Dr. Jodi Skipper, associate professor of anthropology and southern studies, and Chelius Carter, director of Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc., joined us on Thursday for our inaugural Faculty Lunch & Learn series highlighting Behind the Big House, an initiative launched by Preserve Marshall County in 2011 to bring light to the unspoken truths of enslaved people and reframe local histories to move beyond the cities’ big mansions and focus on the slave dwellings so often ignored.
As a community engaged scholar, Dr. Skipper values the innate relationship between her research, teaching, and community engagement, so when the opportunity presented itself for her graduate students to collaborate with Carter, she saw it as a chance for her students to not only gain valuable research and hospitality experience but also to make a real impact in their local community.
This was also an opportunity to address some of the issues regarding white supremacist ideology that Dr. Skipper believes is not being addressed. “It’s important for [students] to see white people in north Mississippi doing this kind of work as examples,” Dr. Skipper said of Carter and Behind the Big House co-founder Jennifer Eggleston, “I felt like I was attempting to force people to do the right thing, and when I started to work with Chelius and Jennifer, there was no forcing it.” Anthropology faculty and students have been working with Behind the Big House to promote community-based education since 2013.
The vision for Behind the Big House came after Carter purchased the Hugh Craft House, an antebellum home in Holly Springs, and wanted to know the history of the estate’s slave quarters in which he was currently housing his studio. “This structure is more important and rare historically and culturally than the big house,” Carter said. His vision was brought to life by Eggleston who suggested creating a community-wide educational program that had never been done before. Behind the Big House serves as a template for other communities with similar ties to the legacy of slavery to reframe their history to be one that is more accurate, complete, and inclusive.
For more information on Behind the Big House, you can visit Preserve Marshall County’s website, and be on the lookout for our next Faculty Lunch & Learn series coming soon. If you’d like to watch the recorded session, you can visit our YouTube page.