephemera such as a Montgomery, Alabama, “colored/white” water fountain plaque.)

Some of the most interesting documents are early birth records of Africans in St. Augustine, Florida, predating the founding of Jamestown. A fascinating sketch of a mosque in Tangiers by Henry Ossawa Tanner, the first African American painter to gain international acclaim, is a testament to how African American artists — be they writers, musicians or visual artists — had to go abroad (often to Paris) to find artistic recognition. Of particular local interest is a Currier & Ives lithograph of the first black members of the Reconstruction-era Congress including Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate after being elected in Mississippi in 1870.

After ladies in Columbus gathered in April 1866 to decorate the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers in what is now Friendship Cemetery, national headlines inspired New York lawyer Frances Miles Finch to pen his famous poem, “The Blue and the Gray.” Composer John Purifoy’s choral work “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” is a musical setting of Finch’s poem and a variety of Civil War-era texts including soldier letters, secession proclamations, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation. The music features everything from battle cries to spirituals to American folk songs.

One of only five planned performances of the oratorio kicked off the 75th annual Columbus Spring Pilgrimage while also serving as a highlight of Mississippi University for Women’s annual Homecoming commemoration. Whitfield Hall’s Rent Auditorium was full of volunteer ushers in period costume portraying citizens of mid-19th century Columbus.

The foyer featured a duo performing Civil War era folk tunes to set the mood. Inside the auditorium, the stage was filled by a 130-strong chorus composed of members of the Columbus Choral Society, MSU/Starkville Symphony Chorus, MUW choral groups, Starkville Homeschool Music Cooperative Concert Choir, and visiting singers from Tennessee, Florida and around the Golden Triangle. The MSU/Starkville Symphony provided the accompaniment. A near-capacity crowd enjoyed the poignant hour-long performance, which ran a gamut of emotions from wartime fervor to the deep-felt emotions of civil strife over slavery to quiet contemplation of the dead to a final sense of national reunification and peace. The event also commemorated the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War. Columbus Choral Society director Alisa Toy is to be commended for putting on such a compelling and complicated multi-part endeavor.

The Starkville Community Market’s 2015 summer season brought an exciting change for the local favorite, a venue shift to the pleasantly shaded and well-landscaped Fire Station Park where Lampkin and Russell Streets intersect. Like other markets, Starkville’s features seasonal produce from local farms and vendors. A couple of elements that set Starkville’s market apart from others is the quality of its baked offerings and the educational component.

One vendor, DeRego’s Bread, provides a panoply of quality options from Starkville sourdough (featuring wild local yeast) to Portuguese biscuits to kalamata olive bread and whole wheat levain. For Troy DeRego, the market served as a testing ground for his life-long dream of operating a brick and mortar bakery, which opened in early May on the last block of Main Street adjacent to the almost completed new City Hall.

The market offers gardening exhibitions by local Master Gardeners; food demonstrations featuring market products prepared by local restaurants as well as info on the honey-harvesting process by the MSU Entymology club. The Saturday opening bell rings at 7:30 a.m.; close is at 10:30 or whenever supplies are exhausted. For those desiring the widest array of products, I suggest you arrive early. And don’t forget to browse the international delights of the Hummus Lady; no trip is complete without a little basboosa or baklava in your shopping tote.