Back in May, women's soccer senior Jenn O'Rourke was one of nine recipients of the Steinbrecher Fellowship, handed out annually to a select group of Clark University students to support their creative research. A History and English double major with aspirations to be involved in human rights, O'Rourke traveled to Jackson, Mississippi.
In 2005, the family and friends of Clark alumnus David C. Steinbrecher '81 created the Steinbrecher Fellowship Program with a generous gift that established a permanent endowment in memory of David that provides fellowships for Clark undergraduates to pursue original ideas, creative research, and public service or enrichment projects. The Steinbrecher Fellowship awards, given to 8-10 students each year, range from $500 to $2,500.
Name: Jenn O'Rourke
Sport: Women's Soccer
Location: Jackson, Mississippi
During her stay, she examined editorials published in southern and northern county newspapers that focused on the trial of the two white men - J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant - accused of viciously killing Emmett Till an African-American teenager who had allegedly flirted with Bryant's wife in order to compare racial attitudes in those regions.
"My trip to Mississippi was a very eye-opening experience," said O'Rourke. "I was aware of the overt racism in 1950s Mississippi but to see it in person, to be able to hold it and understand it as an important cultural influence, has greatly influenced me as a student of history."
What Was The Best Part Of Your Trip?
I think the best part of the trip was working in the archive library alongside tenured professors and historians. Having direct access to hundreds of microfilm reels not only helped support my thesis but also provided me with a greater outlook on Southern society during the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement.
Something You Learned That You Think Will Stay With You Forever?
Probably the most striking thing I came across was the front page of a Jackson-area newspaper. In bold, upper case lettering, the names and addresses of men and women who had signed an NAACP petition to end segregation in schools were printed for the general public to see. This was essentially a call to action within the white community against those who were fighting for equality within the state. Seeing such blatant hatred was something that will stay with me forever, and has had a lasting impact on how I approach the rest of my thesis.
What Was Different About Jackson, Mississippi That Was Different From Worcester? What Was Similar?
Jackson was very different from what I expected. The downtown area was very small and compact, and not very busy. The courts and the state house, along with the archives library building took up most of the downtown area. Beyond these few blocks lay a lot of rundown houses and stores, revealing the poverty that affects a large portion of the Mississippi population. While the food itself was different, the variety and amount of restaurants in Jackson mirrored that of Worcester, and definitely added to the city's personality.
How Do You Think This Trip Helped Your Future Career Plans?
This trip greatly influenced my decision to have a career in human rights. Seeing the blatant persecution of a minority group by the media, which is such a powerful force in shaping public opinion, and then seeing such abject poverty in person made me realize that human rights issues were not such far-away issues, but were actually happening right before my eyes.
What Stereotype Of The Deep South That You Had Heard Rang True When You Were There, If Any?
Well for one thing, the food was definitely what I expected it to be. Also, everyone there was really friendly, and always referred to me as "sweetheart" and "hun", which is a stereotype I've heard a few times.
What About Your Trip Surprised You?
What surprised me the most about the trip was just how much history there was in a state many had told me only consisted of strip malls and farmland. I was surrounded by numerous civil rights landmarks, and even went to the Vicksburg Civil War battlefield for a day. It was definitely a great trip that reinforced my love for history.
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