Delta Symposium: Diversities in the Delta

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Delta Symposium

Late spring (April 3, 2014) I had the awesome opportunity to participate in the 20th annual Delta Symposium at Arkansas State University – Jonesboro. The Delta Symposium hosts scholars and students of the humanities and social sciences, and features multidisciplinary presentations on topics ranging from literature, music, and art to historical and contemporary issues relevant to life in the region. The event offers a variety of presentations, including panels, concerts, keynote speakers, readings/signings by prominent writers, and the Saturday afternoon Roots Music Festival.

“Diversities in the Delta” was the theme this year and included writers Janis Kearney, Sheilah Hamilton-Pantin, Yusef Komunyakaa and musical artists Steven Wade, John Hammond and the United Voices Gospel Choir to name a few. The Delta Symposium is truly special time and I was humbled to be a part of it.

I participated in a panel discussion entitled “Reflections of Diversity in Arkansas.” Guy Lancaster, Editor, Encyclopedia of Arkansas and Lisa K. Speer, Arkansas History Commission rounded out the panel. I spoke on the role of historic resources in community building using the Pettaway Community of Little Rock; Lancaster spoke on “Expanding the definition of diversity with the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, and Speer spoke on “Documenting Diversity ‘Down South’ and Analysis of Ethnic and Minority Archival collections in the Delta and American South.”

The presentation will explore: 1) the role of historic resources in community building, using Little Rock’s Pettaway Community as an example, 2) the question of who is a historian (authenticity/authority), and 3) the power of oral history (accessibility).

Here is the abstract for my presentation:

Downtown Little Rock’s Pettaway community is nestled between the Governor’s Mansion and the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. It is a vibrant black community challenged by white flight, a surge of violent gang activity, and the massive tornado of 1999. Community leaders have worked to change the perception of the community from poor, negligent, despondent, and blighted to one of promise, pride and historic value.

Recently, community leaders partnered with the local school, Winthrop Rockefeller Early Childhood and Elementary Magnet School, to record “My Community: Pettaway Community Oral History Interviews.” Interview subjects mostly included residents who lived in the community in the 1930s and 1940s and 50’s and whose parents resided there in the 1920s. They were interviewed by fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Using the Pettaway experience, this presentation will highlight the necessity of diversity in historical resources in community building, as well as recognizing that the word “historian” covers a diverse array of practitioners outside the academic world.

Here are some links to a few of  the Pettaway Community Oral History Interviews. Check them out:

Don’t miss next year’s Delta Symposium. For more on the Symposium go to or




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