Mapping WIMS

Wednesdays in Mississippi (WIMS) was a program developed by National Council of Negro Women in 1963 to bring Northern and Southern women together with the goal of improving race relations and quality of life for blacks in the highly segregated South. Teams of interracial, interfaith women from Northern cities would travel to various locations in Mississippi on Tuesdays and return on Thursdays. During their stay, these groups would hold meetings with local community members, white and black, lead workshops and implement programs to encourage self-improvement for poor, uneducated members of the population, particularly black women.

For my digital project, I will create a multifaceted blog called ‘Mapping WIMS’ using WordPress.com (unless I can get Omeka figured out). The complete records of the Wednesdays in Mississippi program are held at the National Archives for Black Women’s History (NABWH), where I work as an archives technician. This comprehensive collection includes photographs, audio recordings and manuscript materials that illustrate the efforts and results of the various WIMS teams in aiding the civil rights movement. Thus my blog will present and dovetail each of these sources available in the WIMS materials.

As the study of the Civil Rights Era grows ever more popular, it is important that women’s direct actions in the civil rights movement not be overlooked. There are already some good sources about WIMS on the web, such as the website for the WIMS Film Project. This documentary project has been in the works for a few years and has set forth to gather oral history interviews for use in the film. It has also established a visually appealing website with good basic information and an overview of the project, but little else. In my opinion, this website’s best asset is its promise of ‘more to come’ and raising awareness of WIMS as a scholarly topic.    

The film project page shares a link to the University of Houston’s exhibit website on WIMS. This wonderful site “began as a collaboration between the Virginia Center for Digital History, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the Wednesdays in Mississippi Film Project, with Holly Cowan Shulman, Editor in Chief.” Holly Schulman is the daughter of Polly Cowan, a founding member of WIMS. In late 2009, the University of Houston Center for Public History (UH-CPH) took over this web site and it has been incorporated into graduate level course work at the University of Houston. This site touches on many important elements of the WIMS experience and provides interesting primary materials for its audience to browse. It also gives highly detailed information about the members of specific team, something I will also strive to do. But relatively speaking, the web exhibit itself is not particularly sophisticated or visually stimulating. It lacks original photographic material from the WIMS collection at NABWH, which I will have the fortune of incorporating with the click of a mouse.

Last, there is Liza Cowan’s (Polly’s other daughter) personal blog where she posts about WIMS and her family experience with the women who worked on the project, her mother in particular. Obviously this is not a scholarly source, but her posts about WIMS are informative and enjoyable to read. Each of these WIMS sites has brought something different to the web narrative of the program. I plan to incorporate some of the fundamental elements of each of these sites in my blog project

In order to set my WIMs project apart from those already existing, I will take a more fluid, multi-media approach to presenting information about each WIMS team. As a visualization tool, I will create different maps using  My Maps from Google to illustrate the various routes and destinations of each team. I can use the geographical information pulled from manuscript and visual materials to pinpoint the locations of each trip. With this mapping tool, I can also landmark notable locations in Mississippi where other civil rights events unfolded. These maps will be supplemented by photographs, scans of original documents and audio clips. By presenting each team’s unique routes, characters, actions, and narratives, I can provide specific cases studies that will implicitly reveal a broader perspective on the WIMs program.

This blog will hopefully serve as another sounding board for the small pool of scholars working on Wednesdays in Mississippi, as well as those investigating the broader topic of women in the civil rights movement. Perhaps a casual web search on someone’s grandmother will reveal a past of civil rights activism unknown in the family history. A local historian may never have heard of the pig bank set up in a rural Mississippi town. My hope is that this project will enliven the story of the regular women who made it their mission to help desegregate the South in their own way and encourage researchers to dig further.

Documents and photographs that have never been seen by the public will enrich the small body of available WIMS material on the web. Using clear titles and descriptions for various uploaded documents, the content will hopefully get picked up by web searches and linked-to by other web sites. Upon completing the project, I will share it with other WIMS researchers for their personal use and commentary. The ultimate goal would be to spur interest in Wednesdays in Mississippi and the National Council of Negro Women and in turn increase research in the NAWBH.

To monitor the site’s success, I will keep track of how many hits the blog gets and how much commentary is coming in. Ideally the blog posts and links will invite scholarly debate and dialogue, which will encourage people to think harder about this topic in U.S. women’s history. Also, participants in the discussion might bring new information that can then be shared among other WIMS researchers. A win-win for all of us.

One Reply to “Mapping WIMS”

  1. Great project. At this point I feel like you have a lot of great ideas in here, and I think your ideas to incorporate various interactive and multi-media components into the site is great.

    You have a fascinating topic and there is not that much out there about the topic. So that is a great start.

    As far as using wordpress vs. using omeka. I think the big question there is really about exactly what you want to put up. In part of your proposal you discuss digitizing and providing access to never before available primary source material. That would be awesome. If you decide to do that I would strongly encourage you to build a digital archive and use Omeka. Omeka is really good at managing the kind of metadata that scholars are going to want and a digital archive is exactly what Omeka is built for.

    With that said, if your primary goal is to focus on blogging, on posting serialized content in which you are examining various sources and videos, then I would encourage you to use wordpress. It is just far easier to set up and it comes with great commenting functionality that you can use to facilitate the conversation that you are interested in facilitating.

    If what you really want to do is something that has both of these elements I might actually push you to make a simple Omeka installation where you upload and catalog the items and then blog about them in a separate wordpress blog. It might sound like more work, but I assure you it would actually be less then trying to bend one system to do some of the work of the other.

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