Stephanie Rolph was a graduate student at Mississippi State University in the mid-2000s when she found a collection of reel-to-reel audio recordings of the Citizens Forum, a broadcast once helmed by the segregationist Citizens Council.
She flipped through the accompanying index cards that described each episode and noticed a number of high-profile guests, including former U.S. Sen. Jim Eastland, a Mississippi Dixiecrat; former Mississippi Gov. John Bell Williams; and former Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett. On those tapes, the state's old leaders often revel in their opposition to civil rights and support for segregation, revealing much about Mississippi's political culture in the tumultuous years of the 1950s and 1960s.
In one recording, Williams, who was then a Democratic congressman, calls the Civil Rights Act "the most monstrous piece of tyrannical legislation ever considered by Congress." In another, Barnett, who was no longer governor at the time, claims communists are behind the civil rights movement.
Digital recordings of those tapes, MSU libraries announced Thursday, are now available online.
"This was our first attempt to digitize anything from this collection, so there was nothing online before now," Stephen Cunetto, associate dean of MSU Libraries, told the Jackson Free Press on Wednesday.
Until Rolph came along, researchers had sparingly used the recordings, if at all, Rolph told the Jackson Free Press Thursday morning. She began transcribing them in 2006, typing away while listening to the old machine on a pair of headphones, assisted by MSU's archivist, who would load each successive reel. About a year and a half later, she was done.
"Halfway through the transcription process, I told (the archivist) that once they were done, I would donate them to the library," Rolph said.
She followed through. Years later, in 2017, Rolph wrote a letter to help MSU Libraries obtain a $25,000 grant from the Council on Library and Information