SCOM Class Submits Sign for Key Civil Rights Figure 

In Spring 2024, Dr. Davis Houck’s rhetorical criticism class embarked on a mission to preserve the legacy of James Meredith, civil rights activist and the first African American student admitted to the racially segregated University of Mississippi. 

I’ve been driving through Mississippi for years; occasionally, I drive through Attala County where Mr. Meredith grew up and specifically the little community of Kosciusko,” said Houck. “I was very surprised that I could find nothing celebrating the fact that Meredith grew up there, and so I started asking some questions, first with friends of Meredith and later with the Mayor of Kosciusko, Tim Kyle. Turns out it was true: save for a mural in the visitors’ center, there’s nothing commemorating Meredith’s life in the community.” 

Students in Rhetorical Criticism brainstorm ideas for a sign honoring James Meredith.

In response, Houck tasked his students with a unique project: to create a sign commemorating James Meredith within his hometown of Kosciusko, Mississippi. Houck’s 17 students then divided into groups and outlined how they could commemorate the Civil Rights figure. 

Creating the sign was no easy task. Signs are limited to 14 lines with only 42 characters per line, so students had to be specific and thoughtful about what they commemorated and how they communicated it. 

“When working with everyone to combine our ideas into one, we had to use our communication skills to be decisive and creative to ensure we had an encompassing result we were proud of,” said student Elle Schumm. 

The project proved to be more than just an opportunity to test their communication skills. It was a chance to contribute to Meredith’s legacy. 

“To know that we were helping in some small way to ensure [James Meredith] is forever remembered in his hometown was a humbling experience, and I’m so thankful that Dr. Houck invited our class to take part in this project,” said student Annie Blanchard. 

Dr. Davis Houck (right) at the home of James Meredith (left) and Dr. Judy Alsobrooks Meredith (middle).

Houck also shared that their project has received immense support from James Meredith, his family, and the Kosciusko community. 

“I kept reminding [the students] that they were ‘writing themselves into history,’ and we had to pause and think about what that meant,” Houck said. “And then I told them that one day when they were grandparents, they could take their grandkids to see the sign and narrate their part in its creation.” 

Students in the class included Adrian Valdes, Kyle Haniff, Everett Reed, Nick Schwab, Elle Schumm, Haylie Humphrey, Hayden Springer, Alex Webster, Lauren Greenbaum, Annie Blanchard, Alexis Sears, Rebecca Piriz, Grace Cashman, Shana Khan, Emma Borchuck, Sullivan Swink, and Jordan Schwartz.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History approved the class’s submission on July 12, 2024, and will begin work to install the sign in Kosciusko.