The Mississippi Committee for the Humanities was founded in March, 1972 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which was working to create and support a new system of state humanities councils that could carry out and fund grassroots public humanities programs. Porter Fortune, Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, was the founding chairman of the organization, which later changed its name to the Mississippi Humanities Council. The council’s charter board included John Bettersworth, Owen Cooper, John O. Emmerich, Thomas J. Flynn, Jack Gunn, George Howell, Betty Duvall King, R.A. McLemore, Robert Mayo, Charles Moorman, Linwood Orange, John Peoples, Sondra Powell, Sarah Rouse, Estus Smith, and Parham Williams. Dr. Cora Norman, founding executive director, remained with the Council for 24 years until her retirement in 1996.
Founded amidst the turmoil of federally imposed integration, the MHC played an important role in helping to bring about social change in Mississippi, organizing and supporting interracial meetings and funding grants to communities to discuss desegregation and other important issues. Perhaps more important than the funding was the MHC’s ability to offer a state-level legitimacy for such discussions and to serve as an impartial broker among differing points of view. During Norman’s tenure, the Council worked to bring the insights of humanities scholars to the critical contemporary issues the state faced.
Dr. Barbara Carpenter succeeded Norman as executive director in 1996. During her tenure, the Council developed its family reading programs, the Mississippi Oral History Project, and numerous special initiatives, including two edited volumes exploring Mississippi’s ethnic heritage and the Food for Thought, For Life program. Under her leadership, the Council worked dutifully to fulfill its philosophy that “the humanities are for everyone.”
After her retirement in 2013, Dr. Stuart Rockoff became the third executive director in the history of MHC.