MC Goes Big Screen/by Austin LaBrot
History professor and Reconstruction-era enthusiast Melissa “Missy” Jones was interviewed by both Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) and MSNBC within the span of a week. Jones shared her knowledge on women’s suffrage and African American Mississippi ancestry.
MPB reached out to the Mississippi Humanities Council asking for an expert in the history field on women’s suffrage. The Humanities Council suggested MC’s own to present a brief overview of Mississippi’s refusal to accept the 19th Amendment.
“The state of Mississippi wanted to dilute Black votes by allowing white women to vote, but instead, total disenfranchisement was passed,” said Jones.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the amendment that gave American women the right to vote. The amendment proclaims, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
“The main issue in play here was states’ rights,” Jones said. The Mississippi Constitution of 1890 did not allow women the right to vote, along with disenfranchising African Americans. The 19th Amendment would void the Mississippi Constitution.
Jones was filmed for a 60-second video in a series posted on Twitter by MPB. Many know the overview of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, but many do not know the underlying issues that were at hand – especially in their college’s state.
The MSNBC interview was much longer. Jones helped journalist Simone Boyce understand what life was like in Mississippi when Boyce’s great-grandmother was a slave. MSNBC, partnered with Ancestry.com, tracked Boyce’s heritage to Mississippi.
MSNBC asked the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for an expert in the field of Mississippi history, and native Jones was the perfect candidate.
“I tried to paint a picture of what her great-grandmother’s life was like in Mississippi before and after the Civil War,” said Jones. “Boyce didn’t know anything about her ancestors.”
Jones, Boyce, and MSNBC administrators spoke via Zoom on this sensitive topic. “It was very humbling to be a part of that conversation,” Jones said. “It was painful for her to hear about how her ancestors were treated.”
Jones credits her students for helping her realize her life’s mission. “I think my students have prepared me the most because I don’t see myself as just a professor; I like to stay an active learner, too. I think that helps within the framework of these conversations,” she said. “Continually being involved in this conversation has been beneficial.”
These two interviews are not the only modes of outreach Jones contributes to. She continues to stay engaged with her community by talking about women’s suffrage and race relations.
“Two weeks ago, I spoke to a subgroup called One Girl, One Vote who works with Mississippi Votes (msvotes.org). They are a bipartisan group engaged in helping Mississippi students learn about voting and its importance,” Jones said.
“This past summer, I spoke at a Clinton rally called ‘Peace, Justice, and Unity’ in response to the George Floyd murder,” she said. “It was nice to see the Clinton community wanting to engage in this serious conversation.
“No shade to STEM education, but I believe that Humanities majors are best suited to talk about and correct these prevalent social issues,” Jones said.