MSU students honor legacy of Starkville’s pioneering Black physician through digital preservation efforts

Account of discussion on Dr. Douglas L. Conner’s legacy during a community-engaged learning project. (Photo submitted)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Recently, students at Mississippi State University who were part of a community-engaged learning class held a gathering in downtown Starkville to showcase their digital humanities project honoring Dr. Douglas L. Conner, a prominent civil rights activist and one of the early Black physicians in Starkville.

The initiative was spearheaded by students in a digital ethnic studies course led by Dhanashree Thorat, an assistant professor in MSU’s English Department.

“Students were urged to utilize their communication skills within the local setting. Through this digital endeavor, students gained insight into the civil rights movement in our community, with hopes that Dr. Conner’s significant contributions are preserved for future generations,” mentioned Thorat.

Collaboratively, students curated a digital exhibit detailing Conner’s life, incorporating student essays referencing his autobiography “A Black Physician’s Story,” archival documents, and scholarly works exploring desegregation, economic boycotts, protests, lawsuits, and political activism in the civil rights era.

Reflecting on her involvement, Sydney Bowen-Sweet, a senior English major from Kosciusko, shared, “My essay centered on the challenges faced by Black educators post-school desegregation. It was eye-opening to learn about the decreased presence of Black educators in the district despite successful desegregation. Dr. Conner’s commitment to such causes even after desegregation was inspiring.”

During the event, community members contributed by transcribing Conner’s documents, recollecting memories of him, and listening to a speech from his daughter, Divian Conner. Additionally, there was a Black history tour of downtown Starkville led by Chris Taylor, a former NAACP chapter president.

James Durr, a junior English major who grew up in Starkville, expressed, “The project’s significance lies in shedding light on our local history and engaging with Dr. Conner’s narrative. Reading his archives and autobiography provided a glimpse into the events shaping Starkville. Interacting with community members emphasized the ongoing impact of past events. Contributing to such projects feels fulfilling due to their relevance to my community.”

Community members are invited to share their stories of Conner on the project site: https://ablackphysiciansstory.wordpress.com/voices/.

For more information regarding MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences or the university’s Center for Community-Engaged Learning, visit www.cas.msstate.edu or www.ccel.msstate.edu/.

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